A new perspective - Deep time

By John Towner/Public domain via Unsplash

Let’s take a wide view.  A really wide view. And put all our stories in perspective – a cosmic perspective.

At some time or another you’ve probably heard me say that we are stardust.  Our bodies are made of elements which formed in exploding stars. That’s the positive way of saying it; another way is that we are the residue of nuclear explosions.  True, but not very encouraging.

Now let’s do a little thought experiment.  You have probably heard of the Big Bang — the initial moment when the universe suddenly flashed into existence and began to expand.  That Bang occurred about 13.8 billion years ago. So let’s put that in perspective. Let’s cram all those billions of years into one year.  Imagine the Big Bang occurs at the stroke of midnight on January 1. And our life today is at the end of December 31.

After that Big Bang the very first galaxies in the universe would form on January 22 (12.85 billion years); on March 16 our own Milky Way galaxy forms (11 billion years); on August 28 our Solar System with the Sun at the center forms (4.57 billion years); then on September 6 — finally — the Earth forms (4.54 billion years).  Forgive the pun, but now at least we’re down to earth.

So on September 14 (4.1 billion years) the earliest known life – bacteria – formed; later on September 30 (3.8 billion years) single celled plants — think “algae” — appeared and began producing oxygen in large amounts.

On December 14 the so-called Cambrian Explosion in the fossil record produced numerous animal life forms with hard shells — including everyone’s favorite fossil, the trilobite.  Now here we are — well into the last month of our “cosmic year” and widespread animal life on earth has just begun!

Now bear with me just a bit longer because December gets busy.  On December 20 (450 million years) plants first appear on the earth’s land surface; on December 25 (230 million years) we get the dinosaurs.  Some Christmas present, huh? On December 30 an asteroid slams into the Yucatan and kills off the dinosaurs. Now on the last day of our year, December 31, at 2:24 pm the first human ancestors are born.  Later that night at 11:59 and 48 seconds, the pyramids are built in Egypt. And the Reformation whose 500th anniversary we just celebrated?  It came at 11:59 and 58 seconds – just two seconds before the end of our year.

Feeling kind of small and insignificant in this cosmic history that we inhabit?  That’s one way of looking at it. And it’s a very common way. As long ago as 1796 A.D. Jean Paul, an author in the historical period we refer to as the Enlightenment, wrote an essay entitled “Words of the Dead Christ spoken from the Universe.”  In it the dead come out of tombs and ask, “Christ, is there no God?”

He replies, “There is none. I travelled through the worlds, I ascended into the stars and flew with the Milky Way through the wastes of heaven, but there is no God. I descended as far as being casts a shadow, and I cried, “Father, where are you?” but I heard only the eternal storm that is guided and ordered by no one. And when I looked to the infinite world for a divine eye, the world stared back from an empty eye socket. Eternity rested on chaos and gnawed at it and regurgitated it and chewed on itself.” Now that’s a perfect description of a world in which there is nothing to believe. A world which many of our fellow human beings occupy.

Are we nothing but a cosmic yawn at the end of the last minute, of the last hour, of the last day?  There is another way. A child was once ridiculed by other children for being adopted. She started to tear up, but then snapped back at her tormentors, “Your parents had to take you. I was chosen!

Scripture says very little about our seeking God, but a lot about God seeking us. The late, very great Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “This is the mysterious paradox of Biblical faith:  God is pursuing [us].”

For whatever reason in this immensely long, convoluted cosmic time and space in which we live, God has chosen us. God has become incarnate in the man Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Anointed One. We are like that adopted little girl. We are chosen. We are chosen by Christ, by whom “all things were created by him and for him…in heaven and on earth.” We need not join Jean Paul in looking for the divine eye and finding an empty socket. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…to reconcile to himself all things.”  The Creation was simply waiting for the Anointed One, the Christ. Perfect timing you might say.

Sources:

  • Colossians 1:15-20.
  • Jenson, R.W., 2016, A Theology in Outline: Can these bones live?:  Oxford University Press [Jean Paul quote p. 106.]
  • Peters, Ted, 2017, God in Cosmic History:  Where science and history meet religion: Anselm Academic Press.

Dr. Karl Evans is a geologist, now retired from the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver, Colorado. His field studies have concentrated on the geology of central Idaho, with occasional research forays into New Mexico and Colorado. He also has laboratory experience in U-Pb geochronology, a method which uses the mineral zircon to determine the age of the host rock. He is pleased to support the alumni associations of Franklin & Marshall College (A.B.), the University of Southern California (M.S.), and Pennsylvania State University (Ph.D.). As a member of Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado, Karl has taught adult-learning classes on the dialogue between science and Christian faith, where his fellow parishioners seem to revel in asking questions completely outside the field of geology.

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