The heavens are telling the glory of God; the wonder of his works displays the firmament.
I grew up to that, to some degree. It’s the words to perhaps the most familiar selection from Haydn’s oratorio, The Creation, and it was sung by church choirs before I was in them and when I was in them. I had the opportunity to sing most of the rest of the larger work in high school, but this is the piece I remember. It tells us that the stars, the sky, the heavenly bodies, are all joined in announcing God’s greatness.
Last month we pondered whether Animals knew something we didn’t know. This month we move from the non-sentient to the inanimate. Do the stars declare the glory of God?
In fantasy, they often do. Narnia’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader included a stop on an island which was the home of a retired star. The expression the heavenly host is used historically interchangeably for the angels of God and the stars in the sky, and it seems that at some times and places these were thought to be the same thing. Astrology originated in part because humans attributed human qualities to the lights in the sky, observing the pattern of their in some ways intricate dance across the night and supposing that the stars knew something we did not. The reality of the matter may be quite different, but the illusions are compelling, and millions today still believe that the movement of extraterrestrial objects reflects intelligent knowledge of future events on earth.
We might excuse our ancient ancestors for this belief. After all, the movement of the stars did predict the future in very significant ways. The moon phase predicted the tide levels. The changing constellations pointed to the growing season, the coming snows, the approaching spring. These were all events that any amateur stargazer could recognize and predict. The idea that a more careful and professional study of the stars could provide a more detailed grasp of the future was an obvious, if erroneous, conclusion.
I don’t mean that we should legitimize astrology in our games; that’s an individual judgment. Few if any of my players have ever been fans of fortune telling, so I wouldn’t have a problem with it as a fantasy concept, but I recognize that this is one of those areas where some people would stumble. Yet I do think that letting the heavens speak of God is a valuable opportunity in fantasy. The wise men from the east (almost certainly Persian astrologers) followed a star to find the messiah. The lyric which began this article was drawn from the psalmist’s efforts to engage all of creation in praise of God.
The complicated matter, really, is translating the same idea to our modern and futuristic worlds. To us, the ideas of stars singing praise to their Creator, of planets joining in the dance, of truth being revealed to men through their familiarity with the heavenly bodies, cannot be more than a metaphor. Perhaps it can; perhaps in some sense the music of the spheres still echoes to our hearts. Yet there is this insistence upon realism in the modern world, in which the idea of the inanimate giving voice to the praises of the divine cannot be taken literally. It forces me to wonder how the heavens can tell the glory of God in our historical, modern, and futuristic game worlds, the worlds in which we rule out the fantastic in favor of the incredible. I’m going to have to think on that, and possibly get some feedback from my readers on how the heavens can glorify God in such worlds, before I venture into that. I’m sure it’s possible, and have some tentative notions already, but it sounds like it would be a good thing to consider separately.
In a fantasy world, meanwhile, the skies can be called upon to speak audibly to those who can hear, or to reveal their secrets through their dance, or to visit those to whom the divine would speak—or even to retire to a small island near the edge of the world, and entertain travelers who go so far.
This article was originally published in January 2004 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.