Out of the Mouths (or at Least the Books) of Babes

One of the unintended consequences of having small children is that you have occasion to realize how much you’ve either (a) forgotten, or (b) never known. Allow me an example to help explain.

My four-year-old son Jack is very typical of small kids in that it’s nearly impossible to satisfy his interest when he gets fully engaged with a given toy/book/movie/subject/etc. He would, if we’d let him, forego meals, sleep, and other meaningful things in order to keep his attention fixed on whatever it is he finds so fascinating or enjoyable. At various times been borderline obsessed with construction vehicles and digging, Curious George, a handful of Pixar movies, dogs, playing baseball and football, etc.

Along these lines, one of his recent preoccupations has to do with all things space-related. And one of the ways he feeds his fascination is with library books. In fact, he’s been exposed to enough space related books now that he’s cheekily informed me that he “knows a lot about space.” In fact, he’s proposed that he knows more about the subject than I do.

He may be right. There’s something very humbling about needing to clarify the order of planets in our solar system by checking with your four-year-old, or when that same wizened sage tells you that Neptune is a “gas giant” and thus “different from Earth.” Since Rachel and I take turns reading to him, it may be fair to assume that his knowledge of the field is currently growing at roughly twice the pace that mine is.

All this leads me to consoling myself by thinking that I must have known these things at one time, that I’ve merely forgotten them. But this is, alas, the conjecture of a man desperate to cling just a little longer to the comforting fiction that he will always know more than his children.

At any rate, my unintentional tutoring hit a high point several days ago when Rachel was reading a book called Galaxies (by Seymour Simon) to Jack. She remarked at the time that she should read this book on her own (I later saw it on her nightstand). My interest was also piqued, so I recently picked it back up and looked through parts myself. Some of the things that I (no doubt re-) learned:

  • Our spiral Milky Way galaxy contains two hundred billion stars.
  • “If a dozen tennis balls were spread out across the United States, they would be more crowed than most of the stars in the Galaxy.”
  • In a plane traveling 500 mph, it would take you one million years to travel just one light year. Our sun is about 30,000 light years from the center of Galaxy.
  • Traveling at about 600,000 mph (and pulling the Earth and the rest of the solar system along with it), it will take the sun 225 million years to “orbit” the center of the galaxy.
  • The next nearest large galaxy is 2.2 million light years distant. Counting one per second, it would take you 9,000 years to number all of its stars.

The book closes by mentioning that there may be 100 billion galaxies in our universe. Since it was written over twenty years ago, I did a quick search for a more current number. I came up with 170 billion, some of them containing as many as 100 trillion stars.

All of this is quite staggering. And I’m certainly not the first to note that it does much to magnify the picture of God we find in the biblical witness. Still it bears repeating that the very first chapter of the Bible takes pains to say that God merely spoke to bring about all the vast majesty of the universe. Isaiah 40:12 says that he has “marked off the heavens with a span.” What beggars our imagination, he easily takes the measure of.

These and similar passages make us ask the question: if the universe is so wondrous, so breathtaking, so awe-inspiring, what must its creator be like?

No wonder that David uttered his famous proclamation: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psa. 19:1). His son Solomon, in prayer to this glorious God, echoed and advanced the point: “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you” (1 Kings 8:27).

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