For some reason the whole family woke up early this morning. By 7 AM we were all out of bed and sitting in the living room, waiting for something to happen. Naturally nothing did happen, so I decided I’d catch up on some DVD reviews. After watching an episode in a 6-part history of Christianity, I put in the second disc of the two-disc series Journeys to the Edge of Creation which is produced by Moody. This episode is entitled “The Milky Way & Beyond.”
As we would expect, the video contained glimpse after glimpse of the universe, using the most advanced technology ever devised by humans. Using massive telescopes we can see tiny fragments of what lies beyond the earth and even beyond our own solar system and galaxy. The pictures were nothing I have not seen countless times before. Little points of light set in the black backdrop of the night sky have never impressed me in the way they do some people. I am almost ashamed to say that astronomy has never been an interest of mine.
But there is something that did make my mind churn as I watched this production. I found my mind cramping as I tried to comprehend the sheer vastness of space. The producers tried their best to provide some idea of just how vast our universe is. They took us on a 50 billion light-year journey (which means 50 billion years travelling at the speed of light) that gave us a bird’s-eye view of many of the galaxies we see around us, but did not exhaust the distance to the edge of the universe. They talked about the belief that there are some 200 billion galaxies in the universe, many of which contain upwards of 100 billion stars. If we were to add up all the grains of sand on all the beaches on earth, we would still fall short of the number of stars. They showed how if you hold a grain of sand at arm’s length, that space blocked from your vision by that one tiny grain of sand will contain hundreds, even thousands of galaxies, most of which are far larger than our own.
Fact after fact after fact. But the real fact is that we just cannot comprehend the vastness of space.
At times it seems like we lose our awe of God. Allow me to steal a paragraph from an article I wrote a couple of months ago. “There was a time in human history where men worshipped the moon. They saw the moon above them and considered it an awesome manifestation of the Divine. And so they worshipped it, paying homage to it as a god. But as civilization advanced, men constructed instruments through which they could study the moon. They came to realize that it was merely a moon orbiting the earth. They saw that it was a giant, dirt ball that had no light of its own, for it only reflected the light of the sun. In the name of science, men were sent to the moon and walked on its surface. Like so many others, I have stood in line at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington to touch a piece of the moon, worn smooth under the pressure of millions of fingers. At this point we can say that the moon has been thoroughly demystified. We know what it is, what it is made of, and even know of its importance to the earth. When we gaze at the moon today, we do so with little of the awe and wonder of men thousands of years ago.” The same holds true for much of the wonder around us – the plants, animals and human life we see every day. The first time Adam looked at a woman he must have gasped, and he immediately broke into a song of praise to God. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23). But it was not too long after that he turned on her, blaming her for his own sin. Truly we are prone to losing our awe of God as we conquer the boundaries of science.
At the same time, pushing the boundaries also brings us closer to a view of the infinite. As we approach the building-blocks of life, stored in every living cell, we come face-to-face with the realization of the incomprehensibility of God. We may be able to map the genome, but we can no more duplicate its complexity than we can call a new planet into being. We can begin to understand the “what’s” – what does it do? what does it control? – but we can only begin to scrape the surface of the “how’s.”
Gazing into the vastness of space this morning, even if it was only on a television screen, left me in awe of the God who created and maintains it all. The sheer immensity of space boggles the mind, especially when I stop to consider that God knows each star by name and without His constant presence each one would simply cease to exist. And this same God, who told Abraham to “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them” (Genesis 15:4) has an interest in me. He loves me. And He created me so I could enjoy this marvelous universe.
There are those who look at the vastness of the universe and conclude that we are nothing more than microbes of life living on a speck of dust in the middle of a vast cosmos. Carl Sagan expressed this hopelessness when he said, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” As followers of God, children of the Creator, we know better. The first verse of Psalm 19 declares “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” God created the universe to declare His own glory – and today he uses it, and perhaps uses it more than any other aspect of His creation, to proclaim His power. For as long as humans have been on earth, they have looked to the sky and acknowledged the power and presence of a Creator.
I was convicted this morning that as we approach the edge of creation, we will encounter in ever-greater ways, the sheer immensity of the power of God. And I realized that God is pleased when we explore His creation, not merely so we can increase our intellectual understanding and perhaps even discount His existence, but so we can come face-to-face with His power and glory.