Who Painted the Sky With Flames?



Someone set fire to the sky, cast a flaming ball over the horizon and ignited the clouds. I stand transfixed as the flame overspreads the early evening sky, west to east. The glow brightens, the blaze intensifies, the color deepens. It is as spectacular a sunset as I’ve seen.

I know why the sky is blue and the sunset red.

Traveling at 186,282 miles per second, it takes eight-and-a-half minutes for the sun’s white light to cover the 93 million miles to Earth. But what I see as white is actually a blend of the prismatic colors of the spectrum—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet—and those lightwaves are not of equal length. Red lightwaves are long; blue lightwaves are short.

The sun’s light strikes the clear air of Earth’s atmosphere, but that clear air is actually a sea of countless molecules, each molecule only slightly smaller than the wavelengths of visible light. As the light enters this sky-sea of molecules, it is scattered, but the long and short lightwaves are scattered unevenly, so that the colors reach me unevenly.

As I look up into the afternoon sky and my eyes gather the scattered light, it is the blue I see most. Later, as the sun moves lower and lower toward the horizon, its lightwaves travel a greater distance through Earth’s atmosphere. The short lightwaves of blue are scattered in all directions so that fewer reach me, while the longer lightwaves of red and orange and yellow are scattered less. I see them, and they set the sky ablaze. If the sky is dusty or smoky, the effect is intensified further, and the sunset is spectacular.

It is spectacular now. Even the cloud wisps in the darker eastern sky glow like pink neon.

Too quickly though, the flash-fire of sunset spends itself, and the day’s last dying embers flicker in the purple smoke of twilight.

I know why the sky is blue and the sunset red. Does that make it any less the brushstrokes of the Creator?

Great is your love, reaching the heavens; your faithfulness reaches the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.

Psalm 57:10-11

Copyright © 2008 by James P. Long | Faith and Imagination