Short Prayers? What about the cosmos? What about Earth? What about lil’ ol’ me? Cosmic consciousness makes me feel small.
God may be beyond the cosmos. But, God is also intimate to my soul.
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7)
The Small and the Beyond
Sometimes we feel small. Especially when we look at the star-filled sky on a clear night. Oh the depth and darkness and distance of infinity!
We live on a tiny planet 93 million miles from the sun. Our sun is a modestly sized star. The nearest star is Alpha Centuri, 4.3 light years away. These are only two of the 200 billion stars that make up our galaxy, the Milky Way. The basic unit of the universe is not the star but the galaxy. The Milky Way is billions of light years distant from the nearest neighboring galaxy. Astronomers believe there might be fifty billion such galaxies. The scale of our universe is astronomical, pun intended.
Most of us remember our elementary school teacher trying to explain how the solar system works. The teacher would take a basketball or something similar to represent the sun. Then marbles or ping pong balls were moved around this sun to simulate the planets in orbit.
Now, suppose we wanted to do the same thing to demonstrate the relationship between the various galaxies in the universe. How big a classroom would we need? Well, let’s arbitrarily make the classroom the size of the continental United States. We will of course have to ask Congress for permission, and while doing so we might we well put in for funding as well. Now, suppose we let New York City represent the limit of what astronomers can see in one direction. We could let Los Angeles represent the limit of what astronomers can see in the other direction. That would place our Milky Way somewhere near Kearny, Nebraska, 1754 miles from each.
Suppose we wished to take a look at our planet earth. Our whole planet would be so minute, that we would be totally unable to see it even if looking through the a powerful electron microscope.
Now, suppose that orbiting many of those stars in our galaxy and others are exoplanets with extraterrestrial beings. And, suppose these extraterrestrials are more highly evolved, more intelligent, more advanced in science and technology. And suppose they are closer to God than we on Earth. Now, I feel both small and insignificant.
Just FYI, you might find interesting Nick Pope’s report on the 2010 meeting of the Royal Society on the religious and social implications of contact with ETI, “Indistinguishable from Magic.”
The Small is Where we find the Intimate
Cosmic consciousness makes me feel small, very small. Astronomers sometimes like to recite big numbers to show not only that planet earth is small, but it is also insignificant. It’s just a tiny speck, or smaller. Should our entire world cease to exist, the cosmos would not miss it.
And we who live on this planet sometimes feel even more insignificant. Seven billion people reside here. And you or I are only one of this enormous mass. How can the things we as individuals think and feel and do really count for anything? Aren’t we each marginal, trivial, discardable?
We may be small, but that does not make us unimportant. To drive this point home Jesus says that even the hairs on our head are numbered. Except for those among us whose head reflects the ceiling light, each of us has from 90,000 to 140,000 hairs on top. Jesus is speaking figuratively, of course. What he is saying is this: if God can pay attention to each of these hairs, then certainly God can pay attention to each of us. And God does. Why? Because God—the author and governor of this grand multi-galactic universe—loves each one of us. We may be small, but we are important.
God of the cosmos and the conscience, bring infinity into our soul so that we come to realize the depth and breadth and power of your love for us. Amen.
Ted Peters is a Lutheran pastor and emeritus seminary professor. He is author of Short Prayers and The Cosmic Self. His one volume systematic theology is now in its 3rd edition, God—The World’s Future (Fortress 2015). He has undertaken a thorough examination of the sin-and-grace dialectic in two works, Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society (Eerdmans 1994) and Sin Boldly! (Fortress 2015). Watch for his forthcoming, The Voice of Public Christian Theology (ATF 2022). See his website: TedsTimelyTake.com.