Last night I went to see Star Trek: Beyond with Dad, and thoroughly enjoyed it. There was one thing in particular that strikes me when I think about the film, and that is the sense of wonder that it inspires. The latest film in the franchise, which has exploration and discovery at its heart, featured awe-inspiring displays of graphics which should be considered tremendous works of art in themselves.
Especially impressive was the representation of Yorktown, an enormous Federation space station home to millions of different people from all areas of Federation space. Not only were the computer-generated graphics sublime, but the conception behind it all deserves serious praise. When it all came together, the space station was simply stunning to look at.
This sense of wonder and awe that can be inspired by something as simple as going to see a sci-fi film is something that I believe to be an essential component of humanity. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, the literary Romantic movement explored the concept that they called the sublime: the sense of awe and fear that humans get when they are confronted with the magnitude of nature. They were talking about that feeling that you get when you stare up at a mountain, or when you look out at sweeping vistas from the top of that mountain, or when you gaze up at the vastness of space. They would describe all of those situations as encounters with the sublime.
But our wonder is not limited to our awe in the face of the vastness of creation; it can just as easily surface in our delight at the smaller things. In the fantasy book I am reading at the moment, the marvellous Steven Erikson’s Reaper’s Gale (book 7 of the Malazan Book of the Fallen), one of the characters, Onrack, belongs to a race who have given up their home and their souls in order to physically live forever to fight a centuries long war. However in the story, Onrack discovers a realm where a portion of his ancient homeland remains unchanged, and upon stepping into that realm, he regains all that his kind had lost when they sought immortality, and the first thing to return is a childlike joy as he walks among the trees of his home for the first time in millennia.
Upon seeing Onrack’s joy, his closest friend, Trull Sengar, who is of a different race, is stirred to joy as well. Both Onrack and Trull demonstrate the way that wonder can manifest as something innocent, selfless, and childlike, as we take delight in the environment around us and in the people around us. Even Quick Ben, the characters’ cynical, hardened companion, is touched by the friends’ innocent wonder.
This wonder has significance for me not just as a human, but as a Christian. I believe that we were created with it for a reason: to bring us closer to God. Whether it is awe in the face of the sublime, or delight in the relationships we share with friends and family, I believe that it all points to God. Creation is not perfect – my faith readily acknowledges that – but it is not without the beauty that God intended it to have.
Every time you stare into the vastness of space and feel small is an echo of how we should feel before the awe-inspiring God who breathed the stars into being, and every spark of joy you feel in the closeness of a friend is an echo of the love that God invites us to share with him.
The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote that God has set eternity onto human hearts. This is an amazingly complex statement, with many possible meanings, but one is that our hearts long to know and experience the eternal, which is God, and that longing bleeds out into awe inspired by what he has created.
Paul, the famous founding father of the church, wrote to the young church in Rome that ‘God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, understood from what has been made’ (Romans 1:20). It seems clear to me that all of us were made to see the beauty in the world, and to come closer to God through the wonder that it inspires in us.
It’s not hard to feel awe at what God has created. Just wait for a clear night, then go outside and look up.