By Fr. Glenn Jones:
Well, we hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! May God give you ever greater blessings in the coming Advent and Christmas seasons this month. With the delicious Thanksgiving meal arriving at the table, one could be tempted to check for one more hole left on his shortening belt and think:
“Sure seems like an awful waste of space.”
You might recognize that line from the movie “Contact”, when Jodie Foster’s character conjectures to some students that other life and civilizations certainly must exist beyond our own little planet life raft.
Sometimes people ask: “How would it affect your beliefs if life is found outside of earth?” Well … it wouldn’t, except to perhaps add a footnote somewhere stating: “Oh, yes … God created living beings on other planets/in other systems/in other galaxies, too. Cool!! Truly an awesome God!” Many seem to think that God is sort of the caretaker of this little planet alone (some faiths believe that specifically), but Catholicism and much of Christianity believes differently … that the very existence of the universe militates against that idea of a “limited” God. If, as I mentioned in a recent column, God is the source of all existence, that means ALL existence, not just one plant in the garden.
How would God manifest Himself to another civilization? Who knows? But I’m reminded of another sci-fi movie: the 1985 “Enemy Mine” with Louis Gossett, Jr. and Dennis Quaid, astronaut-warriors of rival planets. The movie is quite a bit more cringe- and gag-worthy than “Contact”, but one scene really struck me (kudos to the screenwriter): the alien (Lou Gossett) was reading from his book of sacred writings some excerpts not dissimilar to those in the Bible. The surprised earth astronaut (Dennis Quaid) remarked: “We have that in our holy book, too”, to which the alien replied: “Of course; Truth…is truth.” Truth.
The old “thought” question was: “How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?” As author and creator of all, nothing would be necessarily “bigger” or “smaller” for God—much like a mother loving her hulking twenty-year-old rugby player son as she loves her newborn preemie daughter. Or like Michelangelo might value his Sistine Chapel ceiling as a whole as much as the finest detail of the expression in a single angel of that ceiling. After all, would Peter Carl Fabergé treasure his egg artistry any less than Leonardo did the Mona Lisa, or Michelangelo his ceiling, or Gustave Eiffel his tower? Each in its own right is a masterpiece, regardless of size.
And thus, there is no “waste of space” with God; He creates all that is, HOW it is, with the same care and with His eternal plan in mind. We who are so dimensionally-bound may consider “big” as “grander”, but bigger is certainly not necessarily lesser, created with less care, attention or purpose. As the tiniest gear in an older mechanical watch is essential to its function, so is the tiniest thing in the plan of God (“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Luke 12:6-7) and “The LORD has made everything for its purpose…” (Proverbs 16:4)) One is reminded of the old “butterfly effect” theory—the even something as seemingly insignificant as a flap of a butterfly’s wings has repercussions reverberating throughout the universe.
And this is also why there is no time with God…that “…with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8) Even we—time-bound as we are—experience the diminishing impact of time as we age, each year more fleeting than the last; how much more so an eternal being. In our scientific age of theorization of many multiple dimensions, is such boundlessness so hard to believe? Yet God would not be encompassed BY dimensions, but would encompass all dimensions … the whole dimensional “team” eager and dutiful, reined by the guiding hand of their Creator and master.
So … how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, or how many does it take to fill the universe, for that matter? The answer is the same: ALL of them … if God—the Creator—so desires. One might as well ask how many hours can fit on a pinhead—apples and oranges. Different “dimensions”, so to speak … different and unimaginable (for us) modes of being. Thus, quantum theory, Erwin Schrödinger’s cat, has nothing on angels … or, really, on us, either. One might think of an (admittedly limping) analogy of the physical body and the spiritual soul being sort of like that kitty of Schrödinger’s—two states of being existing simultaneously, but ours stably. Is God somehow “hinting” of our eternal existence as we increase our knowledge of science? Sort of reminds of the Big Bang theory … first described in Genesis 1. Hmmmm…..
Who can doubt that we will have now unimaginable advances of knowledge and science over the next decades, centuries, millennia … (why did the song “In the Year 2525” just pop into my head? The two-edged sword of science). Will these advances lead of ever closer to “seeing” God? The advances we’ve attained already seem to be doing so. Now … if somebody can just discover an easy way to get these darn Christmas lights untangled! Hellooo! … LANL? Sandia? Get on the ball, will ya’? 😉
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.