The Vastness of the Universe

By February 24, 2020 No Comments

The vastness of the universe might make you feel alone and insignificant, but it shouldn’t.  It should fill you with awe and recalibrate your understanding of who you are – and who God is.  The universe reflects God’s infinitude – God is beyond measure and not constrained by space or time – and glimpsing the heavens on a starry night makes this divine attribute clearly seen.

The sun is close to earth, astronomically speaking, at a distance of 93 million miles and, while that may seem like a long distance, it’s only eight light-minutes.  You see, it takes light only eight minutes to travel from the sun to the earth, but there are stars you see at night that are much, much farther away.  Starlight emitted thousands of years ago is just now reaching your eyes as you peer into space.  In fact, experts believe the span of the universe to be about 40 billion light-years.  Now a distance of one light-year is very far indeed, about 5.9 trillion miles, but 40 billion of them is unfathomable.  In case you don’t remember your names for large numbers, a trillion is a thousand billions, or a million millions.  So, the universe spans 240 billion million millions of miles.  To make a comparison, if you traveled at the speed of light for one whole year, your journey relative to the span of the universe would get you only as far as a grain of sand is wide if you were crossing the Pacific Ocean.

You could fit one million earths into the sun but the sun isn’t even a large star.  UY Scuti is a red supergiant star 5,100 light years away with a radius 1,708 times that of our sun which means you could stuff five billion suns inside UY Scuti.  It takes nine hours to fly from LA to Tokyo, but if you stretched our continents and oceans over the surface UY Scuti, maintaining their proportions, the same flight would take 190 years (just imagine the jet lag!).

NASA launched an unmanned probe in 1977, called Voyager 1, and after 42 years it has traveled 13.8 billion miles, just five light days.  Can you wrap your head around that?  After 42 years, mans’ effort has amounted to travelling five light days while the universe is 15 trillion light days across.  Voyager 1 has left our solar system, which is only a speck in our galaxy, and there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the observable universe, each up to 300,000 light-years across.  Mans’ best efforts are one galactic baby step.

No matter how far we look, there’s always more stuff.  Deep field images from the Hubble telescope reveal yet more stars in what previously appeared to be dark, empty space.  The universe is not infinite, but it sure seems that way.  The universe is so large that we can forget about ever observing it from its edges.  We will forever be restricted to the single vantage point of our solar system’s neighborhood within the Milky Way galaxy.  God maintains order in this massive assemblage of star matter, gaseous nebula, and orbiting bodies.  An electron orbits its atom’s nucleus at the other side of the universe just as it does here on earth; gravity here obeys the same law in the next galaxy over.  God upholds the laws of physics throughout the universe.  God asked Job Can you direct the movement of the stars – binding the cluster of the Pleiades or loosening the cords of Orion? (Job 38:31)

The universe is an inhospitable place.  The temperature in space is about three Kelvin (-454 F) which is almost absolute zero.  Space will kill you within a few minutes if you don’t have a protective suit.  The fastest killer is lack of oxygen in the vacuum of space.  While you suffocate, your tissue puffs up from nitrogen gas bubbling under your skin due to the low pressure of space.  As you slowly freeze, you’re bombarded with solar radiation.  All the gamma rays our atmosphere blocks will pass through your body unabated.  In C.S. Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Susan asks Mr. Beaver about Aslan, the lion, “Is he quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous meeting a lion.” Mr. Beaver answered “Safe?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the king I tell you.”  I think that’s what the harshness of space tells us.  God is not safe.  He is gracious and slow to anger.  He is loving and merciful, but He is not safe.  Do not trifle with God, do not test Him and do not rebel against Him.

Yet here we are on earth.  An oasis, teeming with life at just the right distance from the sun, just the right size, with all the protections from space we need.  Axial tilt gives us seasons, a magnetosphere blocks harmful solar radiation, and we have water, sunlight, and soil for growing food.  The size of our universe leads many to think there must be other life out there.  I think they miss the point that space is so vast in order to tell us something about God.  God is infinite.  God is solitary.  God is not to be trifled with.