In 1990 the Voyager 1 spacecraft, having completed its mission, was about to leave our solar system. As it did, NASA scientists turned the spacecraft’s camera and took one last photograph of Earth from a distance of about 3.7 billion miles. What the image revealed was startling.
Dubbed the “Pale Blue Dot” by astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan, this photograph shows Earth as a tiny dot, about one tenth of a pixel in size, suspended in the vast emptiness of space.1
In his reflections on this photograph, Sagan wrote: “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives . . . on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”2
The Wonder of the Universe
Modern technology has only increased our curiosity about our world. The realization of the enormity of the universe continues to dwarf what once seemed preposterous fantasies.
In 2011 the Hubble Space Telescope discovered the most distant galaxy ever seen, about 13.2 billion light years from earth.3 To give some perspective about how far that is, a light year is the distance that light travels in one year (approximately 5.87 trillion miles).4 Our sun, which is 93 million miles from Earth, is a mere eight minutes away at the speed of light.
Many have concluded that the existence of a universe of this magnitude could not be the result of just some sort of cosmic coincidence. They have wondered, then, if there is a Creator—perhaps a God. And if God does in fact exist, he must be bigger than we can imagine.5
No one knows exactly how big the universe is. Scientists estimate that it contains hundreds of billions of galaxies, and that the average galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars.6
If the universe is indeed God’s creation, then it seems logical that it would be created in a way that reflects his magnitude. It would be much like the ancient Hebrew psalmist who wrote: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”7
Indeed, the universe is so massive that we struggle to comprehend its size. Perhaps this was done so that God’s eternal power and divine nature could be understood from the things he created.8 In other words, so we could get a glimpse of just how immense God is.
Could it be that in power and majesty God is bigger than anyone can imagine? Could it be that God is showing humanity something about himself through what he created? Could it be that, as German philosopher Friedrich Schiller remarked, “the Universe is one of God’s thoughts”?9
Big Enough to Care
In a universe this immense, one cannot help but feel small. When Carl Sagan saw the Pale Blue Dot, he called Earth “a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.”10 This comment reflects the isolation and loneliness many of us feel. Compared to the vastness and complexity of God’s creation, people seem small and insignificant.
Yet the Christian faith offers a different perspective.
Speaking to God, the psalmist wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”11 As he contemplated the vastness of God’s creation, he was amazed that God cares about humanity.
According to Jewish and Christian beliefs, the most incredible thing about the Creator is that he cares about us, the people he created—you and me. He didn’t craft the universe in order to make us feel insignificant. He did it to display his power and show us his infinite love.
He is a God powerful enough to create worlds, yet detailed and thoughtful enough to knit us each together in our mothers’ wombs.12 He is intimately involved in even the tiniest aspect of creating life.
So how big is God, exactly? He is so huge that he is not bound by time or space, not needing or wanting for anything, and capable of creating our entire universe. Yet he is personal enough to have created us in his own image.13 Biblical literature teaches that we are fearfully and wonderfully made under God’s watchful care,14 that God even knows the number of hairs on each head.15
With all of this, it is amazing to consider that God, the Creator of the cosmos, wants to have a personal relationship with each one of us.
- Emily Lakdawalla, “Twenty Years Since Voyager’s Last View,” The Planetary Society, February 12, 2010, http://planetary.org/explore/topics/voyager/pale_blue_dot.html.
- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (New York: Random House, 1994).
- “NASA’s Hubble Finds Most Distant Galaxy Candidate Ever Seen in Universe,” NASA, January 26, 2011, http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/science/farthest-galaxy.html .
- “What Is a Light Year?” How Stuff Works, http://science.howstuffworks.com/dictionary/astronomy-terms/question94.htm.
- Most people refer to God with male pronouns (i.e., “he” and “him”), not because they think God is a male, but because they believe God to have a mind or personality in some way. English does not have neuter personal pronouns (besides the impersonal “it”), so according to traditional usage, “he” and “him” will have to suffice.
- Fraser Cain, “How Many Galaxies in the Universe,” Universe Today, May 4, 2009, http://www.universetoday.com/30305/how-many-galaxies-in-the-universe/.
- The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, Psalm 19:1.
- Ibid., Isaiah 40:25–26, Romans 1:20. “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
- Friedrich Schiller. Retrieved August 18, 2011, from BrainyQuote.com.
- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot (New York: Random House, 1994).
- The Holy Bible, Psalms 8:3–4.
- Ibid., Psalm 139:13. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
- Ibid., Genesis 1:27. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
- Ibid., Psalms 139:14. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
- Ibid., Luke 12:7. “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
- Photo Credit: Hans-Joachim Roy / Shutterstock.com.