Significance and Meaning: Eclipse 2017

The long waited spectacle of science culminates in the Eclipse of 2017.  What makes this event significant is not its historical value nor its philosophical meaning, but its rarity.  Solar eclipses occur every 1 ½ years as the orbital motions of the earth, moon and sun allow the moon’s shadow to be cast on the earth.  Locations where the shadow can be experienced seem random, but can be predicted with high accuracy millennia into the future.  What makes them rare is the relatively small area of the earth’s surface from where they can be viewed.  This year’s eclipse can be viewed coast to coast in the United States, an event which has not occurred since 1918.

Solar eclipses are recorded in Mesopotamian tables during the time of Israel’s leader Joshua.  The first prediction of an eclipse is attributed to Thales of the ancient Greek city of Miletus some 700 years later.  Although this claim is disputed, this eclipse interrupted a battle between the Medes and Lydians and resulted in a truce.  Eclipses preceded the birth of Mohammed the Prophet and the death of King Henry I.  In the modern era eclipses are linked to two significant scientific discoveries.  In 1868 the first evidence of the element Helium was discovered during an eclipse in India.  During the eclipse of 1918 there were plans to confirm Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which predicts that gravity bends the path of light.  These plans were thwarted due to a layer of thin cirrus clouds.  The following year this prediction was verified by eclipse observations from South America and Africa.

Eclipses have often been viewed as portents of significant events.  In cultures that venerate the sun as a god, solar eclipses are causes of concern and result in rituals to restore the sun to its full strength.  Among Christians there have been several attempts to explain the darkness during Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:45-54) as a solar eclipse.  Although the overlap between the sun and moon can last for several hours, the period of totality (when the sun is completely obscured by the moon and the sky significantly darkens) only lasts for minutes.  Whether an eclipse explains the darkness of the crucifixion or not, it is still miraculous none the less.  Either the darkness is a supernatural act of God or a natural event with providential timing.

We desire to attribute significance to rare events and in turn find our place in the universe.  The Bible provides a number of references to signs in the heavens (Genesis 1:14; Jeremiah 10:2; Daniel 6:27; Matthew 16:1; Luke 21:11; Acts 2:19; Revelation 13:13).  These signs range from the lawfulness established in the motions of the sun, moon and stars to the miraculous judgment on unrepentant man at the end times.  Christians fall into trouble when they attempt to find hidden meaning in events such as the eclipse, thinking that it adds to their faith and understanding of God.  2 Peter 1:2-4 states “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…” (ESV).  Paul also declares that scripture is given so that we would be complete (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Nothing more needs to be added.

On the other end of the spectrum the eclipse can be used to proclaim the insignificance of man in the random dance of the cosmos.  In a briefing of The Economist the author of “The dark after dawn” states that the universe is capricious and “to see a total eclipse at all is a happy accident of time and space.”  On the contrary Gonzalez and Richards in The Privileged Planet recognize the significance of our place in the Universe.  Not only are conditions rare for making intelligent life possible in the universe, but the earth occupies an ideal location in our galaxy and solar system for scientific discovery.  One example relates to eclipses.  Since the moon and sun appear to be the same size in the sky, it is possible during a solar eclipse to view the sun’s atmosphere, which in turn led to the discovery of helium.  Viewing stars close to the eclipsed sun was used to verify Einstein’s theory.  Nowhere else in the solar system are eclipses of this type possible.

This eclipse does not herald the end of days, but it does “declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).  Like a sunset, it is a testimony to the creativity and beauty of our Creator.  We are not an accident, but are here for a purpose: to establish a personal relationship with our Creator and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

22 thoughts on “Significance and Meaning: Eclipse 2017”

  1. I enjoyed this historical overview of the solar eclipse phenomenon and how it ultimately points to our sovereign creator!

  2. It’s always dangerous to glorify one of God’s amazing, providential creations instead of God himself, as these cultures that you mentioned have done. Thank you for this article to point us back to the true source! This eclipse was an amazing show of God’s creativity in his creation.

  3. It was really great being able to see the eclipse and even better reading this article and learning new things about eclipses. I really liked what you said towards the end, “Like a sunset, it is a testimony to the creativity and beauty of our Creator.” It was wonderful to learn more about eclipses but also learning it from a biblical point of view!

  4. Thank you for posting this article! It was a very interesting read and I learned a lot about the history of eclipses. What stuck out to me most is how God beautifully orchestrates all of the eclipses; none of them are by accident. We serve a God who loves to create and it is a joy and pleasure to be able to witness His creativity!

  5. Our position in the universe truly is amazing. Thank you for the historical background and biblical insight.

  6. It was awesome being on a campus where everyone was so excited to watch the eclipse, and praise God because of it’s uniqueness and beauty. This post is a good reminder of the privilege it is to know the Creator and worship Him.

  7. I took astronomy last year with Dr. Wagers and this event was something I looked forward to for months! I find the moon’s precise cycle absolutely fascinating. I agree with, “the eclipse can be used to proclaim the insignificants of man.” The universe is so far beyond our human understanding. Thank you for sharing some of your insight on the 2017 eclipse! This is a wonderful post.

  8. ” Christians fall into trouble when they attempt to find hidden meaning in events such as the eclipse, thinking that it adds to their faith and understanding of God”

    This is a great point that was a bit sobering for me. I love seeing God work in our lives in funny way, but I agree it is something to be careful of, to not try to make more out of something than it needs to be.

  9. I have always wanted to see a solar eclipse, ever since I learned about them in elementary school science. I’m very glad I was able to be apart of such a large group of people that were looking up towards the sky during the middle of a work day. I appreciate reading more about what the solar eclipse means historically and biblically, and I will remember staring at the sun, with silly glasses on my face, for a long time to come.

  10. See the Moon almost blocking out the Sun was awesome. Praise God for letting us experience this. Thanks for the historical and biblical history about solar eclipses.

  11. I have heard the argument before that the dark skies during Jesus’ death was only a result of an eclipse and always thought that it was still miraculous. I did not know that helium was discovered during an eclipse. It is something that I never thought of before reading this article.

  12. I had never thought of the darkness following Jesus’s death as a possibility of a solar eclipse, even though unlikely. Thank you for your insight on the topic, and the historical background of discovering helium.

  13. I really enjoyed reading about the historical and Biblical significance of eclipses. It is amazing the timing in which the eclipses occur and the purpose that they serve. I look forward to researching more about eclipses as I anticipate the next one.

  14. To me the solar eclipse is one more example of the extraordinary precision and perfection God had when designing the universe. It is a reminder to me of how impossible it would have been to create this world without God and therefore it is reassurance that God is real! I love the insight on the biblical significance of eclipses in the past, but I also agree that it is dangerous territory to start overanalyzing details like that and lose sight of the importance of God whether those details are true or not.

  15. Whenever I reflect on the wonders of a solar eclipse, I am reminded of the amazing perfection of God’s creation. I find it very difficult to believe astonishing events such as the recent solar eclipse are just random “accidental” happenings. I really enjoyed the point you made about the darkening of the sky during the crucifixion. I will definitely be reminded of the crucifixion every time I think about or see a solar eclipse.

  16. Seeing the eclipse and realizing how amazing of a creator that we serve was such a humbling experience. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Bible passages that you presented about the eclipse. I had never thought about eclipses in Biblical times, and it is fascinating that we can experience eclipses in modern times much like those in biblical times.

  17. Seeing the eclipse was an amazing opportunity, but what’s really cool is seeing how it is part of the order God established in Genesis! I absolutely love hearing about all of that other cool information and how awesome the cosmos are!

  18. Amazing article! I really enjoyed the background in this article. It was interesting and answered many questions I hadn’t even thought of before. I love the ending quote, “We are not an accident, but are here for a purpose: to establish a personal relationship with our Creator and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.” Very humbling and puts things into perspective.

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