Does Size Matter?
September 21, 2016 | by: Sharon Bruce | 0 Comments
Posted in: Culture, Science and the Christian Walk
Have you ever thought about the universe? I don’t mean in the philosophical sense- not yet. I mean in a physical, scientific sense. Late one night while driving down I-95, I glanced up at the stars. I remember thinking that the stars were so far away, all the light I was looking at was old. It took years to get from where it started to my eye. Then I thought about how, hypothetically, all those stars could have burned out and we just didn’t know it yet, looking at these leftover bits of old light. A giant cosmic switch could have been flipped to ‘off’ and it’s really all dark out there. We could be all by ourselves. In the dark.
Don’t think about stuff like that when you’re driving alone in the middle of the night.
It will creep you out.
The universe is so vast, that when astronomers talk about distance, they have to speak in terms of the speed of light (light years) instead of units of length (miles or kilometers). When those numbers get too clunky, they use units called parsecs, and kiloparsecs and mega parsecs. According to cosmologist Sean Carroll, we share our galaxy with about 100 billion other stars. The closest to us is a binary system Alpha Centauri A and B, approximately 4.3 light years away. Light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. That puts our next door neighbor at 23,940,000,000,000 miles away from us, give or take a mile. Put into words, that’s twenty-three trillion nine hundred forty billion miles. The distance from your front door to the center of theour Milky Way galaxy is a bit faurther: 1,530,000,000,000,000,000 miles, or about 2,608 light years (we’re on the outskirts of our cosmic neighborhood). The next galaxy closest to us, Canus Major, is 25,000 light years away. Then there are the other 98 billion galaxies in the observable universe.
So, what of us?
“We are a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck,” said astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in a Radiolab interview about Space. He is right, maybe even generous, in his assertion. We may be even smaller than that. At the beginning of his talk on time, Carroll said, “The age of the universe between now and the Big Bang is 100 billion in dog years…which tells you something about our place in the universe.” The implication seems clear: we are so miniscule in the breadth of space and time that we couldn’t possibly matter.
The Bible, too, testifies to our minuteness. The Apostle James asks, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” -James 1:24
And from Isaiah: "A voice says, 'Cry!' and I said, 'What shall I cry?' all flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. -Isaiah 40:6-8
So, that’s it then? We are so small and fragile that we mean nothing? Not to the universe? Not to God? We are here to live a while, perish and blow away?
The conclusion that because we are tiny we don’t matter is a very human one. Size is often how we judge value. Look again, though, at the passage from Isaiah, this time quoted by the Apostle Peter: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; or ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.' And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:22-25)
Did you catch it? Yes, our bodies are little more than dust, but our souls, our selves, are so beloved that the God who is in and through and around our immense universe focuses his gaze on us. That he would look upon such tiny creatures on a little spinning sphere on the edge of a galaxy that is one of millions doesn’t mean we don’t matter. It means we do matter.
It means you matter.
So go outside. Look up at the stars and think about how big the universe is, and how beloved you are.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. -Psalm 119: 1-3
Sharon Bruce, a current CG leader at Restoration, traded her childhood desert mountains for beaches and green. Her lush backyard garden plants display a marked respect for her Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. Sharon’s love for God and compassion for His creation shout loudest in her artwork, in her caring friendship, and in her willingness to gently re-home a slimy frog from a friend’s front porch Bromeliad to the river three miles away.