In 2005, after spending 3 years traveling in space, the Cassini-Huygen space probe captured an image of its home. While resting underneath the ring of Saturn it took a picture of Earth. It’s the brightest “star” in the middle of the picture. This morning I want to share with you what this image means to me about life.
Saturn’s orbit is roughly 2 billion miles in diameter. In the area of that orbit, Earth is the only place with human life. On that tiny little planet, your life is barely a speck of dust. It becomes even smaller when considering the surrounding area. Smaller yet when the same image is taken from an even greater distance away. Now consider how much darkness and nothingness exists between Saturn and Earth. Your small life is suspended on a ball in a very lonely, empty place.
My wife hates this image. It frightens her because it makes her existence seem so small and meaningless. But, I have the opposite reaction. I never fully comprehended exactly how rare and precious life was until I saw this image. We treat diamonds and gold as rare and precious commodities. Yet, these elements are abundant in the universe. What is not abundant is human life.
Life, the ability to breathe and be animated, is certainly unique, but it’s only the beginning. This morning before my wife left for work we embraced. We spoke words of love with deep emotion. These words fill my soul with a joy that is even more rare than our existence. Where in this image does laughter, joy, love, patience, mercy and care exist outside of the human heart?
On the flip side, death and violence dominate the universe. Stars are dying and matter is exploding. Elements slam into other elements with deadly force. Even inside the invisible parts of our bodies disease fight to destroy while blood cells counterattack. The universe is a place constantly in battle. The one oasis from it all is love. While elements of love are present in the animal kingdom, human love is something even more unique.
Every day every human being has a choice. They can decide to join in on the violence of the universe, or choose to live into what it means to be human and love. Love is our hearts deepest yearning. Love is the rare and precious gift we bring to the universe. It is the thing that stands in contrast to the violent alternative that seeks to destroy.
When I consider all of these things, I read the words of creation differently, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” (Gen. 1:26). Maybe love, not limbs and legs, is what it means to be created in God’s image and likeness. Then I look at this picture of earth and the words, “For God so loved the world…” (Jn 3:16) takes on a whole new meaning. It also re-shapes Jesus giving us a new commandment to love one another just as God loved you. (Jn 13:34)
Love is the thing that reminds us we are not alone in this vast expanse of darkness. Our lives are not meaningless and finite. Love connects to the Almighty and binds us together into community. It is able to defeat hatred and hopelessness. Indifference is probably the only true enemy of love.
All human life, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, political party, religion, region, language, wealth, physical or mental abilities is rare and precious. It is loved by God and called upon by God to be loved by us.