The discovery that more galaxies exist than we have ever imagined or known about before has confirmed to some philosophers that there is no is God – that the vastness of creation could not possibly have a creator (see this article published on Nov 2nd 2017). This makes sense IF your perspective of a Creator is small. But I learned a long time ago that the interpretation of scientific facts has a massive amount to do with your perspective.
I remember sitting in a friend’s lounge watching a programme about our solar system. The narrator described how if even the smallest measurement in our planet’s size or distance from the sun were different there would be no life on earth. I remember saying something about how this confirms to me the presence of divine intervention- that the design of our solar system is too perfect to be chance. To my astonishment, my friend said something entirely different- to her it was confirmation that by chance we are alive; if things were different, we simply wouldn’t be here. It took me a long time to process how two people could learn the same basic fact and draw two different conclusions based on their worldview – based on perspective.
An Awe-Inspiring Sight
Have you ever found yourself overwhelmed by creation, just be looking at it? Twelve years ago I found myself in the Canadian Rocky Mountains for the first time. In all my life, I had never seen anything so big as those powerful, mighty mountains growing on the horizon as I drove toward them. The vastness, the wildness, the beauty of them was beyond anything I had imagined before. The reality of their presence was more overwhelming than any picture. Even more than the ocean. To my surprise, my faith in God was challenged. How could God be bigger than these mountains? The mountains were older and greater than my personal experience of God.
Imagine my surprise to hear Stephen Fry – of all people – suggest to Bear Grylls on their ‘Wild weekend’ through the Dolomite mountains of South Tyrol (Bear’s Wild Weekend with Stephen Fry, 25 Dec 2013, Channel 4, UK) that this awe-inspiring sight must confirm to Bear his own faith in a great big creator God, to which Bear readily agrees. Again, the same situation, the same awe-inspiring sight, two separate conclusions about a creator God.
A Matter of Perspective
How can the awareness of something so awe-inspiring as a mountain range or the galaxies upon galaxies of space result in the increased faith of some and the opposite reaction in others? I believe it’s a challenge to our own personal perspective of God. God does not change, but how we perceive him is a journey of discovery. So naturally there will be challenges along the way that confront any small-boxes we may have comfortably packed God into.
A little Lower than God – or a Little lower than angels?
The philosophers or religion Michael Martin and Nicholas Everitt argue that if God is human-oriented and has made humans a little lower than himself, then humans would logically play a bigger role in the Universe. But who said God has made man a little lower than himself? The article, for back-up, examines the meaning of Psalm 8:5 ‘you have made him [man] a little lower than God’.
The word used here for God is not Yahweh but Elohim, a word that sometimes refers to the Creator God but other times refers to pagan gods or other groups of people such as judges, magistrates and angels (see Strong’s Strongest Concordance p.1472 & p.1699, Also Amplified Bible Footnote).
In fact, more translations (including NIV, KJV, NKJV & ESV) use the word ‘angels’ than ‘God’ in Psalm 8:5. As it is an ambiguous word to translate we must look at the context – Psalm 8 is the Psalm that exactly describes the sense of the numinous that you get from looking at the vast ocean, a mountain range or the cosmos – that God is bigger than we ever realised before and that we really are small in comparison. It is not a Psalm about how important humans are in God’s universe or how we are only a little lower than God himself, whatever Martin and Everett may have you believe.
If you are still unconvinced whether the Psalmist is saying humans are little lower than angels (not ‘God’), the writer of Hebrews helps us out. Hebrews quotes Psalm 8:4-5 and just to clear up any ambiguity, uses the word ‘angelos’ instead of Elohim. Angelos is Greek for Angel. All translations translate it angel. Not ‘God’.
The Order of the Universe
Hebrews continues to describe how when Christ became human, he was made a little lower than the angels and Paul writes to the Philippians how Christ voluntarily gave up the glory and majesty of heaven. So to be clear, a Biblical world view of the size of God is: God – Universe – Angels – Humans. And the gap between each is not necessarily small. Christ, the glory of heaven, humbled himself hugely when he came in human form. The more we learn about the size of the universe, the greater our understanding of Christ’s sacrifice and the greater we can understand Christ’s love for us. It is more than possible to be small and still be valuable to God. We are small, yet we are still valuable. That is the beauty of the gospel.
If we want to learn any theology from Psalm 8 it is that our knowledge and awareness of the heavens – of space and planets – is to help us understand the vastness, the glory, the majesty and infinity of the creator God.
If the vastness of space challenges our faith in God, then our perspective of God is too small, too confined, too flat.
A Distorted Perspective
Adam and Eve’s perspective was distorted when they were deceived into thinking they could become like God. They were already as much like God as they were ever going to be – made in his image, with many of his attributes – but crucially, without many other attributes, infinite being one of them. To imagine they could become God was to bring their perspective of God into a small, achievable box. And they were wrong, as they found out too late. To imagine humans are only a little lower than God is to make the same mistake.
Infinite Greatness and Infinite Detail
My best friend used to tell me: ‘When you pray, don’t tell God how big your mountain is. Tell your mountain how big God is.’ Because when we get our perspective in line with the reality of God, our faith grows. The vastness and greatness of God becomes personal – God, big enough to give us the strength and resources to overcome the biggest personal mountain. God, whose presence by our side is big enough to make even the greatest hardship manageable in comparison.
The more we discover about the universe, the galaxies and the vastness of their glory the more it will either confirm or challenge our worldview. If our view of God is too small, we have 2 choices: to allow our perspective of God to grow and our faith to grow too, or to deny God is who he says he is, hold tight to our small perspective of Him and allow our faith to shrink.
It’s a good thing to be aware of the vastness of God!
It makes perfect sense to me for an infinite God to create a massive, massive universe. Why on earth not, if you can? And it makes perfect sense for that same God to be interested in the infinitely smallest detail of that universe too. That is, you and me.
by Joanne Gilchrist, Producer of God for Kids app and Author of Looking for Love: Finding God’s True Purpose in Love and Marriage
2 Kings 6:8-23 Read how Elisha’s servant needed a little change in perspective when faced with a great army of enemies.
“Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! … “