There is a rather humorous aspect of the story of the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis. You likely know the basic story, which begins with the men of that early time saying, Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves (Gen 11:4). It was an image of pride, of grandiosity. The humor comes in that although the great tower has a top that seems to reach up to the heavens, it is actually so small that God must come down from Heaven in order to see it. The text says, And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built (Gen 11:5).
Of course God, omniscient as He is, sees everything. The humor is for our benefit. It makes the point that man’s greatest, tallest, most prominent, and glorious work is in fact so puny that God must stoop in order to get a glimpse of it. God isn’t surprised by how great we are; what does alarm Him is how colossal our pride is. In response He has to humble us, by confusing our language and scattering us about the planet.
I recalled this story as I was on a long flight today. I noticed that even the tall buildings of some large cities were difficult to see from 30,000 feet. I also remembered the video below, which shows some amazing footage of Earth taken from the International Space Station (ISS). The narrator explains some of the features we are seeing and where on the globe we are looking as the pictures pass by. Although the view is amazing, what is even more remarkable is what we do not see: us!
It is astonishing that even though the ISS is passing over well-populated areas, there is no visual evidence that we even exist. No cities or buildings are visible, no planes streaking through the skies, even large-scale agricultural features seem lacking. There is only one mention of a color difference across the Great Salt Lake, due to a railroad bridge preventing lake circulation. The bridge itself, however, is not visible—only its effect.
We think of ourselves as so important, so impressive. Yet we cannot be seen even from low Earth orbit. It is true that at night our cities light the view, but during the day next to nothing says that we are even here. Even when I magnified the video on my 30-inch iMac screen, I can see no sign of us below.
Watching the video makes me think of Psalm 8:
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. … When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? Yet, You made him a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Yes, we are powerful (by God’s gift), yet so tiny as to be nearly invisible from a short distance into space. Our mighty buildings rise, but they rise from a speck of space dust called Earth, which revolves around a fiery point of light called the Sun. Yet our huge sun is but one point of light in the Milky Way galaxy of over 100 billion other stars. And the Milky Way galaxy, so huge that its size is nearly incomprehensible to us, is but one of an estimated 200 billion galaxies.
What is man that you are mindful of him? (Psalm 8:4) Jesus says of us: And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered (Matt 10:30). God, who knows the numbers of the stars and calls them by name, also knows the number of hairs on each of our heads. Nothing escapes Him.
There’s an old preacher’s saying that “We serve a God who sits high, yet looks low.” Indeed, we should never forget how tiny we are and never cease to marvel that God knit us together in our mother’s womb and sustains every fiber of our being. We cannot even be seen from low Earth orbit. Yet God, who sees all, looks into our very heart. Though tiny, we are wonderfully, fearfully made (Psalm 139) and God has put all things under our feet.