As a teenaged boy, I spent many nights lying in the middle of a suburban street outside of Houston, Texas, staring at the sky. My best friend at the time would often join me. We’d imagine building spaceships and one day taking them to far away solar systems — a dream I still at times wistfully entertain. Often, we would sit in my driveway, and using my paper star charts, we’d try find some distant celestial object. Frequently, we would attempt to train my telescope on the furthest heavenly body we could find. This proved to be very difficult because in the Houston sky stars are sparse, and distant stars are faint. City lights are so numerous, and so bright that their noise drowns out the glimmer and twinkle of all but the brightest stars. In Houston, the night sky is mostly an unwrinkled sheet of drab charcoal gray punctuated by dim, flickering points here and there.
But oh my goodness! When you go to the top of a mountain in Colorado, the view is different. There are no city lights blaring out an unrelenting whitewash to cover uncountable glinting shards and sparkling diamonds set in black velvet or midnight blue. The beauty cannot be described. It can only be experienced. And the only way that you can experience it is to separate yourself from the city. Ironically, this isn’t because the city lights are brighter than the stars. The stars are millions of times brighter than the city lights. You can see some of those stars from your city, but you would not be able to see any of your city lights from those stars. It isn’t that the city lights are bigger than the stars. The stars are many, many times bigger than our planet. It isn’t that city lights are more beautiful than the stars. A trip to the top of the mountain proves it. Its your proximity to the city lights that keeps you from seeing the stars. The closer you are to the city, the more engulfed in its light you become.
This is partly why we as followers of Christ are called to be separate from the world (2 Corinthians 6:17). When we are part of the world, it’s harder for us to see God’s light. We are so close to the wrong light source, that we are no longer able to see the narrow path that God is lighting before our feet (Psalm 119:105), and we begin to follow instead the broad path that our city might want us to follow (Matthew 7:13-14). And if our light is drowned out by the city light around us, then we cannot be the lighted city on a hill for others to see and find that we have been called to be (Matthew 5:14-16).