From the Infinite to the Subatomic
Published : Thursday, December 6, 2018 | 2:08 PM
I am an astronomer by training and an astronomer in my heart and soul.
When I look up at the stars in the dark night sky at Camp Sky Meadows, I get a flutter in my heart, a deep sense of connectedness, and I am at peace. I see the moon and planets stretch across a curved line in the sky, the ecliptic plane, and I think about how this is evidence that our sun and planets formed from a cloud of gas and dust that collapsed into a disk roughly 4.5 billion years ago.
On the darkest, moonless nights, the Milky Way galaxy stretches from horizon to horizon, a galaxy of nearly 400 billion stars that first came into existence about 13.7 billion years ago, only a few hundred million years after the very beginning of our universe: The Big Bang. And then, if I wait long enough on those warm August nights at Camp Sky Meadows, rising in the east is the Andromeda galaxy – our “big sister” galaxy that we can actually see with the naked eye (if you know where to look.). We are but one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in our universe. Creation is big. Creation is old. Creation is complex, dynamic and awesome.
This is all so consistent with the Old Testament understanding of God, the Creator of all things. Psalm 147:5 says, “Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; God’s understanding has no limit.” And Isaiah 40:28 says, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God will not grow tired or weary and God’s understanding no one can fathom.”
Even though the universe is so amazing and the idea of a God that can bring creation into existence with a thought makes my head spin, eventually my own thoughts return to Earth. My neck gets stiff from looking up so much and I realize that I am a human standing on this third planet from the dwarf star that we call the Sun. Humanity only developed several hundred thousand years ago. The earliest fossils of anatomically modern humans are from the Middle Paleolithic age, about 200,000 years ago. And, even though humans haven’t been around very long (compared to astronomical timescales, that is), there are billions of people on this planet; and I’m just one of them. I feel insignificant, small and fleeting.
Yet 1 Chronicles 28:9 says, “For the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind your thoughts. If you seek God, God will be found.” Really? How can this be? God has a lot on his plate (so to speak). The universe was around for 13.7 billion years before humanity even came into existence. Why would God care about me? How can I trust that God loves me to the depths of my being?
These were the questions I asked myself when I first became a Christian in 2008. I just couldn’t believe God loved me personally when I was such a small part of creation existing in such a fleeting moment of time. Until… I thought of God as a fractal. A fractal is a never-ending pattern, infinitely complex and “self-similar” across all size scales. They are created by repeating a simple pattern over and over and over again. Like putting a triangle inside of a triangle inside of a triangle and doing this forever, like this:
We see fractals throughout all of creation: in snowflakes, in whirling eddies of storms on the surface of Jupiter and in the Earth’s cloud layers, on seashells and spirals, in the branching structure of trees and streams flowing down from the snowy heights of mountain tops. Look at a bush or tree and you will see the fractal pattern of branches. Look at the clouds in the sky and you will see cloud bubbles and streamers repeating at many size scales. Nature, the very work of God, is peppered with beautiful fractal patterns.
God’s image is reflected in God’s creation. So how might an infinite God be like a fractal? Consider:
• God is beautiful at all scales and at all times;
• God is infinitely capable at all scales; God doesn’t get overwhelmed with details and nothing is too big, not even a universe that is 13.7 billion years old;
• The God I know in my heart, mind and soul, is love.
I have seen how love can be woven into a pattern of behavior that can be passed down from one generation to the next: a fractal pattern made of love. Before I became a Christian, I wondered how could God, if one existed, care about me given the enormity of the universe? But now I think God’s pattern is woven of love and compassion. It is an infinitely-repeating pattern that exists from positive to negative infinity. Knowing this in the very depths of my soul convinces me that God can love equally well at all scales. God can love the quantum signatures of light and matter. God can love a mosquito (although I don’t know why) God can love our entire solar system, other stars and planets and any other life that might exist. God can love the entire universe. And, yes, God can love me. I can trust this to the depths of my being.
First United Methodist Church of Pasadena is located at 500 East Colorado Boulevard, in Pasadena. For more information, call (626) 796-0157 or visit http://fumcpasadena.org/. The Pasadena Methodist Foundation website is http://pasadenamethodistfoundation.org