On the Cosmos and Community (Guest Post)
“How is it they live for eons in such harmony
the billions of stars
when most men can barely go a minute
without declaring war in their mind against someone they know.”
-St. Thomas Aquinas
The other night, Curiosity touched down on the surface of Mars. Engineers screamed and shouted inside the Mission Control Center in Pasadena, CA. Chants of “Science! Science! Science!” rang out over the crackle of the EDL leader announcing touchdown. We had done it. Again. Man landed on Mars.
That being said, I found myself feeling a little underwhelmed. Staring at the HD picture of three rocks and some sand wasn’t really scratching the “awe” itch I was hoping it would. I know it’s Mars and I know it’s a big deal, but I couldn’t help but think that this really is only one small step for all mankind in light of everything we’ve yet to set foot on.
We humans are only a small percentage of what exists in the universe. In the midst of my daily life, it’s hard to believe that there’s anything outside the glass screen of my iPhone, much less the surface of the earth. Every morning I turn on NPR and am bombarded with information about all the things happening on our planet. Domestic Terrorism, election fundraising, The Olympics, the growing crisis in Syria. And while these things carry great weight, science constantly reminds us that there’s more beyond the horizon of what we think about on a daily basis.
If we have learned anything in the Modern Era, it’s that we humans are not at the center of it all. Starting with Aristarchus and continuing with Copernicus, we have had to wrestle with the fact that the earth, our sun and our solar system, are not at the center of the universe. In fact, we have discovered that the Milky Way galaxy is only one of several galaxies rotating around each other. And yet, it doesn’t stop there. This cluster of galaxies is only one of several clusters of galaxies that rotate around each other.
I find myself wondering about the significance of living, in light of this ‘new’ knowledge. What role do we as humans play in the cosmos? How can we possibly matter in a universe in which we are not the center? Doesn’t this threaten our view of God? If we weren’t important, then why would God care enough to die for us?
I think these are all valuable questions to be asking. These questions cause us to question a bit of our Enlightenment conditioning that has taught us to think that we were the “pinnacle of creation”. And while I’m in no way saying that we aren’t important in the eyes of God, I am in fact saying that perhaps modern science can help us as we attempt to figure out what our role should be in the midst of this vast cosmos.
I like to be the center of attention. I like people to like me, to laugh at my jokes, to want to be near me, find me charming. And yet, I run into problems when I live in a way that assumes that I’m the center of the universe. I forget about my wife and how technically we’re one person. I ignore the homeless person who lives on my route to work because I’m so consumed with how I’m going to impress my boss. I structure my entire life around what’s best for me and my family and no one else.
I also find that I am constantly interrupted, thwarted, confused, hurt and denied by others. This seems to be illogical. If I’m the center, how is it possible for these others to deny me the control that is rightfully mine?
Perhaps we can learn something from the way God has engineered the universe. This de-centeredness might actually turn out to be a good thing. While a somewhat jarring realization, it frees us up to begin to think differently about our roles in the world. The universe is structured and designed as set of communities, as opposed to individuals working alone. There are millions of moving parts, each as vital to existence as the rest. And yet, we live in a culture that tells us repeatedly that we are all individuals that do not need other people for love, affirmation, protection, etc. No wonder our lives seem so out of balance. We have failed to recognize that our role in this story is not to be the protagonist, but to be a part of the supporting cast (roles that are essential for the progression of the story, one might add).
You may be asking yourself whether this makes us implicitly unimportant to God.
I’ve come to believe that it’s actually because of this realization of my lessened importance, that I can truly understand my role in the cosmos, and appreciate God’s relationship with me on a deeper level. We are not at the center. And yet, God chooses to make room for us. In the midst of all the administrative work of creating stars, and keeping planets from colliding, he makes the effort to listen to me as I ask him what to do about the colleague at my job who is driving me crazy.
A larger, vaster view of the universe, and a de-centered humanity only means one thing: a really, really, really big God, capable of doing a lot more then we often think he can.
All this may be unnerving at first. The implications on our faith, and our lives are huge (no pun intended). Perhaps God is little scarier now. Maybe more distant, cold; unable to relate to our everyday lives. And if we did not have the person of Jesus Christ, it may be easy to believe these falsities.
But we do have Jesus. And he did do life with us messy, dirty humans. And we now know that God can relate, even though he engineered the atoms and the stars. And in the end, this infinite idea of God is more comforting, than a small God who exists solely to revolve around me.[For Further Reading check out Brian Thomas Swimme’s Journey of the Universe]
Justin is a BIOLA graduate and is currently a Graduate Teaching Fellow studying creative writing and literature at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester, Ca. His work deals mainly with issues of identity. He’s currently working on a collection of short stories (and possibly a novel). He’s been married to his beautiful wife, (and creative muse) Kaitlyn for just over a year and a half now.