(Picture from Universe Today)
Trigger warning: anxiety, doom-and-gloom stuff
I've become somewhat of a science geek in the past couple of months. I consider myself to be a student of the world, so I soak in any information I can find, hoping that it will lead me to the Meaning of Life. I used to look for the Truth in theologians and philosophers, and I still do from time to time, but lately I've been looking towards Neil deGrasse Tyson, Albert Einstein, and Carl Sagan for the answers. And what I've found gives me a sense of awe and fear about the universe.
The fear comes when I realize how dangerous the universe is. This past Friday an asteroid flew by Earth, and while it didn't hit anything (NASA says the asteroid had nothing to do with the meteorite that hit Russia), I can't help but wonder if the next asteroid might hit us. According to Tyson, an asteroid will fly by us in 2029, and if it goes through a specific area of 600 miles it will splash in the Pacific Ocean seven years later. Knowing something like that isn't good for my anxiety disorder. My obsessive-compulsive thoughts about possible future disasters keep playing out over and over again like a broken record. I wonder if perhaps the Doctor was right, and the universe really doesn't care. And when I do, I feel sad.
Yet I also have this sense of awe and wonder about the universe. Every time I look up at the stars at night, I'm looking at a window to the universe. Stars, planets, comets, and, yes, asteroids--all floating out there above my head. And what I see is only a fraction of what's out there. The universe is endless, expanding for billions and billions of miles.
And according to Tyson, the universe is inside me:
. . . the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool. That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe; we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.
In my younger evangelical days, I was taught to accept both the lovey-dovey Bible verses as well as the judgment-and-wrath passages. They said the same God of grace and mercy has to be the God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah in order to be truly God. I don't know if that's true about God, but maybe it's true about the universe. Maybe the universe has to be both wondrous and scary in order for it truly be the universe. And maybe instead of fearing it like the fear one has of a gun, maybe I should fear it the way one fears the power of the sun, to borrow a quote from Malcolm X. Maybe that's what Tyson is trying to say.
Maybe the fear of the universe is the beginning of wisdom.