Recently I was on a ship sailing in the eastern Atlantic. Much of the time there was nothing to be seen but the apparently boundless, horizon-kissing ocean in all directions. Nothing that is but a seemingly timeless wind-driven surging of waves, an unlimited globe-circling highway to distant lands, a mind stretching enormous-ness emphasising our smallness. That was until night fell, and the stars rushed out into that speckled blackness that painfully forces our minds to seek to grasp another dimension again, the universe and beyond. Then even the boundless sea becomes small compared to the cosmic panoply, and so much more do we.
So what should be our response to this mind stretching, enormousness be?
Scientists now claim that potentially visible reality extends beyond the 40 or 50 or so billion light years of the currently observable universe into perhaps infinity. It seems then that the more science moves us beyond the pre-Copernican earth-centred (and man-centred) cosmos the more we realize just how small and significant we and our planet really are.
In fact, as the brilliant physicist Brian Cox puts it “this is my ascent into nothingness”. That is as we ascend in our knowledge of the cosmos the smaller we realize we are, as humanity and our planet are moved from the centre of creation to a small lonely blip in the cosmos. In Cox’s words “we humans represent an isolated island of meaning in a meaningless universe”.
However, Professor Cox, despite all his brilliance, has to admit the depressing fact that he sees no reason for the existence of the universe, that is in a teleological or purpose sense. His conclusion when he looks at the night sky is that there is no purpose for its, or our, existence, all he sees is a “nothingness”, and it is true for, as for him, without God nothingness is all there is.
“The stars rushed out into that speckled blackness that painfully forces our minds to seek to grasp another dimension again”
For those of us however, who have been given the precious gift of eyes of faith, the only response to the journey into the increasing science-revealed wonders of the cosmos, is not an “ascent to nothingness”, but ‘an ascent to praise’. For rather than a mute cosmos we see that “the heavens declare the Glory of God” (Psalm 19).
More than that, we can only be overwhelmed along with the writer of Psalm 8 that this God of the boundless sea and the infinity of the star-studded blackness of the night should not only be remotely interested in us, but actually “cares for us” – what love is that?
Contrary to the depressing ‘Nothingness’ which Brian Cox’s brilliance leads him to, the only way to comprehend the vast star-spangled canopy of night is as an expression of love, God’s love for us in all our smallness. In the words of the astro-physicist Carl Sagan-
”For small creatures such as we,
The vastness is bearable only through love
Yes, the cosmic enormity our smallness brings. But our realization of our smallness is the lens into the limitless love of God, an extra-universal love, a love most specifically brought from outside the boundless universe into our space-time, by Christ Jesus by whom the stars were created, yet who made himself as small as us to be our Saviour.