King David, the warrior-poet of ancient Israel, once gazed at the night sky and asked, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” (Psalm 8:3–4).
When we take the time to contemplate the awesome vastness of the universe around us, it is a very natural question to ask. Just how large is the physical creation around us? What lessons might it teach us?
Even if we only considered what we can see above us in the night sky, the size of the universe would seem impressive! Away from city lights on a moonless, cloudless night, astronomers estimate that one can see 3,000 to 5,000 stars—shimmering, brilliant gems against a dark velvet backdrop! Most would be stars like our sun, but varying in size, color and characteristics, some with planetary systems not unlike our own solar system.
But the universe is not bound by the limits of our eyes! A hint of a larger cosmos greets the nighttime viewer in the form of the Milky Way—a bright but faint, fuzzy band of light that stretches from one horizon to the other. That band is our view, looking through the width of our own galaxy, of a vast collection of stars, gaseous nebulae and other cosmic objects stretching across 100,000 light years—meaning that it would take a beam of light a thousand centuries to travel from edge to edge!
Scientists estimate that our galaxy holds 100 billion stars—or more! That means that if it, alone, were the entirety of the universe, there would be more than one star for every human being who has ever walked the earth!
Yet there is so much more to God’s vast creation! When astronomers point their telescopes skyward in any direction, they find countless additional galaxies beyond our Milky Way, out in the far-flung reaches of intergalactic space! Some estimate that there are 100 billion galaxies in the universe, together containing as many as 300 sextillion stars—that is three followed by 23 zeros, 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000!
Such a number presses the limits of our imaginations and almost defies our ability to visualize! It is hard enough to imagine some Earth-bound phenomena, such as the number of grains of sand on the beaches of our planet—one noteworthy estimate puts the number at about 7.5 quintillion grains. By that estimate, it would take the beaches of 40,000 Earths to produce enough grains of sand to match the count of stars in the cosmos! All of this in a universe that scientists estimate is 91 billion light years in diameter!
Truly, the universe is a big place!
Given the scope of the vast creation, what does it tell us of the Creator? The Apostle Paul says of those who deny Him that “His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
Indeed, considering the vast immensity of the cosmos—the collection of stars and worlds that greets our naked eye in the night sky, and the astonishingly greater universe lying unseen beyond it—we are humbled by scriptures telling us that God “counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name” (Psalm 147:4). He calls them all by name! Indeed, “Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite” (v. 5)!
If the creation is great, its Creator must be immeasurably greater! We must remember that the glory revealed in the works of His hands is only a tiny hint at the true glory of Almighty God! For as we are told by the patriarch Job, “Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power who can understand?” (Job 26:14).
And just as the scope and scale of our amazing cosmos moves us to wonder about God, it should also move us to wonder about our own place in it. As noted earlier, King David once asked of God’s love and attention toward man. “You have crowned him with glory and honor,” David noted. “You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:5–6).
Does that dominion to be given to mankind over the works of God’s hands include the far-flung and seemingly endless universe—star upon star and world upon world—beyond our planet? Indeed! The Apostle Paul, quoting and reflecting on these words of David, wrote of the destiny of mankind as full children of God, saying, “For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him” (Hebrews 2:8).
The worlds both within and currently beyond the reach of our eyes as we gaze on the star-filled night sky will one day be ours to inherit, develop and beautify for the glory of God, as children in the very Family of God! The immensity of the universe tells us that a destiny beyond imagination awaits mankind!
Musing on a photograph taken by the distant spacecraft Voyager 1 showing the earth to be a pale, blue dot against the enormous dark void of space, the famous astronomer Carl Sagan once wrote, “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity—in all this vastness—there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves” (Pale Blue Dot, p. 7).
Yet, while considering the greatness of our universe should humble us and remind us of how truly small we are, Sagan could not be further from the truth. Pondering the unfathomable scale of the cosmos should also compel us to consider the incomprehensible power of creation’s Creator, and that it is He who is “upholding all things [the entirety of the cosmos!] by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3)! And such considerations should also remind us that the creation is the divinely ordained inheritance of those who are choosing at this time to allow God to shape them and to sculpt their character in the image of His own—to make of them His own, precious children.
For those called to be children of God, every time they peer into the night sky they are looking at the smallest and faintest of hints of their glorious future in the Family of God!