Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Magnitude: God, Wonders of the World, and Hearts to Care

The discovery of three big geographical features – a canyon, a volcano, and a cave – have been in the news in the past month, opening more of the wonder of the world to us.

We care for the Earth because of our love of God and because of our love for God’s creation. The more grounded we are in wonder at the world around us, the deeper our commitment to caring for creation. There is plenty of recent bad news about climate change and its effects, but there has also been recent news about the wonder in the world.

In addition, the size of all three of these wonders helps us better think about the magnitude of God and helps us imagine the scale of the ecological crisis we face this century. Most importantly, such wonders can open our minds and hearts to care about our world.

The canyon, which lies under a mile of ice in Greenland, is at least 460 miles long and as deep as 2,600 feet, making it longer than the Grand Canyon and similar in depth to it. A news release from NASA explains that data from NASA’s Operation IceBridge helped scientists discover the canyon. 

Nature reported the discovery of the largest single volcano on Earth, a “650-kilometre-wide beast the size of the British Isles lurking beneath the waters of the northwest Pacific Ocean.” The existence of a large structure in this location has been known for quite awhile, but geophysicists only recently discovered that it is a single volcano with a single vent. It rivals the size of the Olympus Mons in Mars, which was formerly thought to be the biggest volcano in our solar system. William Sager, a marine geologist at the University of Houston, suggests that further wonders might be discovered as scientists are able to do more research:

Because ship time is at a premium, the study is one of the first to peer at the internal geometry of these massive underwater mountains. It is possible that other megavolcanoes are waiting to be discovered. “There may be bigger ones out there,” says Sager.

Perhaps the most beautiful of these three recent discoveries, the Son Doong cave in Vietnam was first explored in 2009. An entrance to the cave was discovered in 1991, but the steep drop into the cave discouraged exploration. A recent Huffington Post article announcing the opening of the cave for tours says that the cave is “over 5.5 miles long, has a jungle and river, and could fit a 40-story skyscraper within its walls.” The jungle that grew inside the cave when part of the roof collapsed and let in sunlight makes this cave as wondrous as does its size. Click on the article link to see photos from inside the cave, and take a look at this clip from the BBC’s “How to Grow a Planet” filmed in the jungle: 

No matter how many photos or videos we see of canyons or oceans or any other large geographical wonder, and no matter how many comparisons we are given (e.g. fitting a 40-story skyscraper inside the cave), nothing quite prepares us for the felt reality of the size of these things when we stand on the rim of a canyon or the edge of an ocean. Words and two-dimensional images can’t convey their magnitude.

Scripture tells us repeatedly that we cannot grasp the magnitude and majesty of God, but because experiences of God and fleeting moments of the felt reality of God compel people to try to describe the indescribable, Scripture also offers descriptions and comparisons to what we do know. (See Psalm 92, for example.) Even though we cannot begin to comprehend God's greatness, we need such passages to remind us of that fact and to help us remember who it is that we worship. When we get absorbed in a comfortable routine of worship and church activities, the familiarity and attention to minutiae can lead us to think of God as something much smaller than God is, as someone closer to our own size and abilities.

It’s good for our souls to stretch our imaginations and concepts from time to time and intentionally focus on the size and wonder of the universe and on the size and wonder of the Creator. Paying attention to some of the wonders in God’s creation on earth, like these recent discoveries, can help us with that exercise.

In turn, gaining perspective on the magnitude of God and the universe and some of the wonders right here on earth gives us the imaginative capacity to begin to understand what climate scientists are telling us about the future and how different it will be because of global warming. It gives us some idea of the scale of what is at stake.

In the end, time and energy spent enjoying the wonders of God’s creation are inseparable from time and energy spent on actively caring for the Earth. Exercising our capacity to wonder and to contemplate the magnitude of creation and the Creator helps us better grasp the magnitude of what we face this century if we continue on the course we are on now. It also keeps us deeply connected to the rest of creation and fills us with enough love to care about our world.