Astronomy sparks the imagination

Brian Cox’s programmes about planets and galaxies, are mind-boggling stuff, provoking a sense of wonder. As he once said ‘ Astronomy sparks the imagination’.

I have a friend who is into Astro Photography. He will regularly post photos he’s taken with a massive tele-photo lens strapped to his camera, showing fantastic detail of craters on the moon, or night sky shots of galaxies far, far away. He takes great delight in explaining how many light years away these objects are and how long ago the light from a particular star started it’s journey to Earth. For all we know, that object may no longer exist yet we can see it’s light. If I’m honest, I can’t get my head round it all.

Science Fiction stirs up my imagination to think about what life might be like in a future world or on a planet in some distant galaxy. Sci-fi and fantasy story writers somehow manage to free up from the constraints of the way most of us see things now and imagine a different future, and it’s become a hugely popular genre of books and films.

Documentaries have a similar effect. How amazing are the programmes which David Attenborough has made about life on this planet. Think of those weird looking creatures in far flung places or in the depths of the ocean. Unseen, unheard of, other worldly, yet real. So I find it surprising that despite all our 21st century progress in understanding, many dismiss thinking about an unseen spiritual world as irrelevant. Perhaps we need a restoration of imagination.

Having said that, imagination is like a coin with two completely different sides. One side can lead to fear and the other to security. People two hundred years ago couldn’t have imagined machines which could fly, remedies for killer diseases, or cooking things without the need for a flame of some sort. A video call with someone on the other side of the world would have been laughed at. Yet in our world, these things are taken for granted. Science and Technology have taken away the fear of much that was unknown. 

From what I read, the Greeks considered themselves (not unlike today) a highly sophisticated and knowledgeable people yet they weren’t afraid of belief in the unknown. They understood that life had a spiritual dimension and they believed in something greater than themselves. Their knowledge still left space for imagining the unknown.

So it’s interesting to read what the Apostle Paul writes to his first century Greek audience in 1 Corinthians 2:9:

‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’. 

1 Corinthians 2:9

He’s effectively saying you can’t possibly imagine what God has in store for you. 

And then he talks later in his letter about ‘knowing God’s thoughts’, ‘understanding all that God has given to us’, and ‘God having revealed mysteries to us’. That’s not a future thing, it’s now thing. I think Paul was trying to get the people in Corinth to realise that the spiritual world they believed in was not an irrelevant future thing to be feared, but had meaning for the here and now.

So what image do we have of the spiritual world? Is it something for now, or do we reject it as irrelevant to life today? Is it something to be fearful of, or does it deepen a sense of faith and hope? Or could it just spark our imagination?