The significance of the thoughts we shared when we discussed on Sunday morning the incomprehensibility of the universe could easily get lost in the immensity of the sheer numbers. 13.4 billion light years. 32 billion light years. 46 billion light years. Those numbers represent approximations for how far away from earth galaxy GN-z11 (the galaxy farthest from us but which we know is there) was when it gave off the light we see from it, how far away from us it is now, and the distance from the earth to the edge of our rapidly expanding universe. We could also become mired in our reflections upon there being 100 billion galaxies in the universe and 200 billion stars in our one galaxy, alone. The infinitesimal place of our entire solar system within the vastness of the Milky Way, and the infinitesimal place of the Milky Way among the galaxies, is enough to arrest our minds from whatever else we might be thinking, simply because it is all so vast and awesome. Trying to grasp our place in just our one galaxy, and joining this with the idea that there are billions upon billions of galaxies like ours, leaves one breathless not only at the vastness of it all but at the absolute insignificance of humankind—of the meaninglessness of each one of our infinitely small blips of existence as we are viewed against the universe.
And, yet, meaningless is not actually what I feel when I reflect on human life—on my own life. Don’t you feel something other than absolute insignificance? And, if you do feel or think something else, why? From a naturalistic perspective, considering the vastness of the universe, we are absolutely insignificant. Our lives and deaths inarguably ultimately have no significance in the universe naturalistically considered. But human beings have always reflected upon life differently than this.
It is not just vastness and obscurity we feel when we consider our place in the universe. We speak of purpose, oneness with others, playing a part in a greater whole, love, beauty, order, symbiosis, connecting to the supernatural, relationships, common bonds. We speculate about divinity, of forces beyond the universe, of eternity, of a Creator. Something inside us draws many human beings deeply to think beyond the boundaries of what can be experienced by our five senses.
For me, our looking beyond the universe to something that gives existence and life definition and meaning is telling. It seems quite unnatural, given what seem to be the limitations of the rest of nature. It pushes me to think that rather than my search for meaning, depth, and divinity being hollow and fruitless because nothing is actually to be found beyond the natural, that there is truly something there, because there is this desire in me. From whence this desire? The vastness of our expanding universe billions of light years across cries out for explanation and definition, but not because the universe itself is crying out; the cries for explanation come from within us, from inside me.
Unfortunately, at this point I think I have reached a massive impasse, one of universal proportions. Neither in the dimensions of time nor space do my abilities allow for comprehension. I cannot fathom the depths of earth’s seas, or the intricacies of the neurons in my brain, or the center of the earth, or why I find trees so compelling, or what I feel for my grandchildren. I don’t know why a memory can bring me to tears or what a memory even is. I cannot explain the connections that I so obviously feel with others in ways that seem superficial, but which are given significance by the very fact that they are shared. And if these are things I cannot comprehend, comprehending what is on the other side of the expanding blackness at the edge of reality—and why I am so intrigued by what I don’t know–is certainly beyond my most arduous reach. Everything points in the direction of the answers I seek being beyond the greatest abilities of humankind.
That’s why I was compelled on Sunday morning to assert the importance of Jesus. His importance is not found just in the claim that He came to earth and died for my sins or the sins of the whole world. He also claims to have come to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves—glimpse beyond the vastness of the universe.
Jesus reveals something of the deep into which we keep staring as we intellectually voyage trying to make out something that will provide us with understanding. In contrast to what Jesus is, and said, and did, we human beings keep staring, thinking that we can figure something out. We study, ponder, construct systems, and we intentionally avoid and ignore some of what comes to us; or we distort it, or we trivialize it, trying to gain clarity and make sense of things. But there are limits we cannot transcend. You would think that the countless attempts we’ve made to understand what is beyond us would humble us a bit—causing us just to listen. But often we don’t. I am not sure what we think qualifies us to talk so much about things we don’t understand, to reach conclusions on our own, to assert the significance of some things over others, to wander without a defensible place of rootedness. This seems especially puzzling in light of what appears so likely–at least to me–that Jesus of Nazareth has told us and shown us way more than is achievable without His insights.
The claim Jesus makes is that no one has seen God, but that He, the one and only who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known. Wow. Now there is an interesting answer to the questions. If this is the case, I really do need to shut up and listen. I really do need to seek humility. I really do need to let Him supply solutions and conclusions and guidance and direction and purpose and definitions. Who am I? I think I need to let Him have His say about that. What is the purpose of humanity? I think He needs to be the one to tell me that, too. How did everything begin? Where is it all heading? Why is it all so vast? What is really true of my experiences? What is real beyond what I can experience? For these and a host of other questions I have become convinced Jesus has answers, if I am willing to let Him tell me and if I am willing to believe.
~ Kelly Carter