To be a person of faith, to have an adequate basis for our awe and worship, we’ve got to think BIG when we think of God. Our God is beyond what our brains can hold or hope to handle. Our God is a God of really big numbers! Think big, not small! Our God is a BIG God and we need a big faith to even begin to think of God in appreciable proportions. But there have always been some who want to contain God within a smaller, more confined space and time.
To put God’s grandeur in context, let’s consider how big the universe as God’s handiwork, is that’s been made by our Creator God. The Psalmist says God laid out the universe by the span of God’s fingers. Before our telescopic view of the universe was widened through the Hubble telescope, it was generally understood that based on the estimates of the world’s population, there were two galaxies for everyone alive. That may sound simplistic but toss alongside that number that in round numbers each galaxy harbors at least 100 billion suns.
But since the Hubble was unleashed in 1990 with its all-knowing eye, we’ve had to revise those numbers. It appears from all this research there are nine galaxies for every person – the result of calculating there are 80 billion galaxies (each on the average holding 100 billion suns).
But that’s not all. In the information gathered by Hubble we’ve also had to tinker with the age of the universe estimating the stars are not 12 but 13 billion years old and that the Earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago with life appearing at least 2.5 billion years ago. In our galaxy alone, the one we affectionately call the Milky Way, there are estimates that range between 200 and 400 billion suns and the width of the Milky Way is estimated to be 100,000 light years across. For a sense of depth, understand the Milky Way’s an orbiting disc, and as such it’s about 3,000 light years in depth.
To unpack what that means, remember that a light-year is the distance light travels in a vacuum in one year’s time. To measure this distance we take the speed of light and calculate how far it would travel in a year’s time. From that calculation if we figure it right, light pops across the universe 6 trillion miles in a year. Now, you do the math as to how big the Milky Way really is to be 100,000 light years across. Then consider the Milky Way is merely one galaxy out of 80 billion galaxies even if it’s considered twice as big as the average galaxy. Annie Dillard’s tongue-in-cheek observation about such immense numbers is to think “these astronomers are nickel-and-diming us to death.”
This becomes the language and mathematics of the stargazers who look up into the night sky and wonder in awe, “When I look into the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established: What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4 NRSV).
We must push the boundaries of faith to see that the God of creation cannot be contained in a small-minded faith that can be contained in small numbers. Such parsing of the numbers diminishes God. God is no magician waving a magic wand of the moment creating an ancient world instantaneously. God has been at the universe’s beginning and has been involved in the tiniest of details throughout time that is nearly immeasurable. It takes a deep-rooted faith to see God working slowly, imperceptibly, creating and recreating the world over long spans of time.