The Overview Effect: Why We Need to See the Big Picture
People who view the earth from space experience the overview effect. But there is also a spiritual overview effect. What is it, and how can it influence you?
Have you ever seen a view that literally took your breath away? Perhaps it was a beautiful sunset or sunrise or something awesome like a solar or lunar eclipse.
During such times, we may gasp and say, “Wow! What a view!”
What about a view of earth from space?
A little over 60 years ago, Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to travel to space and see the earth from that perspective. Soon afterward, the Americans would enter the space race and others would see it.
When the Russians and Americans were planning to send people into space, they probably had no idea what effect the experience would have on the astronauts. They were preparing men to have nerves of steel, as some theorized that the vastness of space could drive them insane.
But that is not what happened.
After his return from space, Yuri Gagarin wrote, “I saw how beautiful our planet is. Let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it.” His trip to space changed his perspective of earth.
In 1968 the Apollo 8 crew were the first to see the earth from the moon. The size of the earth from the moon appeared roughly four times bigger than the size of the moon from earth.
When images of the earth from the moon were beamed back to people’s TV screens, it was quite a shock, because they hadn’t known what the earth looked like from space. It was a new experience for both the astronauts and the people on earth.
When the Apollo 8 crew was planning their mission to the moon, their minds were focused on getting to the moon and back, not on what it would be like looking back at earth.
When Frank Borman, the commander of the Apollo 8 mission, saw the earth, he said, “What a view!” and “This must be what God sees.”
From space, we see the precious beauty of the earth with no international borders—just the blues, greens, tans and browns of the earth’s diverse landscapes and oceans.
Since then, around 600 people have traveled into space.
One phenomenon astronauts experience after space travel is a profound shift in their thinking—something called the overview effect. It describes a change in how they think about the world, and the effect is compounded the farther they go from the earth. The farther they go, the greater the overview effect.
We could mistakenly think that astronauts would grow in feelings of insignificance as they peer at the vast blackness of the universe. Unexpectedly, however, those who have gone into space have come back with feelings of greater personal significance—they feel part of something much bigger than themselves.
What can a Christian learn from the overview effect? Should the knowledge of God’s plan—something far greater than the vastness of space—change our perspective on life?
Is there a spiritual overview effect for Christians?
The importance of vision
The overview effect on astronauts begins with vision—they literally see the earth from a different perspective, which changes their thinking.
Likewise for the Christian, spiritual vision is necessary before a change in perspective can occur.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Proverbs 29:18, King James Version).
Without a knowledge of God and His plan, people are left without purpose and direction.This proverb shows that people need a “big picture” perspective on life.
Sadly, so many people in our world today struggle with vision. They have no sense of significance in their lives and struggle with depression and other issues like self-harm and suicide.
Without vision, people perish.
It is worth noting, though, that the Hebrew word translated vision actually refers to divine revelation. So true spiritual vision comes from God’s revelation to us in His Word, the Bible.
Without a knowledge of God and His plan, people are left without purpose and direction.
On the other hand, people who have godly vision will obey God’s law. It will guide how they live because they understand the purpose God created them for, and they strive to live by His laws.
A great example of a man who had vision is King David.
“The heavens declare the glory of God”
David, as a shepherd boy, gazed at the magnificent heavens and thought, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
While David was limited to what his naked eye could see, today we have powerful telescopes that are capable of seeing far beyond that. If David saw God’s glory and workmanship in the vastness of space, how much more should we with our modern knowledge of its vastness!
David continued in Psalm 19, saying that the creation “utters speech” and “reveals knowledge” (verse 2). In other words, the vastness of heaven contains a powerful message for us human beings. We see its greatness and realize that it must have been created by an even greater God.
But that is not all the heavens reveal to us.
The laws of the universe, and their benefits for us, should also help us consider God’s other laws—the laws that govern human life. Experts who study the origins of the universe have discovered that it is not eternal. It had a beginning. Though most scientists refuse to acknowledge it, this is a powerful testimony to the existence of a supreme Creator.
Additionally, we have discovered the universe to be governed by laws and constraints, including the mechanisms by which the earth supports life.
If the earth were closer to the sun by a minuscule fraction, it would be too hot to sustain life and liquid water would boil away. On the other hand, if the earth were farther from the sun by a minuscule fraction, the earth would freeze.
The laws that govern our universe are so constant and reliable that NASA can actually calculate the eclipses that will occur up to the year 3000! For example, according to NASA, on Nov. 14, 2999, there will be a total lunar eclipse that will be most visible from the Philippines.
The consistency of the laws of our universe should point us to the divine Lawgiver who created them. They didn’t just happen by themselves.
With this understanding, Paul’s words in Romans 1:20 become more impactful: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”
The laws of the universe, and their benefits for us, should also help us consider God’s other laws—the laws that govern human life. God created living laws that help us live happy and productive lives. God’s laws provide blessings that help us avoid all kinds of problems (Deuteronomy 30:16-20).
The heavens declare God’s power and majesty
Our words have no power. We cannot speak anything into existence.
But God can—and did (Psalm 33:6-9). He spoke, and it happened. Our minds can’t fathom how God can create something out of nothing. But He is truly that powerful.
He created the earth, sun, moon and stars—the entire universe.
Consider the sun and how much energy it generates. In a single second, it generates 400 trillion trillion watts. This is equivalent to 1 trillion megaton bombs, enough energy to power our current world for 500,000 years. That’s just in a single second. That’s just one star in our universe—and an average star at that.
Think of the stars. The latest estimate of the number of stars was 1 septillion (that’s 1 with 24 zeros). Yet this is still believed to be a gross underestimation. This should imbue Psalm 147:4 with even greater meaning for us. It tells us that God knows all the stars by name. Our minds can’t grasp numbers that big. But that’s like counting pocket change for God. We are told, “His understanding is infinite” (verse 5).
Understanding the vastness of the creation and what it reveals about God’s greatness should impact our relationship with Him. The heavens truly do “declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1).
What is our place in this universe?
Looking at the universe, one can feel so insignificant. But that’s not necessarily the only thing God wants us to feel from His creation. Yes, He wants us to understand that we are as nothing—just dust. He wants us to develop humility and be in deep awe of Him.
But He also wants us to understand the purpose for which He made us. He wants us to derive our significance from that—from knowing that God is working something in our lives that’s much greater than what we could hope to produce.
King David understood this.
David, while gazing at the heavens and admiring God’s handiwork, wondered why a God so great and powerful would take the time even to think about us tiny human beings (Psalm 8:3-4).
All of God’s creation is intended to get our minds to point toward God. But here we see that God’s mind is also pointed toward us.
This is where our true significance comes from. God created us and has a purpose for us. To learn more about that purpose, download our free booklet, God's Purpose For You: Discovering Why You Were Born.
At the creation, God gave mankind rulership over the entire earth and over every living thing (Genesis 1:26). Psalm 8:5-6 reveals that God “crowned him [humanity] with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the work of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.”
God wants us to lovingly rule and care for His creation—the earth and the animals.
But this should also point us to an even greater truth, that God wants to put all things under our dominion in “the world to come” (Hebrews 2:5-8). He created human beings with the potential to be born into His family and inherit all things—that includes this earth and the entire universe!
But first, we must learn to do things God’s way in this life. God defines two ways of life, and we must choose which way to live. God pleads with us to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19)—the way that produces blessings.
Hopefully this post will help you experience the spiritual overview effect. Focusing on the “big picture” of God’s glory, power and plan should have a great impact on our lives today.
Will the overview effect change your life?