Wonder and Awe
Images from the Hubble Space Telescope are always astounding. Clusters of stars, distant galaxies, gaseous-looking clouds floating in distant space—it’s all so surreal. As far as we look, we can’t see the end of it. Space seems to go on forever and ever. Scientists have tried to guess the shape of the universe; that is, whether it’s a sphere, a doughnut, or some other shape. I have to admit that such discussions confuse me. I understand what it means to exist on the sphere of my planet, but what does it mean to exist on the sphere of my universe?
I become similarly disoriented when thinking about the microscopic level of the world. Galileo invented the first compound microscope by simply reversing his telescope and viewing the world from the other end. If you place a droplet of lake water on a microscope slide, dial in the focus, and look at the water, you will likely find an amoeba swimming along silently. Who knew such microscopic animals could exist? Looking through a microscope suddenly makes a very familiar world almost entirely unfamiliar. What’s more, the microscopic world seems to go on forever. You can keep getting smaller and smaller. The amoeba is made up of cells, and those cells are made up of protons, neutrons, and other elements. You can go smaller still. Scientists have built the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland to detect even smaller particles—particles that we can only surmise exist because of mathematical principles. There are no mechanisms by which we could actually view what is happening at a microscopic level with such small particles. And can we go smaller still? Where does the microscopic world end? No one knows.
It is strange that, given these realities, human beings emerge upon a spectrum between large and small objects. We look out into the distance of space and see stars, galaxies, and distances that are incomprehensible to us. We have to use measurements like “light years” to make the distances even somewhat understandable. And yet, on the other hand, as close as we look at the microscopic world, even down to the cellular level, we cannot reach the end of it. I will never know, for example, what vast galaxies exist simply in one cell of my thumb. We, as humans, are placed on a continuum, somewhere along a spectrum of comprehension and incomprehension. We can see so much, and yet we can see so little. Likewise, we can understand so much, and yet we can understand so little. The vast distances of space reach beyond us, and the vast complexities of even our own cells confound our understanding.
Such knowledge should cause us to ask with the psalmist, “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Ps. 8:4). It should cause us to say with Job, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Such thoughts lead to wonder and awe as we acknowledge that He continues to uphold the universe by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3).