Search This Blog

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Walther for troubled Christians today; Sun's orbit

     This blog post repeats a portion of a sermon C.F.W. Walther delivered for the 7th Sunday after Trinity and was published in his book of sermons Gnadenjahr or Year of Grace.  My purpose for bringing this will become clear in an upcoming series.  But more about that soon...
     The whole sermon may be found here (beginning on page 230) or read directly here (see last 2 paragraphs on page 233).  What follows below is only an excerpt (from Pastor Donald E. Heck's translation)... for a reason.
= = = = = = = = = = = =
     He who believes that God only idly watches the course of the world, who therefore lacks the confidence that there is a divinely wise, righteous, and gracious Providence who rules and regulates everything in the world, who therefore supposes that animate and inanimate creatures and hence he himself also are the playthings of a blind chance, such a faithless person is certainly most unfortunate.
     ... For if the sun would not hold just that position which it has held for almost six thousand years, and if it would not have just that orbit which it has, it would destroy more than it gives life to. If the sun would have been closer to us, it would have in a short time burned the earth into a huge brick; on the other hand, if its orbit would be further away, the earth would soon freeze solid in an eternal winter.
     Now how does it happen that for the past six thousand years the sun has never wandered away from its boundless path? how does it happen that sometimes it rises higher, sometimes, goes lower, but at a definite point regularly turns about, so that the necessary change of seasons takes place upon our earth?
= = = = = = = = = = = = = 
     I would encourage the Christian reader who could use some Christian comfort to read this sermon in its entirety... I did.  No Reformed preacher (and certainly not C.S. Lewis) could match Walther when preaching or speaking on The Providence of God.
     Ah, but what was one of the examples Walther used in this sermon? ... reading the section in bold above, Walther preached on the movement of the Sun in its orbit about the Earth.  What?  ... I thought... oh, well, you know... what today's "science" teaches as objective truth on the movement of the Earth about the Sun... or whatever.  But will any Lutheran preacher today use the same example as Walther did?... hmmm —
     So why bring this specific sermon to the fore today?  The last part of the excerpt above gives the clue, for this is an introduction to a series of blog posts on...


  1. In your excerpt, Walther asks two questions, and these are not "Who makes it happen" (the answer to which is God), but rather "How does it happen."

    1. "Now how does it happen that for the past six thousand years the sun has never wandered away from its boundless path?"

    Since Isaac Newton published his law of gravitation in 1687, it is known that the orbit of the Earth around the sun remains essentially the same path because the gravitational attraction between the sun and the Earth (or any planet in our solar system) is balanced by the motion of the planet perpendicular to the gravitational attraction between the sun and the planet. There are some slight changes in the eccentricity of the Earth's orbit, in part because of the effect of gravity from Saturn and Jupiter.

    2. "How does it happen that sometimes it rises higher, sometimes, goes lower, but at a definite point regularly turns about, so that the necessary change of seasons takes place upon our earth?"

    The seasons occur because the Earth's rotation around its axis is not perpendicular to its orbit around the sun, but tilted approximately 23 degrees. Thus in its annual orbit around the sun, the Earth's northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun during its summar and the southern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun six months later.

  2. Walther also asks some other questions:

    3. "How does it happen that this lamp of heaven has not been extinguished even though no one gives it new material to burn. This torch of God must shed light upon an immense vault in which an infinite number of terrestrial globes must find room; how does it happen that this torch has not yet burned up?"

    The sun's light radiated from the surface comes from enegry produced by hydrogen fusion in its interior. There is enough hydrogen in the sun so that the sun's fusion reactions can give off light for billions of years. Nuclear power was not known in Walther's time.

    4. "How does it happen that this huge mass of flames is thus contained in invisible boundaries like the sea in its shores?"

    The massive gravity of the sun keeps its plasma "flames" close to the sun's surface approximately 93 million miles away from Earth. There are occasional "burps" that do eject huge flares of plasma known as a "coronal mass ejection" (with a volume larger than that of Earth). If that plasma ejection is in the direction of and hits Earth, a geomagnetic storm can result in aurorae that can be seen in latitudes well below the Arctic Circle. In fact a massive cloud of plasma hit the Earth in 1859 during Walther's time. The geomagnetic storm was so strong that some existing telegraph systems failed and some telegraph operators received electric shocks. (I wonder if Walther ever wrote about that event.)

    5. "Since according to the laws of nature the clouds from time to time become laden with rain, how does it happen that the fiery sea of the sun does not according to the same laws pour out its streams of flame to incinerate the world?

    If the sun continues to burn for about 5 billion more years, it will start to run out of hydrogen, start burning helium, and will expand until its radius extends out beyond the orbit of Earth.

    6. "How does it happen that the earth, this universal mother of everything perishable, itself never grows old, even though everything on its surface gradually decays? How does it happen that this fruitful mother after a time takes everything back which came forth from her bosom, but returns it again in a better, rejuvenated form as she changes decayed plants and bodies into nourishment for new products?"

    The Earth is not a closed system, but, during the seasons of the year (which are related to the tilted axis of the Earth), continues to receive energy from the sun, which is converted by plants using photosynthesis to chemical energy producing oxygen and other usable products. In addition, the interior energy of the Earth cause in part by radioactive decay of long-lived uranium, thorium, and potassium results in tectonic plate movement brings new minerals to the surface. Weather and ocean currents (due to gravity and the coriolis force) and tides (caused by the moon) also help spread such products throughout the Earth.

    1. I am responding to these in my next blog post.