Thinking about God Makes Me Just Want to Keep My Mouth Shut

expanding universe diagram

Smart people tell us that the universe is about 14 billion years old and about 46 billion light years across. Light travels about 5.87 trillion miles a year (you heard me). Multiply that by 46 billion. My calculator broke. I came up with 2.70231100992E23. According to my extensive 10 second Google research, the numbers before the E are to be multiplied by 10 to the 23rd power. I think this is what God laughing at us looks like.

It also seems that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate. And if that weren’t enough, now we are told there may be more than one of them.

Add to this the fact that there are billions upon billions of galaxies in our universe, each containing billions upon billions of stars. We cannot remotely comprehend these numbers. I also hear from reliable sources that stars within galaxies are millions, billions, trillions (what does it matter, really) of light years away from each other, and similar distances exist between the galaxies themselves.

And at the other end of the spectrum we have subatomic particles–as if atoms weren’t small enough–and string theory.

expanding universe for dummies diagram

If there is a God….a higher power, a supreme being, who is behind all this, I feel we should just stop talking for a minute and…well…just stop talking for a minute.

What kind of a God is this, who is capable of these sorts of things? What claim can we have to speak for him, to think his thoughts are our thoughts? Who do we think we are, anyway?

Here’s another thing that unsettles me into silence. According to the Christian tradition, this God who does literally incomprehensible things, is also willing to get very small–to line up next to us, to know us, even love us (as the Bible says again and again).

If there really is a God like this–a God who understands and controls things so big my calculator has to use a letter to get it across, who is also a God who walked among a tiny tribe of ancient people called Israelites, who allowed them to write about him in their tiny ancient ways, and who subjected himself to suffering and death (what we work so hard to avoid), well…

I think we’re talking mystery here, people.

A God who does both. There are no words for this sort of thing. Yeah, King David in the Psalms talked about praising God because of the wonders of the heavens (Ps 19), and wondered out loud how a God who put the moon and stars in their place could be bothered by puny people (Psalm 8). But David had a limited, quaint, view of “up there.” He did not, and could not, think of “heavens” as we now have to, what with our telescopes and such.

One God responsible for the unfathomably large, who is also near us. If there is such a God….

To take this all in, as far as I am concerned, is above our mortal pay grade. Those of us who believe this kind of God exists should feel put in our place, pretty much walking around with that “I can’t believe what I just saw” look in our eye.

The Bible calls this humility and awe, which, as hard as it is to pull off, is at least something we can understand.

honoring your evolving faith
people are such absolute jerks (and so can you)
God and true freedom
we talk about God too much (what with the internet and our iPhones and all)
  • Rei

    All I know that since I took a spiritual retirement with the church a few months back, I just needed to remember God before going to sleep and ask for his protection. No more sleeping pills.

  • CFH

    “Bambam” is as valid an answer as “God” only if “Bambam” has all the same attributes as the being that we name “God”: sc., non-contingent, immaterial, non-composite, pure actuality, etc. But if “Bambam” has all the attributes required of a metaphysically sound solution to the question of why there is something rather than nothing, then “Bambam” would just be another name for the same being that we call “God”. Call him whatever you like, it doesn’t remove his metaphysical necessity.

    • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

      What’s interesting about your list of God’s attributes is that the writers of the Old and New Testament wouldn’t have recognized them, even in translation. You are framing God as modern theologians do, attributing to him the vague quality of “noncontingency” to butress him against the need for any meaningful evidence.

      The notion of the “metaphysical necessity” for a noncontingent cause for all contingency is a philosophical word game inherited from an era when we didn’t realize that time itself is a property of the space-time continuum. Before Einstein, we were all under the illusion that eternity was a conundrum unresolvable with an expanding universe. Now we know that time itself is a dimension that bends in on itself, and can even be traversed in reverse by atomic particles.

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    Yet typical systematic theologies begin with detailed descriptions of exactly what God is like. Hmmm…

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    Understanding the universe may not impact the words and work of God in our lives, but it certainly adds perspective to what it means to be the creator.

  • R. W. Schaeffer

    Peter (said with a stern fatherly voice), what have I told you about trying to do math?

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    Whilst the size of the universe and time itself is quite compatible with the existence of an infinite God having concerns for human beings, it seems rather incompatible with the idea that the judgement day is close and that Jesus is going to return and destroy the whole universe.

    It also flies in the face of the popular Evangelical notion that the laws of nature were made evil to punish Adam and Eve for having eaten the false fruit.

    I must confess I don’t see how to envisage the second coming. Would it mean that God would put an end to mankind’s existence in this universe and transfer all people willing to love him to another realm where they would experience Him directly?

    This is much more unlikely than the futuristic vision our technology will grow to such an extent we will begin colonizing the galaxy and come into contact with space aliens.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

    • Marcus

      The whole idea of God blowing up the universe and getting us “out of here” beforehand is a bit misguided (not to mention far from the biblical picture). In the biblical picture we see God, not destroying the universe, but reversing what has gone wrong in the universe, setting things right within the created order (which God declared good in the beginning). Heaven is not some far away land or hidden realm in which we will be far away from God’s creation; heaven and earth will be joined and we will reign with God here on earth. This was tied to the hope of the second coming among the early Christians and can be seen throughout the New Testament (especially in the Pauline writings). N.T. Wright has very interesting thoughts on the second coming (and new earth) if you are interested. It is also interesting to think of the Genesis account as a Utopian scene. Perhaps it can be seen as a picture of what the “new” earth will be like.

      • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

        Hello Marcus.

        I know very well these are N.T. Wright’s views on the end times.

        The problem is that, due to the vastness of the universe, I’m convinced there are countless aliens out there.

        I cannot imagine God renewing a cursed universe just for us, given that it would affect so many beings having nothing to do with our kind.

        Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

        http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

        • Marcus

          Perhaps there are aliens somewhere in the universe (I’m fairly open to the idea). If that’s the case then maybe God will renew the universe for everyone; it does not have to be just about us. In any sense, if it turns out to be the case that aliens exist, we will have to do a serious reassessment of our theology. As far as affecting other life forms, the result could be either good or bad for them (bad if our notion of what is good turns out to be what is bad in their case); it does not have to be all negative. I see your point though.

      • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

        N.T. Wright is a hoot. He interprets all the apocalyptic predictions of a near final judgment throughout the NT non-literally (see them here: http://www.infidels.org/kiosk/article86.html ), but the book of Revelation, oh, THAT’S the literal truth, heaven and earth joined together right after some big battle on one single planet, and then bodies physically resurrected on a new earth.

        Doesn’t Wright recognize the questions raised by modern astronomy? New stars are still being created in stellar nurseries and even the stars already created have enough fuel to burn for billions of years after any paltry battle on earth. And Wright doesn’t even wonder about the future of the human species. We could become extinct and the cosmos would burn on without us, or a single solar flare or asteroid could send back to the stone age, and maybe we’d devolve. A solar flare or nearby nova could wipe away our atmosphere. But even if humanity continues there’s no telling what we will be in the future. We could join with artificially intelligent machines, or they could out evolve us once they learn how to create more of themselves. Or we could fiddle with our genes and grow larger brains and those humans might view today’s as we view the earliest upright hominids. Or, our species can go extinct and in less than a billion years a species other than human could evolve as high a level of consciousness as ours. We don’t know the future unless we take Revelation as literally as Wright apparently wants us to, and cease asking questions.

        Looking at the past up till the present, humanity is a latecomer in the history of life on earth, like the coat of paint on the tip of the Eiffel Tower if the rest of the Tower represented the history of life before we arrived. We are a young and immature species presently causing a mass extinction event on our planet. We are spreading with the thoughtlessness of bacteria on an orange, or like lemmings, and the majority of neither religions have sounded muted, ineffective alarms concerning the danger of continuing to raise our population and turn increasing regions and resources of the planet into more people and things for people to eat and use and toss away into the oceans, air, ground water.

        Oh, but Wright assures us a beautiful future awaits those who share his religious beliefs and who will be rewarded by receiving new physical bodies to live on a “new Earth.”

        Then there are the questions that arise even if Wright is right. Like, what happens after we get new physical bodies on a near Earth? Will people be able to have babies in the New Creation? Seems a bit unfair compared with all the temptations and imperfections of babies born on the Old Earth. New Creation kids would be born with the biggest silver spoon in their mouth one could possibly imagine. And what if such people, living forever, began to fill that New Earth? God could keep expanding the cosmos, moving people to new planets, but then you’d wind up with an infinite number of people who never knew life on the Old Earth at all, and how or why would such an infinite number of New Creation people be concerned with the Christian fall and salvation story on the Old Earth, since they were never born there?

        Or take the other possibility, that new babies can not be born in the New Creation, then why have physical bodies, so we can touch each other but remain eunuchs for eternity?

        And if we can touch and have sex in the new creation (C. S. Lewis’ idea), but not babies, then isn’t that kind of like a 60′s love in with divinely provided birth control?

        Some will argue that you can’t have sex with “everyone,” but only with whomever you were married to when you died, but what if you were divorced and remarried, or widowed and remarried, or never got married but had more than one sexual partner in your life? Who gets to have sex with whom, and on what basis? Some might reply as Jesus did when asked “whose wife will a woman be in the afterlife if she remarries,” and Jesus’ answer was that we would be like eunuchs.

        These are all questions that come to mind if you take Revelation with its physical resurrection and New Earth as literally as Wright appears to take it.

        And there’s the further question of just how important it is believe in one religion since the majority of people conceived on earth have never heard of Christianity. Half of all zygotes die in the womb. About 30% of single births were twins in the womb but one vanished. And until the 1750s, Buffon estimated that half of all children born never lived to reach the age of eight years old. And the people who study population growth estimate that seven billion people already had lived and died before Jesus was born, some say even before the alleged days of Moses. And today, Christianity remains divided, and many Christians believe you’re not a true Christian, or that you are a lesser or more questionable Christian in danger of damnation if you don’t believe or practice such and such.

        So keeping in mind the mortality statistics above, how many people will there be in the next life will know or remember much about “Christianity” at all?

        So, LOOK at the cosmos, it’s size and the continuing production of stars and how long each can continue to burn, and LOOK at what a young immature species humans are, and look at morality statistics from the first species of humans till today, and tell me there aren’t enough questions to keep one guessing.

        • Norman

          I’ve pointed the same inconsistent reasoning of Wright out before. He has no problem with recognizing the metaphorical literature of Genesis and the Garden but he gives it up in Revelation to embrace a literal Garden. It just goes to show that almost all carry presuppositions that eventually cause a disconnect with reality. The story of Job deals with much of the same issue from the ancient position and came to the conclusion that it was futile to attempt to get our minds around God/Creator.

        • Marcus

          I imagine Wright recognizes such questions but they are irrelevant as far as biblical exegesis goes (but I can’t speak for him).

    • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

      Would you explain which verses you interpret as indicating that Jesus will “destroy the whole universe”? This seems like an odd way of redeeming the universe. Redemption is God’s modus operandi, after all. There’s a difference between letting something die and come back to life, and, say, nuking it with a Yahweh-sized nuke.

  • SpyPlus

    This is pretty awesome and illustrates pete’s point. http://htwins.net/scale2/
    Your welcome

  • Guest

    Dear christians visit something new and fresh

    http://treasureandheaven.blogs

  • dangjin

    Except that Hubble was wrong. The universe is not expanding and you are changing the topic to make yourself feel better because you do not believe God anymore.

    You aren’t humble because you claim God didn’t create everything in 7 days by speaking, You have become God’s judge and jury making you arrogant and self-important.

    You claim God couldn’t do it and needed help from a process and an explosion, demeaning God and making him inferior. Then you call God a liar.

    No, you are not humble but a deceived person hoping God will overlook your unrepentant sins and allow you in to heaven regardless.

    • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

      dangjin, what can you predict about the future based on your idea of how reality works? It seems that you wish to close of investigation of how things work by offering “just-so stories”—stories that put you at intellectual ease but don’t actually offer any power. It is my understanding of scripture that knowing God better comes from knowing both the book of nature and book of revelation better—both “through a glass, dimly”.

      This gets quite real when you think about building codes in earthquake-prone areas of the world. Those codes are built on an understanding of the world that requires it to be more than 10,000 years old, unless you subscribe to Last-Thursdayism. Do you advocate Last-Thursdayism? Would you prefer that building codes be based on Creationist theories of how the earth’s crust works?

  • Susan_G1

    no one on this side of life will ever understand God, nor do we need to. He gave us a glimpse of who He is, and a deeper understanding by giving us His son. Honestly, isn’t that hard enough to fully grasp? We are still like the ANE peoples when it comes to God. We will never be able to rely on our own understanding.

    The moment of silence is faith. It is the skeptic, the atheist, the fool who keeps talking.

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    I “shut my mouth” about “God” ages ago, except to continue to ask questions, because an infinite Being is something I admit I don’t understand. All we have to go on are a few so-called physical or written revelations. That means “God” is like the pincushion hidden by innumerable pins of sensory or written data. The infinite Being remains hidden behind all those pins, and we can’t even agree on exactly which portions of which alleged holy writings of which religions need to be focused on the most, and which are mere accommodations to ideas about “God” common to a particular era or particular religion.

    Speaking of people who can’t shut up about God there’s N.T. Wright. He interprets all the apocalyptic predictions of a near final judgment throughout the NT non-literally (see them here: http://www.infidels.org/kiosk/article86.html ), but he interprets the book of Revelation relatively literally. The book of Revelation is the literal truth, heaven and earth will be joined together right after some big battle on one single planet, and then human but not animal bodies, will be physically resurrected on a new earth. REALLY? Wright has no further questions? And all the answers.

    Doesn’t Wright recognize the questions raised by modern astronomy? New stars continue to be “created” in stellar nurseries and plenty of stars have enough fuel to burn for billions of years after any battle on earth.

    Neither does Wright wonder about the plethora of questions raised by biologists and computer scientists. A single solar flare or asteroid could send the human species back to the stone age, or maybe we’d devolve. Even if humanity continues there’s no telling what our species will be like in future. We could join our brains to intelligent machines, or intelligent machines could superseded us after they learn how to upgrade themselves faster than we can upgrade our own species. Or we could fiddle with our genes and grow larger or more efficient brains and then future humans might view today’s as we view the earliest upright hominids. Or, our species could go extinct and be superseded by another with as high a level of consciousness as ours. We don’t know the future unless we take Revelation as literally as Wright does, and, like him, cease asking questions.

    Looking at the past up till the present, humanity is a latecomer in the history of life on earth. If the rest of the Eiffel Tower represented the history of life on earth, the human species would be the coat of paint on the tip of the Tower. We are a young and immature species compared with many others that have been here far longer than us. And presently we are causing a mass extinction event on our planet. We are spreading with the thoughtlessness of bacteria on an orange, or like lemmings, and the majority of religions either teach us to breed more, or have sounded ineffective alarms concerning the dangers of continuing to raise our population and continuing to turn more regions and resources of the planet into more people and things for people to eat and use and toss away into the oceans, air, ground water.

    But Wright assures us a beautiful future awaits those who share his religious beliefs and only those people will be rewarded by receiving new physical bodies to live on a “new Earth.”

    Then there are the questions that arise even if Wright is right. Like, what happens after we get new physical bodies on a New Earth? Will people be able to have babies in the New Creation? Seems unfair compared with what babies born on the Old Earth had to put up with, including being born into a planet with hunger, disease and danger of eternal punishment. New Creation kids would be born with the biggest silver spoon in their mouth one could imagine. And what if such new babies, living forever, began to fill that New Earth? God could keep expanding the cosmos, moving people to New New Earths, but then you’d wind up with an infinite number of people who never knew life on the Old Earth at all–and why would such an infinite number of people born into the New Creation people be concerned with the Christian fall and salvation story on the Old Earth, since they were never born there? Makes the Christian story sound small in comparison.

    Or take the other possibility, that new babies can not be born in the New Creation, then why have physical bodies? Why be allowed to touch each other but remain eunuchs for eternity?

    On the other hand, if we can touch and have sex in the New Creation (C. S. Lewis’ idea), but not have babies, then isn’t that kind of like a 60′s love in with divinely perfected birth control?

    Some will argue that we will not be allowed to have sex with anybody on the New Earth but only with whomever one was married to when you died, but what if you were divorced and remarried once or more times on the Old Earth? What if you were widowed and remarried on the Old Earth? What if you never got married but had more than one sexual partner on the Old Earth? Then who gets to have sex with whom? Some might reply, as Jesus allegedly did when asked “whose wife will a woman be in the afterlife her husband dies and she has become the wife of several other people?” Jesus’ answer was that we would be like eunuchs. So we are back to having physical bodies and being able to touch each other, but no “becoming one flesh.” And I thought God loved it when we “become one flesh” and even commanded it in Genesis.

    These are all questions that come to mind if you take Revelation with its physical resurrection and New Earth as literally as Wright appears to take it.

    One final question. How important is it to believe in one religion since the majority of people conceived on earth have never heard of Christianity? About 50% of all human zygotes die in the womb (which even pro-lifers admit). About 30% of single births were twins in the womb but one vanished (see vanishing twin syndrome). And until the 1750s, Buffon estimated that 50% of all children born never lived to reach the age of eight years old. So child morality has been enormous over the ages. And the people who study population growth estimate that seven billion human beings died sometime before Jesus was born. And today, Christianity remains divided, since many Christians believe you’re not a true Christian, or that you are a lesser or more questionable Christian in danger of damnation if you don’t believe or practice what they do.

    Keeping in mind the mortality statistics above, how many people will there be on the New Earth who will know or remember “Christianity” at all?

    So, LOOK at the cosmos, it’s size and how long each star can burn, and LOOK at what an immature species humanity is, and look at morality statistics from the first species of humans to today, and tell me there aren’t enough questions to keep one guessing.

    • James

      These are good questions many have mulled over, even NT Wright. I agree we should not take New Creation too literally. I like the idea of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and the New as John Polkinghorne describes it. Hints are what we find in Scripture and the natural world. Much material for thought experiment and speculation. I think Eros will serve a higher purpose than making babies. Obviously, the need to reproduce will be less pressing in a death free world. Difficult to imagine, best to be silent about things “too wonderful.”

  • L.W. Dicker

    What’s most astonishing is that this awesome god decided, after 14 billion years of watching exploding stars and masturbating, to turn himself into a man in the Middle East desert two thousand years ago and allow his creation to nail him to a tree and savagely beat him to death as a pathetic, asinine blood sacrifice for our sins!

    Aren’t we lucky!!?

    To believe in such Stone Age bullshit, I mean!!

    • Andrew Watson

      Thank you, ContraBullsit. I read posts like yours, full of petty bitter mean spiritedness, And I see that you are where I would be if not for Christ. I hope like a man very similar to yourself named Saul, you find yourself on the road to Damascus Some day.

      • L.W. Dicker

        Andrew, you should try the road to rational thought. The Stone Age lunacy of Christian doctrine should be an embarrassment to any thinking person in this day and age.

        • peteenns

          Bullshit, The stone age ended around 4500 BC, as far removed from the advent of Christianity as are removed today from the Epic of Gilgamesh. Christianity arose in the Roman Age (63 BC to AD 325). You probably mean “tribal age lunacy.”

          • L.W. Dicker

            Hey Pete, what you don’t seem to get is that I wasn’t trying to be literal with the Stone Age reference.

            Christian doctrines are so pathetically primitive, ignorant and asinine that the only way to adequately equate their lunacy is to associate them with our knuckle dragging ancestors in the very distant past.

            If Christianity were less absurd and ridiculous than I might describe it as mere “tribal” lunacy.

            But thank you for taking time away from your schedule of encouraging this deluded lunacy in order to comment.

          • RedWell

            No, I think Pete might be on to something. Though he’s still incorrect: the Abrahamic traditions are basically bound up with formal civilizations, so I think we’re talking about “civilized lunacy.”

            “Stone age” is so 19th century. A tritely Nietzschean insult, and a rather blunt instrument. Yawn.

          • c’est vai

            Bullshit:
            There are atheists smarter than me and Christians smarter than you. Your understanding of God is still very superficial. I don’t believe in the superficial god you lampoon. I find the most sophisticated thinkers are respectful of views with which they disagree. I find the ignorant resort to belittling,

          • L.W. Dicker

            C’est vai, if you believe in the Christian god, then you do believe in a pathetic, asinine, superficial fairy tale that was invented by a bunch of ancient, ignorant imbeciles!

            The Christian doctrine of blood sacrifice, which is the pillar of the Judeo-Christian religion, is the most asinine bunch of horse shit that the human mind has ever concocted in our entire history on planet earth!

            And the idea that some ethereal being spent 14 billion years staring at black holes and dinosaurs and then decided to turn himself into a man and trot around a superstitious bunch of goat herders in ancient Palestine is so fucking stupid and deluded that it almost defies description!!!

        • Andrew Dowling

          You are supposedly so secure in your atheism you spend your free time trolling blogs on Patheos. Hmmm, sounds like ‘bullshit’ to me . . .

          • L.W. Dicker

            You worship a god that walked around the ancient Middle East belching, farting and squatting over a hole to shit.

            Gee, how many frontal lobotomies does it take to be that deluded?

    • Muff Potter

      It doesn’t matter if you believe in Him or not. He believes in you.

      • L.W. Dicker

        And the Good Fairy believes in you, Potter. And the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and Thor, and Zeus, etc., etc.

  • ggacre99

    Cynthia writes: “…1) We are not God, and therefore have no standing to speak FOR God;…’ Tell it to the preachers (and their henchmen) who are all too willing to not only speak for god but to impose their beliefs on all of America.

  • http://practicingresurrection.wordpress.com/ Bill

    And then there’s this: the expansion of the universe is accelerating, assuring (scientists tell us) that is is destined to become cold and lifeless, composed entirely of dead stars and black holes within a mere 10 to the fourteenth power years from now. Afterwards even those will decay and dissipate, leaving nothing but some weakly interacting particles and background energy. But not to fear, long before that happens (in about 7.6 billion years) the sun will have used up all of its hydrogen and will swell into a red giant, consuming and incinerating the earth which, about 6 1/2 billion years earlier, it will have already cooked into a lifeless, waterless rock.

  • pastordt

    Just small words here. . . words that say thank you for this post, thank you for encouraging silence and awe. So sorry that so many of those who read it chose to respond with so very many words.

  • Leo O’Bannon

    It looks as though ContraBS’ views are much like Richard Dawkins’, but slightly less nuanced.


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