The Cosmos - A Personal Voyage Through God’s Masterpiece
The study of the heavens is one that carries deep personal significance for me. During a period of deep personal struggle, I strayed so far away from God that He was almost absent from my life. However it was during this period that I came across many scientific findings that pointed to how amazingly intricate our universe is and how much we are still struggling to understand it. Thus, in the midst of almost giving up the faith, I was only convinced that there has to be an Intelligent Designer of our universe. Through further contemplations on the nature of the universe and the nature of its Creator, I was brought back onto the path of knowing a loving God who loves me and cares for me. I am therefore hopeful that science, something many will say points man away from God, can instead be used to do the opposite and direct man to an ever-fulfilling relationship with the incredible Creator of our universe.
As I was given this task, I spent a good number of days wondering how to make the notoriously technical field of Cosmology accessible to laypeople and was faced with the added challenge of relating findings in the field to the nature of God and our relationship with Him. As an amateur astronomer and a young Christian, I seek your pardon if I do make technical mistakes in an effort to make this message accessible.
Dedicated to all who shine the light of Christ to those in suffering
When one hears the words “Cosmology” or “Astrophysics” one might be instantly put off at the technicality and inaccessibility of these areas of study. But one of the ways to a deeper relationship with God is through the appreciation of His creation; one does not need to know advanced math or theoretical concepts to appreciate God’s creation, all he needs is a sense of awe. We may not be able to see a star-filled sky, much less the Milky Way galaxy, but technological advances allow us to view the universe and all its glory through internet pictures taken using increasingly sophisticated ground and space-based telescopes such as the famous Hubble Space Telescope. Whilst it is understandable that the study of the heavens may not be everyone’s passion, we are called by God in Isaiah 40: 26 to “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number” (AKJV). So the author hopes that this essay will help readers gain a better understanding of His wrath, His grace and the hope He provides through understanding a little more about the universe, God’s masterpiece.
We seldom talk about the difficult subject of Hell, but we need to in order to better appreciate God’s love and grace. Romans 3: 23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (ESV). Being a just God, He has to punish us for our sins, and without the provision of Christ on the Cross, hell would be the eternal sentence for our sins. Hell is an unpleasant place which, as Matthew 13: 50 says, is a furnace of fire where “there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (AKJV) and which Revelation 21: 8 says is a “lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (ESV). Therefore we know that hell is an unimaginably unpleasant place to be in.
Venus: Our Solar System’s Hell
Nevertheless, to give us a better imagery of hell, we can only look to Earth’s neighbour, Venus. It has a surface temperature of 460 degrees celsius and an atmosphere approximately 90 times denser than that of Earth consisting of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and clouds of sulfuric acid droplets. This atmospheric pressure is so high that the Soviet Venera probes sent there from 1961 to 1984 were all crushed within two hours upon landing. Therefore though our studies of the planet Venus, a place with a similar environment to the Bible’s description of Hell, we can see how God has allowed us a glimpse into the horrible fate that He saved us from through His grace.
Our Delicate Existence
Most of us know Earth is uniquely placed at the right distance away from the Sun; neither too far nor too near to it. We are placed at just the right distance to allow a habitable atmosphere to be maintained and thus for life to form and be sustained. Furthermore, the iron core in the centre of the Earth allows the planet to have a magnetosphere, a magnetic field that protects Earth’s atmosphere from harmful solar radiation and coronal mass ejections from our Sun which can strip Earth of its atmosphere. The absence of such a magnetosphere is hypothesised to be one of the reasons the planet Mars became an uninhabitable wasteland.
In addition, there is a set of numbers called The Fundamental Physical Constants: numbers like the speed of light in vacuum and Avogadro’s constant that if changed even in the slightest bit, would result in the universe not existing. Therefore given the many factors that enable the universe to exist and for life to thrive on Earth, one can only say that there is an intelligent Creator and what an honour it is to be part of His creation!
Nebulae and Galaxies: Paintings on a Cosmic Scale
In addition to His intelligent design of our universe, our God is also an artist who uses the heavens as his canvas! To appreciate the artistry of God, we can look at telescope pictures of galaxies and colourful cloud-like structures called nebulae (regions of dust and gas where stars are born) on the internet. If you’ve never seen or heard of them before, you should go look them up on the internet!
Dark Matter and Dark Energy: Who can fathom His thoughts?
In the 20th century, we discovered that all the things we are able to see only forms about 4 per cent of what makes up the universe! The rest of the universe is made up of what we call “Dark Matter” (~21 per cent) and “Dark Energy” (~75 per cent). These two components are so mysterious that scientists continue struggling to observe them and tell us what they are exactly. But what we suspect is that Dark Matter has a role in galaxy formation and both Dark Matter and Dark Energy have a role to play in our universe’s destiny and end. Truly our God is an amazing God who never ceases to surprise us just when we think we know everything (Ecclesiastes 8:17; Romans 11: 33-34)!
Love and Grace
Our Vast Universe: Measuring His Love
Everyone knows that our universe is large. In fact, it is so mind-bogglingly massive that we need a ruler called a Light-Year (the distance light travels in one year) 9.4607 trillion kilometres long to measure it. In fact, what we can see with our most powerful telescopes is only a small portion of the universe spanning approximately 93 billion light years across called the Observable Universe. Current theories of the universe’s actual size put it from 250 billion light years to infinity. To reinforce how much we are still learning about the universe, a recent study found that there are at least 10 times more galaxies in the observable universe than we once thought! Linking back to our relationship with God, we know that God loves us, so much that Psalm 103: 11-12 (KJV) says “For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”. The fact that we do not even know how big our universe is shows us how great and unfathomable is His love! Therefore we can be truly touched by His immeasurable grace and rejoice in it!
Black Holes and Hawking Radiation
In our universe, there are many dark objects with infinite density and gravity so strong that even light travelling at its blistering speed cannot escape from them. These objects, called black holes, are created when massive stars die and collapse in on themselves. In fact black holes, once thought to be eternal monsters of death, consuming anything that crosses their path and never letting anything out of their prison-hold, are actually also seeds that allow galaxies to form. Our Milky Way galaxy and virtually all large galaxies have at their centres, supermassive black holes millions of times more massive than our Sun. Scientists suspect that these supermassive black holes are partly responsible for galaxy formation. Thus we can say that we owe life on Earth to the supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A* in the centre of our Milky Way galaxy.
In space, pairs of tiny sub-atomic particles with one particle having positive mass and one having negative mass, are appearing and disappearing all the time, The famous cosmologist, Dr. Stephen Hawking theorised that when they meet with the edge of a black hole, the particle with the positive mass has just enough energy to escape the black hole but the particle with negative mass would fall in. The negative massed particle entering the black hole would decrease the mass of the black hole and the escaping positive massed particle is observed as part of radiation. This process called Hawking Radiation slowly decreases the mass of the black hole, resulting in it getting smaller, eventually disappearing after a long period of time.
In his Reith lecture for the BBC, Professor Stephen Hawking concluded:
'The message of this lecture is that black holes ain't as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don't give up - there's a way out.'
So if Hawking, who is at the point of writing not a Christian, can believe in such a hope, what more Christians who have the eternal and powerful hope in Christ? We can place our hope in the mystery of God; that Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again, that even though our minds cannot rationalise how it is as it is, we can take courage in it as a steadfast statement of our faith and life purpose.
You may be going through a period in life so painful and dark that all words of encouragement fail, and the only prayer you can utter is “God, let me die”, but knowing that He who is so powerful, holy and seemingly unreachable can take notice of you living on an insignificant speck of dust in the universe called Earth and tell you that He loves you beyond the reaches of what our biggest, most expensive and technologically advanced telescopes can ever see (Isaiah 40: 15-17; Psalms 8: 3-4) should give us the confidence to trust in His love and promise of sustenance. In fact, He loves you so much that He gave a part of Himself in His Son to die on the Cross to save you from the eternal prison of Hell and bring you to an eternal life where He shall wipe away every tear from your eyes; and where there shall be no more death, sorrow, crying and pain. Therefore, no matter how dark and painful our Christian journey, know that there is a hope, that there is a way out in the steadfast love of Christ (Lamentations 3:22-23).
In conclusion, the study of the heavens is a rewarding one; it is as the famed-astronomer, Carl Sagan once said, “a humbling and character-building experience”. From many generations of physicists and astronomers, we got to know about our universe a little more with each discovery, theory and law. We can see the wrath of God through hellish places like Venus, the boundless love of God through the unfathomable size of our universe, and the hope that Christ offers in the midst of our seemingly unbearable struggles that even in the darkest places in our universe, there is always a way out. The universe is a vast and at times mysterious place. That we can study it and continue to be amazed by its beauty and how it continues to show us how much we still do not understand should humble us and magnify its Creator. More importantly, we have the honour and privilege of the Architect of something so massive and intricately beautiful meeting us when we were still far off in our sin through His Son, Jesus Christ. So let us continue studying the heavens in our quest to better know our unfathomable God!
Author: JH, 21 years old. The author is an amateur astronomer whom God, in His immeasurably mercy and brilliance, met when he was still far off in a cold, dark place.