This might surprise you.
Above the door to the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University is not a pithy quote from a forefather of Experimental Physics or Evolutionary Biology. No – the quote above the entrance to the Lab is from the Bible – Psalm 111 verse 2, to be exact.
“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.”
If you are thinking – “Yea – I bet that was a decision made over hundred years ago at a far more religious time” – then you might be partly right. When the Cavendish Laboratory opened in 1874 the prescription above the door was indeed Psalm 111:2, written in Latin.
“Magna opera Domini exquisite in omnes voluntates ejus”
But before you dismiss these naive people of a more ignorant time…think again. When the Cavendish moved location in the early 1970s, the decision was made for the inscription to remain above the door. And everyone who enters this seat of learning in Cambridge walks beneath it to this day.
So what? Why should I care?
Because that quote hits the nail on the head. Consider this:
Last week, 50 million miles away from where you are reading right now, on the surface of the planet Mars the Curiosity Rover stopped and turned its robotic eye to the sky. And it snapped a startling photograph. Someone has kindly tagged us all in that photograph. You can see it above
On its lonely mission, as it explores the Martian landscape, Curiosity snaps a picture of us. Or more accurately – it snaps a picture of the distant Earth.
That is mind blowing. An army of scientists and engineers from many disciplines worked long and hard for years to get the Curiosity Rover safely onto the surface of Mars in 2012. My mate Mike is one of them. And you can hear him talk about it here.
Why did they all put the effort in? The long days…weekends…late nights? Why did they allow themselves the torture of launching their carefully crafted rover into space in the hope that it would land safely on Mars months later?
Because these people delight in our Universe. They are filled with insatiable curiosity about how our Universe works and what is out there. And because they delight in creation – studying it is no chore to them. It is what they were born to do!
“Great are the works of the Lord, they are pondered by all who delight in them.” Psalm 111:2, NIV
Curiosity’s photograph reminds us how wonderful our Universe is – and how talented the engineers are who got that little guy onto that alien landscape in the first place! But it also points back to the Cavendish Laboratory inscription. The Bible makes a good point.
We passionately explore our solar system because it is there. We visit alien planets with unmanned spacecraft because we can…and because planets exist to be explored. We are so fortunate that we are the ones living at a technologically advanced time where space travel is possible.
But more than that – we are such fortunate people to be alive. To exist. To have been placed in this mind bogglingly beautiful yet mysterious Universe. We are indeed blessed to have the opportunity to delight in and to intensely study creation.
But it’s not our Universe. We are only placed here. We are only passing thru it. We live for a few short years in which to discover who we are, exercise our brains and our talents and our personalities. We discover and we theorize. And we pat ourselves on the back for being pretty smart.
But the One who created it and holds it all together – wow. His works are truly great in every sense of the word. And with all our cleverness – we are merely scratching the surface of His wonderful works.
Let me end with three brief points.
First – may I suggest humility and respect as we pass thru His creation; both personally in our own lives, and cosmically as we explore our Solar System. After all – we are not here to stay. We are the visitors here.
Second – even though it’s not the cool thing to ask for – may I suggest humility and respect for Him. There are those in 21st century Science who regularly pour scorn on people of faith. And in doing so – they are also criticizing the brilliant minds who started their own Scientific disciplines all those centuries ago.
- Forebears like Johannes Kepler, who in the 17th century perceived intelligent design in the mathematical precision of planetary motion and the laws governing it.
- Forebears like James Clerk Maxwell who discovered electromagnetic theory – and who quoted the Bible at the entrance to his Cavendish Physics Laboratory in Cambridge.
Surely these men and many more besides deserve respect from the current thinkers of today?
Third and finally I call for humility and respect towards the One who has made our lives – and our space exploration possible. Who has given us a Universe to travel thru and to wonder at. Because, as Psalm 111 says in closing…
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” Psalm 111:10, NIV