Greetings, my fellow water-swiggers!

Ol’ Robbo just loves it when things come together.  Por ejemplo, it was within a matter of an hour or so after I had remarked on the terrifying scale of the Universe below that I clapped eyes on teh following relevant observation:

We are inveterate poets.  Our imaginations awake.  Instead of mere quantity, we now have a quality – the sublime.  Unless this were so, the merely arithmetical greatness of the galaxy would be no more impressive than the figures in a telephone directory.  It is thus, in a sense, from ourselves that the material universe derives its power to over-awe us.  To a mind which did not share our emotions, and lacked our imaginative energies, the argument from size would be sheerly meaningless.  Men look on the starry heavens with reverence:  monkeys do not.  The silence of the eternal spaces terrified Pascal, but it was the greatness of Pascal that enabled them to do so.  When we are frightened by the greatness of the universe, we are (almost literally) frightened by our own shadows:  for these light years and billions of centuries are mere arithmetic until the shadow of man, the poet, the maker of myth, falls upon them.  I do not say we are wrong to tremble at his shadow;  it is the shadow of an image of God.  But if ever the vastness of matter threatens to overcross our spirits, one must remember that it is matter spiritualized that does so.  To puny man, the great nebula of Andromeda owes in a sense its greatness.

And this drives me to say yet again that we are hard to please.  If the world in which we found ourselves were not vast and strange enough to give us Pascal’s terror, what poor creatures we should be!  Being what we are, rational but also animate, amphibians who start from a world of sense and proceed through myth and metaphor to the world of spirit, I do not know how we could have come to know the greatness of God without that hint furnished by the greatness of the material universe.  Once again, what sort of universe do we demand?  If it were small enough to be cosy, it would not be big enough to be sublime.  If it is large enough for us to stretch our spiritual limbs in, it must be large enough to baffle us.  Cramped or terrified, we must, in any conceivable world, be one or the other.  I prefer terror.  I should be suffocated in a universe that I could see to the end of.  Have you never, when walking in a wood, turned back deliberately for fear you should come out the other side and thus make it ever after in your imagination a mere beggarly strip of trees?

– C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, Chapter 3, “Dogma and the Universe.” 

Lewis quickly hastens to warn that this is a description of the relationship between the universe and Man’s soul, but not a description of the reason for the universe.  (I apologize for the extensive quoting, but I think it well worth pondering):

I hope you do not think I am suggestion that God made the spiral nebulae solely or chiefly in order to give me the experience of awe and bewilderment.  I have not the faintest idea why He made them; on the whole, I think it would be rather surprising if I had.  As far as I understand the matter, Christianity is not wedded to an anthropocentric view of the universe as a whole.  The first chapters of Genesis, no doubt, give the story of creation in the form of a folk-tale – a fact recognized as early as the time of St. Jerome – and if you take them alone you might get that impression.  But it is not confirmed by the Bible as a whole.  There are few places in literature where we are more sternly warned against making man the measure of all things than in the Book of Job: ‘Canst thou draw out leviathan with a hook?  Will he make covenant with thee?  Wilt thou take him for a servant?  Shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him?’  In St. Paul, the powers of the skies seem usually to be hostile to man.  It is, of course, the essence of Christianity that God loves man and for his sake became man and died.  But that does not prove that man is the sole end of nature.  In the parable, it was the one lost sheep that the shepherd went in search of:  it was not the only sheep in the flock, and we are not told that it was the most valuable – save in so far as the most desparately in need has, while the need lasts, a peculiar value in the eyes of Love.  The doctrine of the Incarnation would conflict with what we know of this vast universe only if we knew also that there were other rational species in it who had, like us, fallen, and who needed redemption in the same mode, and that they had not been vouchsafed it.  But we know none of these things.  It may be full of life that needs no redemption.  It may be full of life that has been redeemed.  It may be full of things quite other than life which satisfy the Divine Wisdom in fashions one cannot conceive.  We are in no position to draw up maps of God’s psychology, and prescribe limits to His interests.  We would not do so even for a man whom we knew to be greater than ourselves.  The doctrines that God is love and that He delights in men, are positive doctrines, not limiting doctrines.  He is not less than this.  WHat more He may be, we do not know;  we only know that He must be more than we can conceive.  It is to be expected that His creation should be, in the main, unintelligible  to us.


Friends of the water caraffe who know the Narnia series will be quick to spot where Lewis plays around with this idea of different worlds beyond our ken.  Friends who have read the Ransom Trilogy will know that that series was devoted to an even deeper exploration of the idea.  To any literalist friends who might bridle at the “mythological” gloss on Genesis, I apologize, but it’s one to which I adhere myself.  (Chesterton has a great discussion somewhere of the way the Old Testament gradually comes into historickal focus.)  And, of course, those who remember their St. Anselm will recognize the definition of God as “that than which nothing greater can be imagined.”  (I do not mean to stick on side here.  I took a college course in Medieval Christianity and this is absolutely the only thing I remember from it.)

I will leave it to you to make of these ideas what you will.    For myself, whenever I contemplate them I am filled with a wonderfully jumbled sense of wonder and awe and thankfullness and humility.