Continuing the Season of Creation
Reflection ~ Stephen Webber
A few things to think about before embarking on our journey. Trying to understand a little about the difference in numbers.
What’s the difference between 1 million and 1 billion? It may surprise you
If I gave you £1 every second, how long to get £1 million – 11 days ( 1 x 106)
If I gave you £1 every second, how long to get £1 billion – just under 32 years ( 1 x 109)
Speed of light 300,000 Km per second (earth circumference 40,000 km so light can go around 7.5 times per second
Sun is 150M Km (93,000,000 miles) so light takes about 8 mins to reach us.
Is My God bigger than your God?
To biblical writers who had no idea of those things, the sky was literally the limit – they had no idea how high the sky was, how far away sun and moon were. So God was above the clouds. Many paintings show God in the heavens above the clouds or using the clouds to sit on or ride on.
These clouds would sometimes come down and surround mountain tops. So could you almost touch God in heaven? (Recent conversation with Iestyn and a trip up Pen y Fan when he was surrounded by cloud at the top)
We use words to describe God such as ‘omni present’ or ‘omniscient’. Meaning God present everywhere at all times, God all knowing. Can we begin to grasp what that may entail.
One of the advantages of living in 21st century is that we can, as Isaac Newton said, “Stand on the shoulders of giants.” – We know much more about the universe we live in, though admittedly there is vastly more we do not know.
From Galileo’s observations of the moons of the planet Jupiter, which turned aristotles ideas of everything going around the earth on crystal spheres on its head, to modern space telescopes such as Hubble and the James Webb we have discovered more about the universe in which we live and forces us to reassess how big is our God?
There are 2 pictures I would like to show. Both famous
The first is called ‘the Pale Blue dot’ – a photograph taken by the voyager spacecraft – launched in 1977. At the end of its primary mission in 1990 it turned its camera toward the inner solar system and took some pictures. They would not win any photography competitions but 1 picture in particular was of significance.
On this picture there seemed to be a small piece of dust. It was smaller than a pixel, tiny, insignificant – but it was our home planet Earth. Inspired by it, Carl Sagan wrote some prose to describe its importance – everyone you ever loved, everyone you ever heard of, every ruler and tyrant lived out their life on that fraction of dot, the pale blue dot, suspended in a sunbeam.
Taken from a distance of 6 Billion Km – still within our own solar system, literally on the front porch, no distance at all. Is this the size of your God?
The 2nd picture was taken by the Hubble Space telescope – probably the most famous space telescope for now. One investigator wanted to stare at empty space to see if it could pick anything up. He proposed 10 days looking at a small, empty piece of sky. People thought he was mad because the demands to get time on it outweighed the available observing time. In the end it was decided to do this but over the Christmas holidays when universities were closed. What Hubble detected was transformative.
In an empty patch of sky, about the size of a postage stamp at 20ft away was a field full of Galaxies. Almost too many to count – Islands of communities of suns that would number billions in each one.
Scientists like to repeat experiments, so tried again elsewhere in the sky and had a similar result. So take the sky around you, split it into little postage sized squares and they are filled like this. Can you get your head around how much of the universe there must be.
Recently this image was superceded by the James Webb Space Telescope (or the Jelly Welly space Telly as I heard it referred to). As you can see, like the Hubble, the image is filled with light from deepest space – the amount of sky covered is equivalent to a grain of sand at arm’s length.
If you cannot get your head around a God this big then that’s ok.
The awe and wonder of the universe God created and in which we live is difficult if not impossible to fully grasp.
If we remember the message from Father James a few weeks ago when he talked about icons and the Russian dolls. The outer doll represented God the Holy trinity – beyond our conception.
Probably none of us can remotely take it all in. Perhaps comfort can be found in imagining a God that is smaller and Personal – – thinking of the smaller dolls in Father James analogy.
Perhaps the writer of Psalm 8 had a glimpse of the enormity of God.
Is my God smaller than your God?
Have you ever been frustrated when we drop something small and cannot find it, or try to thread a small piece of cotton through the small eye of a needle?
As we get older our eyes deteriorate and are not as good as when they were younger.
It is thought that the smallest thing you can see with your naked eye is 0.1mm or 1/10th of a millimetre.
The ancient Greeks thought about how small things could be. I you cut something in half and then in half again, what would you get to. They thought that eventually you would get so small that it would be uncuttable anymore – hence the origin of the word Atom from the Greek Atomos – uncuttable.
But how small is an atom – take that 0.1mm and divide it by 1,000,000 – that is the size of atom.
It is estimated that there are 45 billion atoms in each square cm
One of my favourite scientists, Richard Feynman once said, if there was 1 important statement to leave behind is that “Everything is made up of atoms. “
But we now know that atoms are not the smallest you can go. We know that an atom is made of electrons as well as protons and neutrons. This is an image of a hydrogen atom as taken with a quantum type microscope.
The dense nucleus can be seen this is where the proton lives
Around it in a fuzz almost forming a shell is the electron –
But discoveries in particle accelerators have shown that Protons and neutrons are made up of even smaller things we call Quarks.
Atoms are tiny, so they must be well packed and dense, after all things around us are solid or at least feel solid? It was initially thought items were square as that is the best way to pack things.
A Hydrogen atom is calculated to be 99% empty. In fact, all atoms are mainly empty. They have +VE charge in the centre and -VE charge around the outside.
If you remember playing with magnets as a child, do you remember trying to push 2 magnets with the same charge together? Do you remember feeling a resistance to the 2 magnets? But put opposite ends of each magnet together and they attract. Some atoms such as Uranium has 92 protons (+ve charges) packed into a tiny area, so why do they not repel each other out of the atom?
Atoms are packed with energy – E=MC2
They are very powerful and can be used for good or ill
One area is medicine – a whole area of nuclear medicine from Scans and treatments.
One treatment I know of what Cerys had – Injected with atoms of an element called Lutetium – one of the neutrons decays to become a proton and a different element – process gives off radiation to try and kill cancer cells.
They can be used destructively – we all know about Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the devastation called by harnessing a little of the power within an atom.
When we discussed earlier how big your God is, we looked at a picture of a tiny piece of sky that was packed with galaxies. Cities of stars, some dwarfing our own sun. Yet all those galaxies, the stars inside them, the gas and the dust that surround it are all made up of atoms. Something so big made up of things that are so very small.
So if the size of the universe is impossible to fully grasp, perhaps so is the size of the atom.
But being unable to grasp this is also ok.
Perhaps knowing that God exists in the tiniest of things can reassure us that he can also exist in more human sized things too.
Creation is full of mysteries and wonders from the infinite at one end to the infinite at the other. Even on our own planet there is wonder all around us and mysteries to confound us.
Is my God older than your God.
How old is your God? Do we think of God as old as you are? Probably not
Always portrayed as an old man with a beard!
Do we think of God as old as the bible? How old is our bible
The dead sea scrolls can be dated to 3rd century BC, probably the oldest ancient manuscripts we have – sometimes called the Isaiah scrolls as they have all 66 chapters of the book of Isaiah
So 300 years before Christ – equivalent to something in 1720’s for us e.g. establishment of Guys hospital in London or when Edmund Halley was appointed astronomer royal or the hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote a book on Logic.
George 1st was on the throne (who 1st language would have been German)
It is thought Moses lived around 1,500 BC. So equivalent for us in today’s terms to ADd500
So when Arthur defeated of the Saxons or the establishment of the first Swedish state.
I read recently that we are living closer in time to Cleopatra than she was to the building of the pyramids. – Our view of what is ancient and relative in time to use can get distorted.
So we are looking at say 4,000 years (2,000 BC and 2,000 AD) – quite a lot in human terms – perhaps 160 generations.
One of the oldest remains of what are thought to be of a Human Ancestor are those from one we called – Lucy – found in Ethiopia and is aged to about 3 million years old. (120 thousand generations)
Does 3 million years seem a long time to you.
We have all heard of Dinosaurs and children are fascinated by them, helped by the likes of movies like Jurassic Park. When did the dinosaurs roam the earth – between 50 million and 350 million years ago.
What about the rocks that make up the Earth, the things we build on.
The oldest rocks have been dated to about 3 billion years and the earth is thought to be about 4.2 billion years old. (remember the difference between 1 million and 1 billion at the start).
The earth is much older than the remains of bones we have found – is this how old your God is?
If we go back again to when were thinking about how big God was and the picture of all those Galaxies, it also tells us a little about time.
By using the light from each Galaxy, splitting it out into its spectrum and looking at details within it, the oldest of those points of light go as far back as 13 billion years.
If you cannot get your head around how old 13 billion years is then that’s ok, perhaps there is comfort in knowing that God is up to date on your own lifespan.
So God is bigger than we can imagine, is smaller than we can imagine and older than we can imagine. The world and creation is an interesting and fascinating place and perhaps God granted us intelligence to make sense of some of it, granted us the humility to accept our place in it and try our best to give our children a future in it.
Prayers of intercession
We thank you for the beauty of the Earth and heavens.
You have created the universe in love
and have blessed humankind in making us stewards of the earth.
We pray for your cosmos – that we may wonder at its beauty and share and conserve its resources, living in reverence for the creation and in harmony with one another.
We thank you for the explorers, adventurers and stargazers –
For those who have gone before us and from whose questions, discoveries and wisdom we benefit.
For those who see things we cannot because of our fear, our experience, our knowing …
For those who wonder in ways that surprise us, invite us and challenge us
Help us to have the humility and the courage to wonder, to marvel, to look in awe at your creation.
Help us to carry that same spirit of curiosity and discovery
beyond these walls into the world in which we serve and which you love.
And, alongside our wonder at the vastness of space, the intricacy of creation, the depth of your love, let us, in your name, dare to hope
Let us dare to hope that our political leaders might work for justice and peace.
That no child will go to sleep hungry and none will find shelter under a piece of cardboard
That violence will be absent from families
Let us dare to hope that you have not forgotten even us, even at this place and time in our lives.
And let us dare, in a moment of stillness, to pray for those who are on our hearts and minds today.
Magnificent God, we only dare to dream, to hope, to love because you have told us good news of great joy for all people. May our lives reflect that good news today, this week and always. All this we ask in the name of our brother and saviour, Jesus the Christ, as in a diversity of languages and versions, we pray the prayer he taught us, saying ‘Our Father in heaven…’
May God who established the dance of creation,
Who marvelled at the lilies of the field,
Who transforms chaos to order,
Bless us to wonder, dream, discover, and love,
This day and forevermore. Amen.