James Webb Space Telescope: Pondering the Universe and Pondering the Creator

More than leading us to imagine our future accomplishments, NASA’s new images inspire us to turn our hearts and minds to the Creator who envisioned all of this.

The first images from the James Webb Space Telescope are awe-inspiring.
The first images from the James Webb Space Telescope are awe-inspiring. (photo: NASA)
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” — Psalm 19:2

The Psalmist has it right: There is great beauty to be found in the skies — and in all of creation. And this week, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope offered a glimpse of that glory, in the deepest and sharpest infrared images of the distant universe ever seen. Not the twinkling little stars that have captured our hearts and minds since childhood, Webb revealed a glittering landscape of stars and cosmic cliffs, entire galaxies in bold colors. 

Viewing the striking images on NASA’s website or in Times Square, viewers were captivated by bluish stars from our own galaxy, the Milky Way, each with eight spikes of light stretching across space, as starlight spills around the mechanism that holds the telescope’s mirrors in place. 

Beyond our own nearest stars, other galaxies — each with millions of stars — appeared as smaller blobs of color, tan and orange and vibrant red. 

Some were spiral shaped, others curved; still others mere wisps of color.

To create a telescope with such mind-boggling capabilities, NASA had partnered with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Together, they celebrated the dawn of a new era in astronomy, offering a view never before seen. Gregg Robinson, Webb program director at NASA’s headquarters, celebrated the unveiling of the images, promising:

“The beautiful diversity and incredible detail of the Webb telescope’s images and data will have a profound impact on our understanding of the universe and inspire us to dream big.”

But more than leading us to imagine our future accomplishments, the unveiling of NASA’s new images inspires us to turn our hearts and minds to the Creator who envisioned all of this. 

Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, tweeted, “May this image from deep space remind us of the Awesome God who breathes us into being even as we gaze on the wonder of His creation. May we be inspired to return to the path of Light that shines from Jesus His Son.”

Brother Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit astronomer and director of the Vatican Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, issued a statement expressing his excitement about the telescope’s new images. 

“Such images,” he said, “are a necessary food for the human spirit — we do not live by bread alone — especially in these times.” Brother Guy went on to praise the scientists who built the instruments and planned the observations, many of whom are his personal friends, and called it a “tribute to the human spirit, what we can do when we work together.” 

Brother Guy appreciated the Psalm noted at the beginning of this article, but added another Psalm that also praises God for the wonders of creation:

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” — Psalm 8:3-5

Philosopher William Carroll, writing in First Things, quoted Pope Pius XII who said, in an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, that “true science discovers God in an ever-increasing degree — as though God were waiting behind every door opened by science.” 

In that address in 1951, Pope Pius looked to the scientific accomplishments of Edwin Hubble, who had discovered that the universe is continually expanding. The Pontiff recalled God’s Fiat Lux (“Let There Be Light”) declaration and noted that creation had taken place in time. “It would seem,” Pope Pius wrote,

 “... that present-day science, with one sweeping step back across millions of centuries, has succeeded in bearing witness to that primordial ‘Fiat lux’ uttered at the moment when, along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation. ... Thus ... it has confirmed the contingency of the universe and the well-founded deduction as to the epoch when the cosmos came forth from the hands of the Creator. Hence creation took place in time. Therefore, there is a Creator. Therefore, God exists!”

May Webb’s revelation of the inestimable beauty of the cosmos lead many down that path of discovery to see, not only the wonders of creation, but also the ineffable beauty of God.