MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH
Someone sent me the video of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field the other day. I’d seen it before, but to watch it again took my breath away anew. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the backstory, there was a section of space southwest of the Orion constellation that everyone presumed was empty. High-powered telescopes showed it to be blank and black, so many astronomers assumed that nothing was out there. Then a group of scientists took a risk and used their precious time on the Hubble Telescope to get a better look at that part of the sky. When the pictures came back, they revealed, in the words of the video, “one of the most profound and humbling images in human history.”
Not only was it not empty space; it was filled with galaxies. Tens of thousands of galaxies resided in this deepest, most remote part of the universe, each one of them containing hundreds of billions of stars and planets.
I had barely regained my equilibrium after being bowled over by awe and wonder after watching that video, when I received another email that was similarly amazing, only this one highlighting the treasures of earth. It contained astounding images from an electron microscope, with mind-blowing shots showing a staggering amount of detail in the smallest of earthly objects, like this one of the head of a mosquito.
I’ve noticed that when people behold images like these, they often turn their thoughts to God. Specifically, they either find such pictures to be a faith-strengthening or a faith-weakening experience.
I can relate to people who experience the latter. Frankly, this kind of thing used to make me wonder about God. I mean, if all the events of the material world that are of cosmic importance play out on earth, if God knew that he was going to choose only one of the billions upon billions of planets in the universe on which to live his earthly life, why bother with all this other stuff? For that matter, why mess with all those details at the micro level as well? Since most people can’t even see them and they don’t impact salvation history, why make gnats and lice and amoebae so intricate and pretty? Maybe it’s my German ancestry talking here, but it always struck me that it would be more *efficient* to just make one solar system—maybe toss in a few extra planets and stars for our amusement—and then gloss over any details on objects which aren’t visible to the human eye. If I were God, that’s how I would do it. (And yes, all of my worst theological ideas have begun with the phrase, “If I were God…”)
But this was back before I had spent much time learning the objective truth about who God is. I had made the mistake of taking the few fleeting experiences I’d had of the divine, combining that with some vague theological statements I’d heard in passing on the internet and in pop culture, and deciding that I basically knew what God was like. And this God whom I concocted in my mind was very small and very simple. He was basically a more powerful version of a human: a being whose essence I could completely wrap my mind around, whose properties I could fully understand. His motives and ways of doing things were surely not *that* much different than mine. There was little mystery there, and not a large sense of awe, since when I thought about God the image that came to mind was basically that of a really powerful human.
It was only when I began to study the catechism, read the Bible, and dig into the works of the great Christian philosophers that I began to realize just how far off my understanding of God was. I came to know that God is a being beyond all understanding, whose essence we can barely begin to comprehend. I got a small glimpse of the God whose presence is so far above anything in the human world that even a short experience of him led the great Thomas Aquinas to feel that everything he had written was “so much straw” in comparison.
Now, when I see a image of the Hubble Deep Field or the intricate hairs on the face of a mosquito, I simply stand in awe. Those old questions of why the finite God of my imagination would bother with all these details has been rendered irrelevant, and I see these wonders of Heaven and Earth as a fitting testament to the unfathomable greatness of their Maker.
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “maker of heaven and earth”?
Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She is also a blogger for the National Catholic Register. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.