“We are just a speck, on a speck, orbiting a speck, in the corner of a speck, in the middle of nowhere.” – Bill Nye
I was a huge fan of Bill Nye growing up. He changed science for me, like so many kids of the 90’s, making it accessible and fun. If I had Netflix back then, I would have just binged watched “Bill Nye the Science Guy” until my parents made me turn the TV off. Unfortunately that Bill Nye is long gone and I miss him terribly but, that’s neither here nor there.
Interestingly, I read a very similar quote to the one Bill Nye made above, except it was made a few thousand years ago:
“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?”
– King David, Psalm 8:3-4
I am struck with how similar these two quotes are yet they come to very different conclusions.
THE QUESTIONS OF THE STARS
I’ve written before how the stars “catch” us. There are those moments we all have when we get snapped out of the dailiness of our lives and find that the stars are watching us. Their brilliance and number demand a reaction. It’s incredible how piercing and perceptive their questions are: “Is what you are doing right now meaningful? Does it really matter? In fact, does even your life matter at all? Look at us! We were here much longer than you and we will be here much longer when you are gone.”
Bill Nye’s reaction to the star’s questions is a logical one. How can we not feel utterly insignificant? Then, as Bill rightly tells us, we realize that our planet is a tiny speck in a huge solar system, and our solar system is a tiny speck in a massive galaxy, and our galaxy a tiny speck among the trillions of other galaxies in the universe. We begin to see the power of the star’s questions.
Bill of course uses this line of reasoning as an argument against any kind of theistic notion for human significance. He would happily answer the star’s questions with a resounding “No”. We are meaningless. We are a fortunate (?) accident that really is just a blip on the universe’s timeline. All that we do and all we achieve will not be remembered when we finally go extinct. The stars will still be there, but we won’t.
A SCARIER QUESTION
I imagine that Psalm 8 came to David as the stars caught him out one night. They asked him the same questions and David felt the weight of human meaninglessness, but from the other side of the coin:
“what is man that you are mindful of him”
If there is a Creator as David believed, why should he care so much about us? Why, out of all of the billions and trillions of other things in the universe should he focus on us. We are insignificant. We are just a speck. But then there is a scarier thought: What if humans really are meaningful? What if what we do really does matter? What if the One who made all that out there cares about the choices I make? What if he cares about good and evil, right and wrong? That’s not a comforting thought. For no matter how big and powerful the universe is, the One who made them is more. He transcends their power and their existence. Before the stars, he was.
If we suppose that this God looks at the course of human history, or even more personally our own lives, things get a bit messier. Not only are we small insignificant things compared to him, but we have been living in opposition to him. We act like he isn’t there. We act like we know what is right and wrong in the universe he created. We specks walk around like we own the place and we don’t give two thoughts to it. We scream, “Look at us and what we have accomplished!” Yet everything, including the very minds we use to think about how awesome we are without him, belong to him. That’s cosmic plagiarism. You and I seek justice over far smaller offenses.
A GREATER AWE
At this point, Bill’s version of the universe is far more comforting. Better to be meaningless than on the wrong side of meaningful. Yet, thankfully, David lovely song reveals more:
“what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
David’s use of “mindful” isn’t an “if” but a truth about the God he knows. God is mindful and he is caring of insignificant little humans. God has crowned us “with glory and honor”. He cares for us. He pays close attention to us. More than that, he loves us. The broken, rebellious, ignorant little creatures that we are. And even more still, not only is he mindful but he got involved. The God that David is praising in Psalm 8 is the God who became a speck. Think on that. God became a speck on a speck on a speck. Why? To save the little specks he loves. To give his life to save ours. To do us good and not replay us the evil we have shown him.
This is far more awe inducing than the questions of the stars. Yet we say in passing, “God loves you” just like we pass under the heavens and give them no thought. Then there are those times when God catches us out. When this reality of his love comes home to our little hearts. And when it does, everything changes forever.