Some scientists say that only about 4% of the universe is visible to us. That means that even with our most powerful telescope, around 96% of the Universe remains out of our view—although we don’t exactly know how much because we can’t truly know what lies where no one has ever been.
Inside of our ever-expanding Universe we find no fewer than 100 billion galaxies and possibly as many as 500 billion. Each galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars. Again, these numbers are uncertain, but what do a few hundred billion stars matter?
Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is about 100,000—120,000 light years in diameter and contains 200–400 billion stars. Of course, we don’t know the exact numbers because we are on one of the outer bands of the Milky Way and it would take more time than any of us has to explore its entire expanse.
Our own Solar System used to contain 9 planets, but we aren’t quite sure anymore and nobody has been able to get out there on the perimeter to take a good look around. Within our Solar System, the third planet from the Sun, the one that we call Earth, now has a population of over 7 billion people.
In considering the immensity of our Universe (if indeed ours is the only one), the numbers of galaxies and stars, and the number of people that walk this planet, it seems odd that any of us could ever be self-centered, and yet, self-centered we are. Every single one of us.
Lest you think that you alone are selfless among all Earthlings, tell me that you never hid your favorite desert in the back of the refrigerator so that some other human (that you profess to love) would not be able to find and eat it.
If my voice goes unheard or my new look unnoticed, I am offended. If my friends get together but don’t call me, I am offended. If no one acknowledges my birthday, I am offended. Are you any different?
A quote from the Institute of Physics web page says that “If you hold up a grain of sand, the patch of sky it covers contains 10,000 galaxies.” What an illustration! From such a view, we feel huge and those galaxies small, but it is all a very distorted perspective.
Herein lies our struggle as humans. Intuitively we understand that each of us is infinitesimal in the grand scope of time and space, but the cry of our hearts demands significance—and not only significance, but centrality. My flesh expects a small Universe to revolve around a large ME. Call it an entitlement mentality or narcissism or whatever you will, but the bottom line is us. If we recognize the reality of our smallness and think that nobody cares about us, hopelessness burdens our souls to the point of death.
Ours is an interesting dilemma—one which human reasoning promises to solve. But its solutions never deliver. Once again the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides the only real hope for the human condition. Our salvation lies in personally knowing God’s unconditional love and in extending that love to others. Love is what makes us great.
Considering that same small grain of sand that covers 10,000 galaxies when held to the sky, let’s turn our attention to how many grains we might find on the Earth. One square cubic inch of sand contains about 300,000 grains. Put that in the scope of just one beach and once again we find ourselves dealing with mind-boggling numbers.
The context of Psalm 139 tells us that God’s thoughts toward us outnumber all of those grains of sand. Freeing is the best way to describe the effect of even beginning to comprehend this reality. It may not make logical sense, but knowing by faith that we are at the center of God’s Universe helps to free us from our compulsive self-centeredness.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you. Psalm 139:13-18 (ESV)