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  • Writer's pictureMark Legg

STARING AT THE VASTNESS OF THE HEAVENS (Intro)

This article was posted on Mockingbird, a site dedicated to “connecting the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life" through books, magazines, articles, and podcasts. It's one of my go-to places to read insightful, down-to-earth, Christian perspectives.


The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Ps 19:1)

Human gazes have wandered into the stars with wonder for thousands of years. The otherness of the night sky inspired ancient cultures to represent them as spiritual beings, powers walking in the heavens gazing back at Earth. Many looked to them for guidance and worshiped them for their power to affect fate.

Aside from some who toss out “Virgo” or “Leo” in idle gossip, most in the West follow astronomy rather than astrology. Cosmologists and astronomers study, among other things, the beginning and edges of the universe. If you’re curious, it’s about 93 billion light-years from Earth to the boundary of the observable universe (94 during rush hour). Referring to the distances between galaxies, much less the edges of space itself becomes an activity of mere abstraction. A YouTube educational video addiction has taught me how incomprehensible the size of space is — the size of the universe being the quintessential topic on science channels everywhere.

Our minds didn’t come with the hardware to comprehend such vastness. Even theories stretch thin in the face of space’s grandiosity. The deeper we peer into the black heavens hung with fiery giants and galaxy-eating black holes, the grander and more mysterious they become.

Launched into space three years ago, the James Webb telescope changed astronomy forever. When they translated the data into canvases of rich color, we collectively gasped in awe. More than the aesthetic appeal, NASA’s data from Webb began to unsettle scientists (warning: I am not an astronomer, so get your pinches of salt ready). In February of last year, a paper in Nature found galaxies more mature and nearer to the Big Bang than the consensus models predicted. These dots of light are called “Universe Breakers” because their age seemed to contradict modern theories of cosmology. One of the paper’s authors summarized well: “It’s bananas.” Even before the discovery of the Universe Breakers, some theories of cosmology claimed that the universe may be infinitely large (and so, not really “sized” at all).

In sum, the universe is big — ludicrously so. We resort to raising lightyears to the powers of powers of powers to measure its size. Yet measuring the universe’s size seems to elude the grasp of science and human comprehensibility.

Here’s a question to ponder: Why? One of my agnostic friends recently asked me, assuming there is no extraterrestrial life, why would God make the universe so large?


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