Science fiction fans will recognise these words:
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.
Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a comedy science fiction series created by Douglas Adams. Originally aired as a radio series, the story has been transformed into a five-part “trilogy” of novels, a TV series, a video game, and a feature film. The opening words reveal Adams’s atheistic worldview. He once described himself as a “radical atheist.”
Adams’s view of our solar system as “unregarded” and our planet as “insignificant” is shared by the atheistic world in general. Carl Sagan described the earth as “a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena” and spoke of humanity’s “posturings” and “imagined self-importance” and “the delusion that we have some privileged place in the Universe.” Sagan wanted humanity to embrace reality: “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
You may have felt the reality of that. Have you ever looked up into the sky on a clear night, reflecting on the ten billion galaxies in the observable universe, each with an average of 100 billion stars, and thought, do we really matter? From a humanistic standpoint, it is entirely understandable that, in the grander scheme of things, human significance is but wishful thinking and a conceited illusion.
Truth be told, the Bible can sometimes make us feel similarly insignificant. “I am a worm” (Psalm 22:6) is a cry that we can all probably relate to on some level. Human insignificance is self-evident, so it seems.
But herein lies the rub: The same Bible that highlights the smallness of humanity exalts the dignity of humanity. When we consider the vastness of God’s creation, what can we cry but, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4). Utterly insignificant! “Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field” (vv. 5–7). The majestic God, whose glory rises above the heavens, considers humanity to be significant. He considers human beings to be important. Far from “unregarded” and “utterly insignificant,” humanity—and humanity’s habitat—is central to God’s focus in the vast universe he created.
A biblical worldview holds humanity’s humility and honour in correct tension. On the one hand, we are but dust and will return to dust. On the other hand, we are created in the very image of God. God is at the same time completely other and yet intimately close to us, a tension brought into the sharpest relief in the incarnation and crucifixion of our Saviour.
Last year, when nations began responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, one critic of religion declared, “Saudi Arabia has banned Umrah pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina for Saudi locals because of the coronavirus. Iran also cancelled Friday prayers. Finally, they have realised prayer does not work.” This is good, he suggested. “The coronavirus is yet another piece of evidence that humans are all ‘atheists.’ People do not believe what they say they believe. People are on their own, their own hope, but they do not seem to know.”
Biblical Christianity presents us with a very different reality, one in which a sovereign God exists, in which humanity is immeasurably precious to him, and in which people are far from on their own. This reality should fuel our prayers, particularly as Christians. Christian, God cares about your health. God cares about your finances. God cares about your fears. This truth should drive you to your knees “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).