Witnessing the Solar Eclipse 21st August 2017
It was worth waiting for: two minutes and forty seconds of darkness in the middle of the day. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
Nashville, Tennessee is best known as the home of country music. But in recent weeks it became known as the best place to see the first solar eclipse in nearly a century. People came to our area from all over the world – including the United Kingdom, even though the “total” eclipse lasted in Nashville itself just over two minutes. However, there was one small part of Nashville where a cloud cover appeared just seconds prior to the total eclipse, so that it could not be seen. Therefore some were very disappointed. “I was gutted”, a man from Manchester, England said. We had decided to share the event with our son, daughter-in-law and grandsons. Our son TR lives in White House, some thirty miles north of Nashville – the exact spot (say the scientists) that the total solar eclipse would last the longest – something like two minutes and forty-two seconds! Many people came from Nashville to the northern part of middle Tennessee to have the extra seconds.
The weather in White House was perfect. Hardly a cloud in the sky. Louise and I arrived at TR’s place just after 12:oo noon, an hour and a half before the total eclipse would occur. Friends had begun to gather. “It has already started”, TR said to us when we arrived. With special glasses to protect one’s eyes I had my first look at the sun as the moon barely passed into its path. In a half hour the moon had edged its way into one third of the sun. The light began to diminish all around us. The temperature began to drop. After an hour and fifteen minutes the sun looked like the crescent of the moon. The temperature fell from 95 degrees to what seemed a pleasant 85. It had begun to get dark. Then came the total eclipse. Amazing. One did not need the special glasses for this incredible moment. You looked right at the moon-covered sun. You gazed. There was the total eclipse plain as day, although it seemed like night! For these two minutes and forty seconds one saw the rim around the moon that let you know the sun was behind it. Around us was the darkness – not black dark but more like a few minutes after sunset when you can still see around you. It was dark enough that the overhead lamp by TR’s garage came on!
We were connected to an app on a cell phone that monitored the entire event, telling us how many minutes, how many seconds were left. As the total eclipse was about to end the voice said, “Five, four, three, two, one” – when the first ray of the sun reappeared – a beam of light brighter than I had ever seen in my life. I had to turn my head away. Special glasses back on! I will never forget that as long as I live. It was almost like participating in history – seeing this live and not from a TV set.
And then the fun was over. The rest was anticlimactic as the next hour and a half saw the temperature rise again and the light reappearing all around us. With my special glasses I had one last look at the sun as the moon made its exodus.
At least two thoughts came to my mind. The first, having seen that dazzling brilliant sun for a split second after the total eclipse – the first time I have ever looked directly at the sun in the middle of the day, I thought of Paul’s testimony. “At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13). Brighter than the sun at midday? Whatever kind of light are we talking about! The only answer is: the glory of God. Its brightness is greater than the light of the sun. After all, the sun is God’s creation. For the light Paul saw was uncreated light. Even the seraphim needed wings to cover their eyes from the glory of the Lord (Isa.6:2). That is the light, by the way, that will give illumination in Heaven throughout eternity. “The city has no need of sun or moon to shine one it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its light is the Lamb” (Rev.21:23).
Second, I thought of these words: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm19:1). By this eclipse I could not help but think of the glory of God and creation. Seeing this eclipse was almost like participating in the heavens! One saw first-hand this exceedingly rare event. It is Jesus Christ who sustains creation; he “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb.1:3). This eclipse demonstrates how big God is. This glimpse into the heavenlies is but a minute fraction of the universe God has made. As newsmen interviewed people from all over the area, the typical comment was, “I was in a state of awe”. Yes. “Awe” was the most common expression. Some said, “breathtaking”. Another called it “euphoria”.
According to Paul, the plainness of God’s creation is sufficient to condemn. It leaves people “without excuse” (Rom.1:20). Whereas the phenomenon of a solar eclipse is amazing, to me equally astonishing is how people can view all this – seeing the perfect timing, regularity and predictability of God’s creation – and not also confess there must be a God. To surmise that all this is by “chance” – which is the choice atheists make – is a confirmation of Romans 1:21-23: “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things”.
These things said, natural revelation is sufficient to condemn but insufficient to save. We need the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ to be saved (2 Cor.4:4-6).