Not long ago I read an article about the discovery of the most distant galaxy in our universe. The galaxy, known as z8-GND-5296, was detected by the Hubble Space Telescope and an observatory in Hawaii. Continue reading . . .
Not long ago I read an article about the discovery of the most distant galaxy in our universe. The galaxy, known as z8-GND-5296, was detected by the Hubble Space Telescope and an observatory in Hawaii. As the article explains, “when scientists look at distant galaxies, they see them as they appeared in the past because of the time it takes for a galaxy’s light to travel to Earth. The newly discovered galaxy was seen by the researchers as it appeared 13 billion years ago” (Ralph K. M. Haurwitz, The Oklahoman, 10-24-13).
Taking into account the continuous expansion of the universe, researchers estimate that the galaxy is now about 30 billion light years away. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, or nearly 6 trillion miles. So, to determine how far away the galaxy is today, simply multiply 30 billion by 6 trillion! My math leads to the conclusion that this galaxy is currently some 180 sextillion miles from Earth (that’s 180 followed by 21 zeros)!
As amazing and mind-boggling as it is, I’ve always been bothered by something like this. Whenever I think of the immeasurable expanse of the universe, it makes me feel so very, very, very (ok, very with hundreds of zeros behind it!) small. To say that the Earth is a sub-microscopic pinprick in this vast universe is to exaggerate wildly. We are actually much smaller than that.
But then I got to thinking. We wouldn’t be any bigger in any ultimate sense of the term or a greater part of the universe if we were 10,000 (or 10 sextillion) times larger than we are. If the universe is infinite, as I believe it is, that is to say, if this galaxy some 30 billion light years away is actually very, very close to us in terms of our relation to it in an infinite universe, my sense of size drastically changes. Let me explain.
I’m sitting in a room that is measurable. It is approximately 12x15 feet. On my desk in this room is a dust particle. I can see it. In comparison with the size of the room it is very, very tiny. Its size can be measured against the dimensions of the room, and in doing so the dust particle is deemed indescribably tiny, and perhaps for that reason also indescribably insignificant. In other words, the amount of space it occupies in relation to the totality of the room is both measurable and consequently very small and consequently very insignificant.
But we cannot say the same thing about the amount of space our Earth occupies in relation to the totality of the universe. Why? Because we can’t speak about the “totality” of a universe that is infinite. An infinite universe is not finally measurable. The word “total” implies quantifiable dimensions. But an infinite universe by definition has no dimensions. Let me try to put it another way.
Should we on Earth feel indescribably tiny as well as insignificant given the fact that our planet is such a tiny speck when measured against the size of the universe? No. Why not? Because the universe, unlike my study, can’t be measured! If that dust particle on my desk were actually a thousand times bigger than it is, it would look fairly large in comparison with the dimensions of my study. But the universe, unlike my study, being infinite as it is, can’t be measured in feet, yards, miles, or any other quantitative dimension.
To put it another way, and speaking hypothetically, that dust particle may well be 1/1000th the size of my study. That being the case, can we not speculate that the Earth might be 1/100,000,000,000,000,000,000th (and so on and on) the size of the universe? No! The reason is because there is no final border or boundary of the universe against which the size of the Earth within it might be measured. My study has such borders and boundaries, but not the universe.
Anything and everything that exists, including that galaxy 30 billion light years away from us, cannot be measured in terms of how much space it occupies in relation to the universe because there is no final or ultimate dimension of space against which such measurement might be calculated. Thus, if the earth were, say, 10,000 times bigger than it is, it wouldn’t be any bigger in relation to the universe than it is at its actual size. It would be considerably closer to that galaxy recently discovered, but no closer to the end of the universe (which, being infinite, has no end). Thus, everything measured against or compared with infinity is unimaginably and incalculably tiny (no matter how big or close it is in relation to other objects in the universe). If the earth were the size of our Milky Way galaxy, it would still be unimaginably tiny because it still exists in a universe that is infinite.
So, when I start feeling unimportant and insignificant because I am such a tiny creature on such a tiny planet in an infinitely and immeasurably expansive universe, I should remind myself that it wouldn’t be any different or better and I wouldn’t be any more significant if I were 10 billion or 10 sextillion times bigger than I actually am. Measurable size is a meaningful category only in a measurable universe (like the measurable size of that dust particle in my measurable study). Size lacks meaningful definition in a universe that is infinite. In such a universe there is no such thing as a final boundary against which we can measure our distance from it and thus our relative size within it. We can measure ourselves in relation to other created objects within the universe (such as that galaxy 30 billion light years away), but never in any ultimate sense in relation to the universe itself.
I guess what I’m saying is that we should never think that we matter little to God simply because our planet occupies such a small place in space. It simply could never be otherwise! If the universe is infinite, we and everything else in creation will always be indescribably tiny (but not for that reason less significant), no matter how large we actually are or might become.
And to think that our God is everywhere present in an infinite universe . . . ! Now that gives the word Omnipresence a whole new meaning! Big God!