Of Love and Galaxies
Do you know how many planets there are in the Milky Way, our galaxy? The Answer: Billions. Do you know how many galaxies there are in the Universe? The Answer: Trillions. Do you know how old the Universe is? The Answer: Roughly 14 billion years old. Stop and think about those numbers. Billions. Trillions. Try to get your brain around them. Sit with them for a moment. When I do, I’m at a loss. I feel overwhelmed, small and insignificant. Recently, I’ve been reading an essay by Philosopher Peter Van Inwagen in Knowing Creation: Perspectives from Theology, Philosophy and Science and he sums up this feeing of insignificance well:
“Oh, sure, the creator of a universe billions of years old containing trillions of galaxies each of which contain billions of stars is going to take interest in a few animals who have spent a few millennia inhabiting a planet orbiting one star. It is just as absurd as me taking interest in a single cell in my body. In fact, do the math; it’s billions of times more absurd.”
The Psalmist in Psalm 8, puts the struggle for understanding our significance in this way:
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
Julian of Norwich, a 14th century mystic, may have not known about the big bang, or the age of the Universe, or about galaxies but she knew something even more significant about God that came in a vision:
And in this [vision] he showed me a little thing the size of a hazelnut, which seemed to be lying in the palm of my hand. And it was as round as any ball. In my mind’s eye I looked at it and thought “what can this be?” And the answer came, “it is all that is made.” I wondered how it could continue to be, for I thought it was so small that it might suddenly fall into nothingness. And I was answered in my mind, “it endures and shall ever endure, because God loves it. And so do all things partake of being: by the love of God.” In this little thing I saw a threefold nature: that God made it, that God loves it, and that God keeps it.
Julian answers questions of human significance by seeing something as small as a hazelnut being made and sustained by the love of God. 1 John confirms this by telling us that “God is love.” God could be described as all kinds of things: glory, power or might, but the text says God is Love. Stop and think about that statement for a moment. What does that say about God? What does that say about you and I? What does that say about the trees of the field and birds of the air?
Yes, love is the very essence of God. Here’s what’s become a strangely comforting truth: You, I, and everyone else are insignificant beings when taken into the context of trillions of galaxies and billions of years. Yet nevertheless, we are beings, we exist. You and I are real, unlike sin, death and suffering, you and I are substance not shadow. And God’s’ perfect essence loves all that is real and therefore loves you and me, despite the feeling of insignificance when placed on the backdrop of billions of planets in each of the trillions of galaxies.
YOU ARE LOVED.