Huge and tiny
A tiny seed can grow into a huge tree. Tree seeds fall to the ground from their parents with a full set of instructions on how to grow. Once the coat around the seed is moistened, the embryo cells expand and burst out in a process called germination. The embryo uses food stored in the seed to power its initial growth until the leaves can start producing food. Once the roots are in the soil and the first leaves are in the sun, the plant is ready to really start growing. Trees keep getting taller and thicker while they are alive. The tallest tree is over 110 metres (360 feet) tall, and scientists think some trees may have been as much as 150 metres (490 feet) tall.
Jesus compared something that is large with something that is small when He said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt. 19:24NIV). The camel was the largest animal in Israel and the eye of a needle was the smallest opening. Camels are about 2m high and the eye of a needle was about 1mm. The difference was a factor of about 2,000, which is over 3 orders of magnitude (103).
What is the size range that we can detect without technical aids? The most distant individual star visible to the unaided eye is about 4,000 light years (3.6×1019m) away. Did you know that 99% of the stars we can see are in our galaxy? Galaxies can be seen up to 2.5million light years (2.3×1022m) away (Andromeda). On the other hand, the smallest object we can see is the thickness of spider silk which is about 2×10-6m (2 microns). The range between these two extremes of what we can detect with the unaided eye is 28 orders of magnitude (1028). That’s a factor of 1 with 29 zeros after it!
What is the range that we can detect with technical aids? Telescopes can detect light from 13 billion light years (1.17×1026m) away. As it is too far away to measure directly, this distance is estimated from assumptions about the universe. At the other extreme:
– Atoms are about 10-10 m (one angstrom) in size.
– The nucleus of an atom is about 10-14 m in size.
– Protons, neutrons and electrons are about 10-15 m in size.
– Other subatomic particles have been detected, such as neutrinos, which are usually treated as points in space and time.
The range between these two extremes of what we can detect with technical aids is 42 orders of magnitude (1042). That’s a factor of 1 with 43 zeros after it! It ranges from protons, to atoms, to ants, to people, to planets, to galaxies to the whole universe.
In Psalm 8 (a song of praise) David makes a comparison between the universe and humanity. “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens … When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Ps. 8:1-4).
The Message says, “I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry, moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?” (Ps. 8:3-4)
It’s all about God’s greatness. It begins with a name and a title. “Lord” (“Yahweh” in Hebrew) is God’s name. And David says He is “our Lord”, which means that God is Israel’s master. But then He extends God’s rule to all humanity by saying that God’s name (or reputation) is majestic “in all the earth”. Majestic (or magnificent or awesome) means superior in power. Then he extends God’s rule even further by saying God has set His glory (or shows His majesty) “in the heavens”. He then explains that in this context the heavens include the moon and stars. So, he’s referring to the universe of stars and galaxies, which God has made. In a figure of speech he says that they are “the work of your fingers”, “which you have set in place”. And we have seen that the universe is huge.
Then David contrasts humanity with the universe by saying “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them”? The size difference between us and the universe is 22 orders of magnitude for what we can see unaided and 26 orders of magnitude for what we can see with technical aids. He is amazed that God remembers us and cares for us when we are so tiny compared with the vast universe. He remembers and cares for each one of us.
God made us to be in the middle of a range of sizes from the atoms to galaxies. We seem to be insignificant and tiny compared to the universe, but huge compared to atoms. But David said that God crowned us with glory and honor because we were made to rule over the rest of God’s creation (Ps. 8:5-8). He gave us a job to do.
The context of Psalm 8 is as follows:
– In Psalm 6 David prays for God’s help and deliverance from prolonged illness and his enemies.
– In Psalm 7 David prays for God’s help and deliverance from his enemies.
– In Psalm 8 David praises God.
– In Psalm 9 David thanks God for punishing his enemies.
– Psalm 10 is a prayer for God’s help and deliverance from the wicked.
So Psalm 8 is in the middle of psalms dealing with the struggles and troubles of life. At these times let’s remember that God is great because He made the universe and because He cares for us (humanity).
The musical style of this psalm is “according to gittith”. We don’t know exactly what this is, but the same style is mentioned in Psalms 81 and 84, which are for celebrating a Jewish festival and for expressing a longing to serve God in the temple. So the musical style for Psalm 8 may be joyful.
Lessons for us
Because the book of Psalms is only half way through the Bible, we know more than David did! We know there are more galaxies and stars in the universe than he saw. And Paul wrote, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:20NLT).
So let’s realize that there is an awesome God behind His magnificent creation. And let’s recognize that God made our creation and reject the idea of evolution that it made itself. And let’s value all of His creation by caring for it, in particular human life that is created in God’s image.
And there is about 1,000 years of history in the Bible after the days of David. God also remembered and cared for us by sending Jesus to die for our sins. He calls those who have accepted His forgiveness His children. And these children will rule with Jesus in His coming kingdom. That’s when we will be crowned with glory and honor!
Written, September 2017