Robin Blount: ecumenical notes, cruise ship chaplaincy and lots more

Faith and a small planet

17 July 2020

Recently I watched the programme made for the thirtieth birthday of the Hubble Space Telescope. To have conceived such an ambitious project and then to have engineered it is quite remarkable; and then we need to add in the sheer bravery of those who visited Hubble to upgrade or repair it. At a time when the President of the US is so widely mocked and caricatured, it is worth remembering that America does some things incredibly well.

One thing above all other remarkable things caught my attention. So many of the images given during the programme were of galaxies thousands, even millions and billions, of light-years away. I have to remind myself that one light-year (the distance light travels in a year in the vacuum of space) is 5,878,499,817,000 miles - call it about six trillion miles. Apparently the farthest known galaxy is 13 billion light-years away - I'll let you do the calculation!

When we see a star in the sky, we see it as it was when the light left it. We cannot see it as it is, or even where it is. We can only see it where it once was. That can tell us a lot about what it once was like, but cannot tell us what it is like now.

I came away from the programme with two questions. One is to ask how anyone can believe that there is a God behind all this stupendous universe. The sheer scale of planets and stars, expanding galaxies, black holes with such strong gravity that won't even let light escape - where does God fit into all this? Can we believe that behind all that we are discovering about planetary science, there lies an imagination and a power to bring it all into being?

Or are we restricted and confined by notions of God that are drawn from holy books and traditions, written without the knowledge we now have but preserved and guarded with passion and reverence? The second question, therefore, is what kind of God might be the imagination and power behind all that we are beginning to see on earth and in space? Can we still imagine God as God is portrayed in bible, liturgy and worship? J B Phillips once wrote a book called "Your God is too small". A title as apt then as now.

Maybe it's time to think some more about what we so glibly say and sing, and perhaps find other and new ways of understanding who we are and where we fit in our amazing galaxy. If we see and worship God only where God was, so to speak, in the biblical era, are we failing to see and worship God as God is in the here and now?

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