Tim Peake’s spectacular launch into space coincided with a visit I made to the Southern Hemisphere, so I was looking out at completely different stars to the ones that I habitually see with my telescope in the New Forest. The awesome size and age of the Universe laid out before us in night sky never ceases to fill me with wonder, and presents a certain tension -if not a standing challenge-to my professed Christianity, particularly at this time of year.
The principal Christian truth is that we are the critical factor in understanding God’s purpose: that humanity is central to the creation; that we were created to glorify God and enjoy him forever; and that -to this end- God created Heaven and Earth and then intervened in human history, through Jesus Christ, to redeem mankind and restore the integrity of that original purpose. This dramatic intervention took place only a couple of thousand years ago. Indeed, human history itself only stretches back before Christ by some 5,000 years.
So the key problem is this: Given that the age of the Universe is nearly 14 billion years, why did The Almighty leave it so long before adding the central feature of the creation –humanity, and to make his key intervention –through the life of Christ?
I believe that the answer, if there is one, lies in the fact that we are literally made of stardust: the heavier elements -so critical to the formation of the larger molecules essential to the existence of Life, take eons of time to form, being the product of the life-cycle of generations of massive stars, and the enormous pressures created by their subsequent collapse.
The proper response therefore, on looking out into the Universe, from the space station window, from the Southern Hemisphere, or from a garden in the New Forest, shouldn’t be one of ‘how insignificant we are’ as such recent and tiny occupants in such an incredibly old and massive universe. Rather it should be the opposite: ‘How incredibly important we must be to God’s purpose’ that we are the product of such a vast and time consuming process.