“The universe is wider than our views of it.” – Henry David Thoreau (Walden, page 369)
I have always been struck by the vastness of this earth. I was more amazed as a young boy but in 2014 my imagination was struck again when the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 went down. It seemed to disappear into thin air, and no one could find it. And now nearly four years later they still have not found all the wreckage. Passenger planes are made to be tracked and yet it disappeared into the vastness of our oceans. I wondered how they could not find it quickly, especially with all the technology we have. No satellite or ocean vessel or anything found it. I mean they had really, really smart people working on this and yet… the plane was still missing. Missing in the vastness of this earth.
A recent New York Times article says a “Supercolony of Penguins has been found near Antarctica.” It explains how 1.5 million penguins were found to live in a place the experts didn’t know had penguins. I don’t know much about penguins, but 1.5 million seems like a lot of penguins. This colony was just discovered after decades upon decades of penguin research. We don’t know everything we want to know, there is just far too much to know in the vastness that this earth contains. This story of penguins just shows us how much more we can learn.
We are finding out so much about our world each and every year. We have yet to explore the depths of the ocean in great detail and there is great mystery there. New creatures are being discovered at depths that most of us can’t even imagine. In 2017 there were some 18,000 new species discovered, not just underwater but on land as well. Incredible! And yet we are a relative speck in the universe. We have so much to discover on this great planet.
This could apply to humans as well. For who can know the heart of a man – let alone the billions of us that inhabit this wonderful planet. We are all different and all special and at the same time there are many similarities. Wendell Berry suggests in his book “Life is a Miracle” that the mind as we know it is not boiled down to simplicities but rather it would look like this; “mind = brain + body + world + local dwelling place + community + history.” (page 48). The complexity that makes up each individual and the decisions we all make are so varied and dependent on all sorts of things. Again, the vastness of the human experience that is contained in the world is mind-boggling.
This line of logic might also apply to wisdom and knowledge as well. I find so often that we want to boil down our knowledge to small boxes, just so we can figure some things out. Shrink all that we can learn into ways that our finite minds can understand them. To do this we often times shut out views that don’t make sense to us. Not always, but I find that we limit our imaginations more than we use them. Well at least as adults we do, children are much better at exploring crazy possibilities, until they are constantly shot down by adults. And imagination is, I believe, important in a world that is so vast. It helps us remain humble no matter how much we learn or know.
Now I am a Christian. I firmly believe in the major tenets of this faith. I fully subscribe to the Apostles Creed, although I’m not arrogant enough to say that I fully understand it. There are too many mysteries that are far greater than my limited understanding can fathom, so I live a life of faith. Walking into the unknown and uncertainty of life and trusting that Jesus is who he said he is. There have been a lot of apologetic work done to prove the life of Christ, and some of it is helpful, but being okay with not being able to know or prove everything has been far more helpful as I try to live a life of faith. God is far vaster than the earth he created, and we get to have humility when it comes to how we live our faith out.
There is room for other views in this world. I don’t think every view is correct, but then again, every view that I have isn’t correct either. The above quote from Thoreau is a cry out for humility in a world that is so vast. To me it’s a cry out for love and an attempt at understanding others. I’m not suggesting we agree with everyone, I’m not even suggesting we don’t judge one another. I am suggesting that love and humility will allow us to let others have their views, especially when they are different than our own. That we may wrestle with the vastness in our own hearts and lives.
A major part of who I am as a person needs to allow for mystery over absolutes. This is not easy, it is a constant quest that doesn’t need to settle all the issues in my life. I let some of my curiosities be suspended in the realm of the unknowable. Even though this life isn’t easy it can be restful if we figure out how to live by faith. This world would be far too bland if my ‘correct’ view of it was the only one. The world truly is wider than our view of it.