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How Big Is the Universe?
August 03, 2011
On February 14, 1990, the space craft Voyager 1 was on the very fringe of our solar system. Before it drifted away to wander the galaxy, engineers turned the cameras around and pointed them toward earth, 6.4 billion kilometers away. This historic photograph captured earth as just the tiniest point of light in a vast sky. Carl Sagan looked at that photograph and declared, “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.” We are, after all, the inhabitants of just a speck, the tiniest pinprick of light in a universe of unimaginable proportions.
How big is the universe? It’s an impossible question for us to answer, of course, but that has not stopped many from making an attempt. I enjoy hearing about those attempts. Here is one that I came across the other day. It’s worth three-and-a-half minutes of your time:
According to this video, the approximate size of the universe is big. Really big. Really, really big. Scientists pointed the Hubble Telescope at what appeared to be a completely dark area of the sky and left it in place for a 4 month exposure. What they found there was not just stars, but entire galaxies, and this in an area that could be blotted out by holding a grain of rice at arm’s length. Divide the sky into 27 million parts and each of those 27 million parts contains not just stars but entire galaxies.
How many stars are there? No one knows, of course, but scientists estimate something like 300 sextillion (there are around 200 billion of them just in our little galaxy). Three hundred sextillion is a 3 followed by 23 zeroes or a hundred billion times 3 trillion. After a while it gets completely absurd; it’s absolutely unimaginable. Even then these are only rough estimates—there could be many times that. Factor in that we really have no idea where or if the universe ends, and it gets more mind-boggling still.
The video I posted above follows Carl Sagan in looking at the vastness of the universe and seeing in this our own insignificance. After all, what is the earth but a tiny, pale blue dot in an unimaginably massive universe? This is where so many people end up, lost in the vastness of space and believing that the universe declares just how insignificant we are.
You will not be surprised to know that I disagree with this conclusion. I cannot accept it.
The Heavens Declare
When we look at the universe we see, first and foremost, the majesty of God (see Psalm 19). God could have created 50 or 100 or even a million stars to declare something about his character. Our minds would reel at the significance of one million stars, each one far beyond our reach, each one different from every other, each one formed and known by God. But 300 sextillion? That’s making an even bigger statement. That is making a statement not just about power, but about complete, absolute, transcendent power. When you look to the night sky you see God making a statement about himself.
The Heavens Convict
The heavens convict us that God is real and that God is not just powerful but all-powerful. They convict us, as humans. God did not create the stars so that dogs or cats or birds or fish could see them and enjoy them and marvel at them. No animal has ever gazed at the sky in wonder or sought to count them all. No other life form has ever built a telescope to study them closer, to measure them, to name them. The heavens are a message from God to us, a message that convicts us of his power and authority.
While the stars declare how miniscule we are in relation to God, they also declare just how important we are to God. God regards us in such a way that he would give the stars as a means of moving our hearts in praise to him—to convict us of his existence, of his power, of his authority over all of the universe. They convict us in such a way as to leave us with no excuse. Only a fool (in the biblical sense of the word) could look at the sky and say, “God does not exist.”
The Heavens Provide
The stars do not only declare God’s magnificent power; they also tell us about his character. The heavens show us that God loves us and will give us what brings joy to our hearts. God did not need to create so many stars and he did not need to create them to be so beautiful. By making the stars and galaxies so wondrous, so majestic, he gives us joy and pleasure. Who has not felt a chill of pleasure looking up at the night sky and seeing the sheer beauty of what the Lord has made? What Christian has not felt his heart moved to awe and praise? The heavens provide us pleasure because God loves us and loves to bring us pleasure. They are beautiful to us, to humans, not to the plants or animals or rocks or seas.
No Greater Proof
We look at the heavens and see the transcendent power and majesty of God. And then deny it. We look to ourselves and see that we will deny the God who has created them and perhaps even worship these things—these planets and stars and suns—in place of the Creator. The heavens show us just how sinful we are. But then we see 300 sextillion stars and marvel that God would choose to take on our form and to come to our pale, blue dot. God became man and walked on man’s planet to draw man back to God. Could there be any bigger testament to our importance? Carl Sagan said that man has only imagined that he is important or that he has some privileged position in the Universe. But no, man is important to God and man does have a great privilege, an exceedingly great privilege, the greatest privilege of all.