I’m an Air Force guy…or at least a part of me is. I grew up wanting to fly fighters, though, toward the latter half of my time at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), that ambition changed. As it turned out, the only aircraft I’ve ever soloed was a stodgy, stalwart glider that probably would have flown itself. Still, while not a zipper-suited sun god (read “fighter pilot”) myself, my life has nonetheless been profoundly shaped by the U.S. Air Force, and thus in some measure by an interest in aircraft and flight.
So what? Why is that worthy of comment in a blog post? Here’s why…
Recently we began a preaching series at Felton Bible Church intended to take us through the first eleven chapters of Genesis. In pursuit of this series, I’m presently working through Genesis 1 rather closely. If you read Genesis 1, it’s striking how many times the text refers to “an expanse,” which God calls “heaven” (Genesis 1, English Standard Version). The Hebrew word for “expanse” shows up nine times in Genesis 1, and the word for “heaven” another ten times (sometimes paired with the word “expanse). This “expanse,” or the “heavens,” refers especially to what we would call in English the “sky.”
Now, here’s something interesting…at least it is to me. As you read Genesis 1, it’s clear there’s no break, as it were, between the “expanse” (or “heaven,” or the “sky”) and earth. Yes, they’re different domains (to borrow a military term), but there’s an inherent link between the two. They’re contiguous, but more than contiguous. In fact, what exists in the sky exists with special reference to the earth. So, for instance, the sun, moon, and stars exist not only to mark out “signs” and “seasons” and “days” and “years,” but also to “give light upon the earth” (Genesis 1:14-15, ESV). Even in their role of marking out time, these heavenly lights do this particularly for the sake of human beings created in God’s image. What’s the point? The point is that things of the heavens, the sky, exist with special reference to things of the earth, especially human beings.
Okay, so what? What’s the significance of that observation? While there’s much I could say in answer to that question [consider, for starters, that the sky is the medium linking God’s dwelling place in heaven-beyond-the-heavens (2 Cor. 12:2) with his dwelling place on earth alongside humanity (first in Eden, then in the Temple, now in the church, soon in the new Jerusalem)] – think about this: The essential continuity between earth and sky, and the earth-centered, man-serving focus of things in the sky, makes our fascination with this domain good…natural (in the truest sense)…instructive. Even in our fallen state as rebels against God who violently suppress his truth (Rom. 1:18), we nonetheless retain a fascination with the sky that testifies to its God-given purpose, its beauty, its splendor, its direct relevance to life on earth as we know it. No wonder we, for millennia, wanted to explore this domain! No wonder that we maintain a fascination with flight, with flying machines, and even with the heavens beyond the “sky.” Ultimately our fascination with the sky, with the heavens, is a response to the glory of God in creation, even if we sinfully deny it!
Let’s go back then to the Air Force Academy, which some of us lovingly refer to as a “small technical school at the base of the Rocky Mountains.” There’s a poem I learned at USAFA during my days as a cadet. I’m pretty sure it was one of the many pieces of literature – useful and useless – branded on my brain during those heady days as a “Doolie,” a fourth-classman, a freshman in civilian parlance. The branding works well when it happens while you’re in the “front-leaning rest” (push-up) position, sweating onto the hallway floor, waiting for a slug classmate to “get the lead out.” The poem, titled “High Flight,” was written in 1941 by John Gillespie Magee Jr, an American flying in the Canadian Royal Airforce. Gillespie was killed in a midair crash not long after writing this and sending it to his parents. As you read the poem (or listen to it sung here), do so thinking about Genesis 1, and appreciate how these words capture something of truth Moses wrote:
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor ever eagle flew-
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God” (text available here)
The next time you get on an airplane, rather than white-knuckling the take-off and landing (ahem…Mom), relax and consider how humans’ presence in the air domain reflects the goodness of our good God in his good creation!