Professor of astronomy Denise Stephens addressed students during a July 3 devotional about finding their place in the universe by taking the time to look up, even to God’s innumerable creations in the sky.
Stephens has been fascinated with space since childhood. She told the story of being 5 or 6 years old at a school book fair and flipping through a picture book containing images of Jupiter and its moons.
One of Jupiter’s moons, named Io, particularly caught her attention with its vibrant colors and beautiful landscape. She began to wonder why God created objects like Io.
“If you really think about it, there is no reason for our solar system to consist of anything more than a sun, a moon and an earth. So why put eight planets around the Sun instead of one?” questioned Stephens.
Stephens also mentioned the peculiar heart-shaped geological feature that is located on Pluto that just so happened to be in the perfect location for the New Horizons spacecraft to see in a four-hour window when it flew by the planet on July 14, 2015.
“Did God put that feature on Pluto billions of years ago, knowing we would never see it until these last days, as a reminder that he loves us? To remind us that he is aware of us?” she said.
Stephens believes she has arrived at an answer. “As I have studied God’s creations in the heavens, I have come to believe that all of God’s creations serve a purpose and exist for a reason.”
Although understanding the whys behind all of God’s creations may be impossible, we can have faith and an assured knowledge that God is in control, that he has a plan and that we are on earth with an extraordinary purpose, Stephens said.
Stephens continued by giving “an astronomy lesson about the different glories of stars, based on the limited knowledge of man” in reference to students finding their place in the universe, or, in other words, discovering their individual extraordinary purpose.
She began by noting that there does not appear to be much variation in the stars when one looks up into the night sky. However, by taking a closer look, it becomes apparent that not all stars are the same. Stephens explained that the distance of a star affects its luminosity, that a star’s colors are directly related to its temperature and that the radius of a star is calculated from both the luminosity and temperature.
“What we find is that stars are not all the same. They vary in glory,” Stephens said. The sun, which gives us the energy to exist on earth, is by no means the perfect star.
“The sun is not the largest star. It is not the hottest star. And it is not the brightest star,” Stephens said. “But even though it is not the greatest, the sun perfectly fills its measure of creation … The sun has the perfect set of attributes to fulfill the calling it has been given.”
So it is with God’s children. Stephens quoted Abraham 3:18, which reads: “Howbeit that he made the greater star; as also, if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal.”
The Lord continues in verse 19 by saying, “These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.”
Stephens explained that these two verses teach us about humankind.
“First, we are not all the same. There will always be someone more intelligent or more gifted in something than you are, and likewise, you will be more intelligent or gifted with some attribute than someone else,” she said. “But we also learn that we are eternal. While all the stars you see in the sky will eventually die, you will live forever.”
The fact that children of God are eternal creations, unlike the stars above, means they have the capability to continue to improve and seek perfection so one day, after this life, God’s children can become like him.
Stephens invited the students to take time to look up by putting down the electronics and by stepping away from social media in order to witness God’s creations around them.
“When you are most weighed down with anger or doubt, if you can remember to look up, to behold God’s vast creations, you will be reminded of your eternal nature and that your current challenge or struggle is just a small moment in the timeframe of eternity,” Stephens said.
Comparing one another’s lives is an easy thing to do in the current day.
“Remember the lesson on stars. We are not all the same. We are not all meant to be the brightest star, the largest star or the hottest star. In fact, we may not even be meant to be a star, and if we keep comparing ourselves against something that we are not, we will never find true happiness in this life. We will never become the person that our Heavenly Father wants us to become,” Stephens said.
His children are the reason for his creations, according to Stephens.
“Remember that our Father in Heaven knows you, and he loves you. You are his child and the workmanship of his hands, and Hhe wants nothing more than for you to return to him and become like him someday,” she said. “Never forget to look up; he is there and he is waiting for you, and he will help you find your place in this universe.”
The next devotional is scheduled for July 10, when Director of Publications and Graphics Jeff McClellan will address BYU students at 11 a.m. in the de Jong Concert Hall.