300 Sextillion Stars, the Cattle on a Thousand Hills, and My Grasshopper Status

“The cattle on a thousand hills” — that’s the phrase that reverberated through my brain as I drove all around the country on a recent, long road trip.  Yes, I saw some cattle. And yes, I saw some hills.  But I wasn’t quite sure why I kept thinking about those cattle and those hills.

I knew it was a phrase from the Bible, so one night in a Carlson Country Inn and Suites establishment, I looked it up.  Here it is (set in Psalm 50:7-10) in a passage dealing with man’s hubris:

I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
and the insects in the fields are mine.
If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

Somehow as I drove for weeks, I equated that verse with the tiny-ness of me on the GPS screen, a little car set against a big backdrop of sunlit days and starry nights. I was fully aware and infinitely grateful that God had his eye on me out in the big bad world of dangers, toils and snares… just like he has his eye on me at home, when I am less aware of the challenges to my safety and to the status quo I call “life as usual.”  Solitary road trips magnify the “what could go wrong” musings.

Yet this time, bathed in prayers as I was, for once I didn’t wonder what could go wrong. I knew that since God’s eye is on the sparrow, and since the cattle on a thousand hills are his, and since I’m his particular favorite (as you are)… well, I just knew that all would be well.  And it was, even when it wasn’t so, in an earthly sense.

I think one of the most awe-inspiring sections of scripture is in Job 38:7-11.  It says:

Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?

That phrase, “here is where your proud waves halt,” strikes me anew each time as I reflect on the orderliness of the universe, the mystery of it all, and the juxtaposition of God considering each of us valuable, in our little finite lives, and caring about our puny problems and whereabouts when he has a whole universe to oversee.

New research indicates that there are three times more stars than previously thought. I think there is safety to be found in realizing that we are mere grasshoppers in a universe of 300 sextillion stars. Just how much do we think we can or should be able to control?   I loved this section in an article about the discovery of unexpected qualities of far-flung galaxies:

That’s a huge number to grasp, even for astronomers who are used to dealing in light years and trillions, (Harvard astrophysicist Charlie) Conroy said.

“It’s fun because it gets you thinking about these large numbers,” Conroy said. Conroy looked up how many cells are in the average human body – 50 trillion or so – and multiplied that by the 6 billion people on Earth. And he came up with about 300 sextillion.

So the number of stars in the universe “is equal to all the cells in the humans on Earth – a kind of funny coincidence,” Conroy said.

For the past month, astronomers have been buzzing about (Yale astronomer Pieter) van Dokkum’s findings, and many aren’t too happy about them, said astronomer Richard Ellis of the California Institute of Technology.

Van Dokkum’s paper challenges the assumption of “a more orderly universe” and gives credence to “the idea that the universe is more complicated than we think,” Ellis said. “It’s a little alarmist.”

Ellis said it is too early to tell if van Dokkum is right or wrong, but his work is shaking up the field “like a cat among pigeons.”

Van Dokkum agreed, saying, “Frankly, it’s a big pain.”

I love this.  Of course we think it’s a big pain that the universe is more complicated than we think.  Of course we’re alarmed. We think of ourselves as the center of the universe. At least I do.

But scripture says that we are grasshoppers (“He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers,” says Isaiah 40:22).

It also says, in Psalm 8:3-5, that we are just below the angels:

When I consider your heavens,

the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,

the son of man that you care for him?

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings

and crowned him with glory and honor.

So there’s comfort in knowing that  just as God keeps his eye on the cattle on a thousand hills, hills ultimately illuminated by 300 sextillion stars, God never loses track of us beloved grasshoppers.

Imagine.  It’s true.

~ by Cary on December 4, 2010.

3 Responses to “300 Sextillion Stars, the Cattle on a Thousand Hills, and My Grasshopper Status”

  1. Have you been to Air and Space to see the Hubble Space Telescope Imax Movie yet? I recommend it.

  2. […] What an illusion it is that I’m in control, ever.  What a laughable fallacy that I’m master of my own fate, controller of my own destiny, or even planner of my own day.  I’m a grasshopper, spiritually speaking.  I wrote about that (with gratitude even) a few days ago in a post called Sextillion Stars, The Cattle on a Thousand Hills, and My Grasshopper Status. […]

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