A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Carolina Skies Planetarium Show at Morehead Planetarium at UNC Chapel Hill with the Center For Faith and Culture (CFC) Mentorship Program. Since I am a high school science teacher, I visit the planetarium each year with my students. Even though it is familiar to me, I am always floored by the presentation. It typically starts with a tour of tonight’s night sky in North Carolina, and then a brief tour of the known universe.
From what we know about astronomy, there are two main takeaways for the believer. The universe is vast, and we are not the center of it. Let me unpack what this means.
The universe is vast.
From our small blue planet, we can see anywhere between two and ten thousand stars in our night sky, depending on light pollution and weather. This brings to mind God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis:
He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ (Genesis 15:15)
I cannot help but imagine what it must have been like to think about that promise in the days before electric lights, satellites and space exploration. How awe-inspiring it must have been!
Today, we know a lot more about space, but I believe that the more we know about the universe, the more we should be in awe of our Creator. Even today, it is a challenge to count the stars in the sky. Scientists estimate that there are 100 billion stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy, and current technology can identify about 50 billion visible galaxies, each with a similar number of stars. This truth causes us to ask the question: in this vast universe that God has created, what is our place?
We are not the center of the universe.
Just a few centuries ago, we began to accept the arguments of astronomers like Galileo and Copernicus that the earth revolves around the sun, and not the other way around. As we have learned more about the universe, we find that our small, blue planet is not at the center of the solar system nor at the center of our galaxy. We are certainly not at the center of the universe. Today, many people become cynical about this fact, believing we are insignificant.
Though we seem so small in the face of the vast expanse of the known universe, we are indeed at the center of God’s heart. We know from 1 Peter 1 that the gospel was planned before creation. Indeed, the plan for Jesus to seek and save the lost was in place before Adam and Eve even tasted the forbidden fruit. We are small in the universe, but that should make God’s grace towards us seem even more significant. Today, with billions of stars mapped by scientists, the words of the Psalmist still ring true:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kerissa Armstead, @FCSArmstead, is a part of the Center for Faith and Culture’s mentorship program. This year’s theme is faith and the sciences. This article originally appeared at intersectproject.org/. Reprinted with permission.)