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Our Place in the Universe

I’ll bet as you go about your daily chores, you think about how the universe is expanding and how it affects you, right?

No? Well, Tom Siegfried, writing in Science News, calls the expanding universe “the greatest intellectual upheaval in the human conception of the cosmos since Copernicus,” who lived about 500 years ago.

I see a couple of parallels here between science and religion. The first is that scientists are constantly making inferences about the universe from their observations. They don’t actually see the universe expanding. They infer it from what they can see and from mathematical calculations based on their observations. And that’s the case for lots of other cosmological discoveries, like the Big Bang and black holes.

Religion does something similar. Few people, if any, have actually seen God. But there are plenty of reasons to infer his/her existence. Among them is the fact that virtually all civilizations have had some idea of God. Similarly, all people seem to have some idea of right vs. wrong, what some people call the natural law “written on their hearts.” From these and other observations, we infer God’s existence. (This is, of course, leaving out the question of the “gift of faith.”)

How God Reveals Him/herself

The Hebrew Bible describes how God, presumably after preparation of just under a million years – the reported duration of human life on earth – reveals him/herself to human beings, and the Christian Bible says that God actually becomes a human being to show us, among other things, how to be one.

One of the names of this God-man is Emanuel, in Hebrew, “God with Us.” For believers, it responds to the question heard throughout the ages, “Where is your God?”

A second parallel between science and religion is that few people who accept these inferences about God think about it much as they go about their lives. All in all, we’re pretty ho-hum about it, and maybe that’s for the best. If we really grasped its awesomeness we probably wouldn’t get anything done.

Ancient believers made inferences, too, from the astonishing beauty of nature. Here’s a sample from Psalm 8 in the Jerusalem Bible translation.

“And yet even as we feel the greatness of God so deeply, we feel welling up within us – as Job must have felt – a sense of our own smallness and insignificance.” But the psalm continues,

“Yet you have made him little less than a god,

You have crowned him with glory and splendor,

Made him lord over the work of your hands,

Set all things under his feet.”

Infinite Worth of Human Life

Although we might imagine ourselves unworthy of God’s attention, writes Polish, this psalm “affirms the infinite worth of human life.”

This idea isn’t popular in today’s world. In so many places and so many circumstances, life is cheap. People are disposable, replaceable. Animals and even plants are considered just about as smart and valuable. We’re not all we thought we were. Sometimes, we’re even ashamed to be part of the human race.

“And yet we matter,” writes Polish. “…We are of the greatest possible significance to the order of God’s creation.”

These ideas should shape the lives of believers, and provide thought fodder for people searching for God at a time when so many are wondering about their place in the universe.

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