Saturday, December 5, 2015

How Big is God?

Henry Norris Russell taught astronomy at Princeton back in the day when modernism and fundamentalism butted heads. On one occasion, Russell delivered a lecture at Princeton on the Milky Way. After the lecture, a woman approached him and said, "Dr. Russell, you've lectured on the Milky Way. You've made us aware of how big the universe is and how tiny the earth is. Can we believe that there is a God who would be interested in us?"

Dr. Russell replied, "It depends entirely on how big a God you believe in."

Russell lived from 1877 to 1957 and was the leading theoretical astronomer in America. He graduated from Princeton in 1897 at the age of nineteen. In 1900, he earned his PhD summa cum laude, subsequently gaining considerable recognition in the field of astronomy. In all of this activity, Russell stood firm in his belief in the God of the universe.

Several years after Russell's death, Missionary Alliance pastor, A.W. Tozer published a classic in Christian literature, The Knowledge of the Holy. Tozer opened the first chapter with the words, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."

Today, when we are overwhelmed with current affairs, major personal expenses, unemployment, significant medical issues, and the list goes on, we need to draw our attention to the God of Henry Norris Russell and A.W. Tozer. We may need to ask ourselves "How big is the God we believe in? What comes into our minds when we think about God?"

Isaiah describes Him in these words:
            Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
            And marked off the heavens by the span,
            And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
            And weighed the mountains in a balance
            And the hills in a pair of scales?
                                                            Isaiah 40:12, NASB, Rev. 1995

A rhetorical question, but a challenging one. For instance, how much water does He measure in the hollow of His hand? First, I know, God is a spirit and doesn't really have hands as such. But He uses this kind of language to help us gain a little understanding about God, Who He is, and how great He is. Now, this planet contains a lot of water. Let's gather it together and take a closer look. There are five oceans: The Pacific Ocean, The Atlantic Ocean, The Indian Ocean, The Arctic Ocean, and the Southern Ocean, sometimes called the Antarctic Ocean. That's a ;lot of water to begin with. Then there are the seas. To name a few, the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, the South China Sea. Then let's add the lakes. There's Lake Victoria at the mouth of the Nile River. In the United States, we have the Great Lakes--Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Superior. In my neighborhood in Texas, we have Lake Arlington, Lake Benbrook, Lake Texoma, Eagle Mountain Lake, Lake Bridgeport. Then there's Lake Tahoe and the Great Salt Lake, and many more. How about adding a few rivers? In my home state of Pennsylvania, there are the Delaware River, the Schuylkill, the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio. Then, of course, there are the St. Lawrence River and the Mississippi River. Here in Texas, we have the Trinity River, the Brazos River, the Lampasas River, and the Guadalupe River. Then there's the Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon and the Snake River in Wyoming. Did I mention the Amazon River and the Yangtze River. Put these and all the other rivers of the world in the pot and add all the streams, the creeks, the rain drops and melted snow and how much water do we now have altogether? Lots and lots.

Would you believe, the United States Geological Survey Office has actually calculated the total amount of water on the planet. According to their figures, there are 326,000,000 cubic miles of water. Wow! That's definitely lots of water! But there's more! One cubic mile of water, according to the USGS, contains more than one trillion gallons of water! That's 1,000,000,000,000 for ONE cubic mile! That would make the total amount of water come to about 326,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons! WOW!  And all that in the hollow of ONE hand! What comes into your mind now when you think about God?

In the next phrase, Isaiah says, God marks off the heavens with a span. How big is a span? For most humans, about nine inches. It covers the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger when the hand is spread out as far as it is able. But then how does this help us understand how God marks off the heavens? How big are the heavens? Astronomers measure distances in space in terms of light years, a standard I still have trouble wrapping my mind around. One light year is the distance light travels in one solar year at 186,000 miles per second. This calculates to a total of 5,865. 696, 000,000 miles in one year. Round that up and it comes to 6,000,000,000,000. The nearest star--after our sun--is four light years away or 24 trillion miles.

One night the Boy Scout troop I worked with set out on a canoe trip down the Brazos River in Palo Pinto County, Texas. At sundown, we set up a camp in a clearing on a riverbank about halfway to our destination. After the boys had settled in for the night, another Assistant Scoutmaster and I laid back on the grass to rest and visit awhile. My head had not even hit the ground when I was astounded by the sight above the trees. For a city boy like me, that country sky was a panorama of wonder with the Milky Way filling my view from horizon to horizon. How immense was the galaxy spread pout before me!

According to some scientists, the Milky Way Galaxy is 120,000 light years in diameter. That comes to approximately 720,000,000,000,000,000 miles using the rounded figure of six trillion miles to a light year. And this is just one galaxy! In 1995, Robert Williams, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute which operates the Hubble Telescope conducted an experiment with the telescope. For about a hundred hours, the Hubble was focused on a segment of the universe that was filled with absolutely nothing remarkable. National Geographic put it this way: "When Hubble Stared at Nothing for 100 Hours." As a result, the "nothing" was actually "stuffed with galaxies. More than 3,000 of them came spilling out.... " (
for-100-hours/, accessed 11-10-15; check this site for a picture of the "Nothing" Hubble looked at) As a result, Williams "calculated that the universe is stuffed with 50 billion galaxies, not the 10 billion that astronomers previously thought." (Sharon Begley, "Science: A Heavenly Host," Newsweek [January 29, 1996]: 52). If, for the sake of discussion, we consider the Milky Way to be average in size, then the size of the known universe would be roughly 120,000 times 6 trillion times 50 billion. The resulting figure would be astronomical (pun intended). And God marks it all off with a span! One hand! The hollow of one hand for the waters! One hand as a span for the heavens! What comes into your mind now when you think about God?

The rest of this verse only emphasizes further both the smallness of creation against the greatness of the Creator. The dust of the earth, the mountains, the hills all express by contrast the immense greatness of our God. Stuart Hamblen penned it beautifully in his song "How Big is God?" His answer was "He's big enough to rule His mighty universe. Yet small enough to live within my heart." What comes into your mind now when you think about God?

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