Sunday, August 17, 2008

Lord of All Creation

I've been listening to a series of lectures entitled, "Astronomy: Stars, Galaxies, and the Universe" and it's got me thinking about the size of things. It's hard to get a real feeling for how amazingly big the universe is. You've heard people talk about the Earth being 93 million miles from the Sun, the closes star, Proxima Centauri, being about 4 light-years away, and the closest galaxy, Andromeda (pictured here, courtesy of NASA Images), being 2.5 million light-years away. Maybe you don't remember the exact distances, but you've likely heard something like this before. The numbers have no real "feeling" to them. How far is a light-year anyway? It's hard to get a sense of the size from the numbers themselves. (1 light-year = about 6,000,000,000,000 miles)

The lecturer, Professor James Kaler (info here, or here), did something that helped a lot, and I thought it was worth some thought time.

The first steps along this path are some "local" sizes. The Sun is about 100 times the size of the Earth, and the distance from the Earth to the Sun is about 100 times the Sun's diameter. That means you could line up about 10,000 Earths between here and the Sun. Already this is a pretty big number to imagine!

Going further, imagine that the distance from the Earth to the Sun was one inch. On that basis, the Earth would be about a tenth of a micron, far too small to see, about the size of a large bacteria. Our solar system, out to the little rocks beyond Pluto, would be about six feet across. On this scale, the nearest star would be a little over four miles away. Beyond this, the numbers quickly get too big to absorb again. If the distance to the Sun is one inch, our galaxy, the Milky Way, is 100,000 miles across--half way to the moon. Our galaxy is one of billions that we can see and is unremarkable. Remember, this is a galaxy containing hundreds of billions of stars I just called unremarkable!

The universe is unbelievably large, staggeringly large, mind-numbingly large. It's B-I-G. Mankind is proud of the fact that we've gone all the way to the Moon, but that's about the diameter of a strand of a spider's web in our modified scale. Almost too small to see!

One of the things we tend to do as Christians is to underestimate God. We see him as a slightly larger version of ourselves, maybe without the little imperfections we have. But God is the creator of this stupefyingly large universe we've just been looking at! We make a serious error if we see God as just a "big person." We contemplate God, we argue about his existence, about the extent of his power, about his character. What we should be doing is standing in awe, unable to grasp his size, but yet overwhelmed by what we can grasp.

In Isaiah 55:9 God says, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

I should say so!