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Smart people tell us that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old and the edge of the observable universe is about 46.5 billion light-years in any direction from the earth.

Light travels about 5.87 trillion miles a year. When I multiply 5.87 trillion by 46.5 billion (to get the total number of miles from earth to the edge of the observable universe), my calculator spits out 2.70231100992E23.

When calculators use letters, it’s never a good sign.

According to my extensive 10 second Google search, “E23” means that the numbers to the left are to be multiplied by 10 to the 23rd power. And now we know what God laughing at us looks like. I’ll never complain again about driving “all the way” out to Pittsburgh.

It also seems that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate. And if that weren’t enough, now we are told there may be more than one of them.

Add to this the fact that there are billions upon billions of galaxies in our universe, each containing billions upon billions of stars. We cannot remotely comprehend these numbers. I also hear from reliable sources that stars within galaxies are millions, billions, trillions (what does it matter, really?) of light-years away from each other, and similar distances exist between the galaxies themselves.

And at the other end of the spectrum, we have subatomic particles—as if atoms weren’t small enough—and string theory.

If there is a God….a higher power, a supreme being, who is behind all this, I feel we should just stop talking for a minute and…well…just stop talking for a minute.

What kind of God is this, who is capable of these sorts of things? What claim can we have to speak for this Power, to think the Creator’s thoughts are our thoughts?

Who do we think we are, anyway?

Here’s another thing that unsettles me into silence. According to the Christian faith, this God who does literally incomprehensible things is also willing to line up next to us, to know us, even love us (as the Bible says again and again).

If there really is a God like this—a God who understands and controls things so big my calculator has to use a letter to get it across, who is also a God who walked among a tiny tribe of ancient people called Israelites, who allowed them to write about him in their tiny ancient ways, and who subjected himself to suffering and death (what we work so hard to avoid), well…

I think we’re talking mystery here, people.

A God who does both. There are no words for this sort of thing. Yeah, King David in the Psalms talked about praising God because of the wonders of the heavens (Psalm 19) and wondered out loud how a God who put the moon and stars in their place could be bothered by puny people (Psalm 8).

But David had a limited, quaint, view of “up there.” He did not, and could not, think of “heavens” as we now have to, what with our telescopes and such.

One God responsible for the unfathomably large and small, who is also near us. If there is such a God…

To take this all in, as far as I am concerned, is above our mortal pay grade. Those of us who believe this kind of God exists should feel put in our place, pretty much walking around with that “I can’t believe what I just saw” look in our eye.

The Bible calls this humility and awe, which, as hard as it is to pull off, is at least something we can understand.

[I visit this and similar themes in The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne 2014) and The Sin of Certainty (HarperOne 2016)]
Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.