The cosmology of the ancient Hebrews has subject to a lot of snide comments by enlightened moderns, ever since those Copernicans appeared. Let's face it, it looks kind of quaint. The universe is viewed from the same platform that all but a tiny handful of us have always shared; the surface of planet Earth; but whereas we have built for ourselves models of the earth in its galactic context, no such detached and purely intellectual perspectives were available to them.
By human criteria, this home of ours is pretty substantial. It has a vastness which awed the Hebrews, and still more cast was the firmament, the waters above the firmament, and the waters below the earth. There is a mismatch, though, between Hebrew cosmology and Hebrew faith.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
It's not the only oddity of the early part of Genesis. In spite of it, though, the Jews were to believe, and to pass on to us, the assurance that God created everything, visible and invisible, out of nothing.
So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Even so, Tacitus, after the Jewish War, would write of the Jews:
The Jews acknowledge one god only, of whom they have a purely spiritual conception. They think it impious to make images of gods in human shape out of perishable materials. Their god is almighty and inimitable, without beginning and without end.
These sparse clues are not unrepresentative of the ancient theology, holding fast to its essential revelation, and watching every other conception of God fall before human religious and intellectual development. God they know to be all-powerful, creating everything, and by His forbearance, maintaining all of the visible and invisible universe in existence. The psalmist wrote,
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord.
There was early Holocene, or post-glacial, volcanic activity in parts of the Middle East since the Holocene flood. It may be that some memory of flowing lava has impressed itself into this psalm. Truer, I think, to think that the reality of the mountains being formed by the upheavals of molten rock is simply an actual counterpoint to the inspiration of the psalmist. To him, the mountains were as wax in the hands of the Lord, who comes, who comes to rule the earth. Vast as the mountains were, they were the playthings of the Lord. All the stars are named and numbered by the Lord, the sun and the moon run their course at His behest, and the seasons sweep in and out as He decrees. All the creatures of the unfathomable deeps are His. No depth nor height is hidden from His gaze.
So we Christians have been brought up to consider God, ordering all things to the good of His people who love and worship Him; a Presence infusing and innervating the earth, the heavens and the seas to the farthest reach of the understanding that centres on the Temple and the chosen people. The Scriptures provide us with the measure of our measureless God, in terms of the world he has created for us to inhabit, and, in doing so, have provided us with an implicit sense of scale through the anchor point of God's concern for us, the pinnacle of His visible creation.
The scale that emphasises the grandeur of God expresses to us also, paradoxically, the intimacy of His care for His creation. It balances for the worshippers the power and might with the tender personal concern in a lesson that is developed throughout both the Old and New Testaments. As such, it has been the culture in which the searching soul can be cultivated in growing devotion to the Lord. And so it should be.
What of our own time, and our own view of the universe, visible and invisible? What cosmology is offered to our understanding? A universe that gives every appearance of having been created out of nothing comes into being, time and space, and into that space and across those eons it expands to inconceivable dimensions, forming a 100 billion galaxies of a 100 billion stars, give or take a few orders of magnitude. Each of these stars dwarfs the earth; each is a vast burning or burnt-out clump of the primitive fuel of the universe. Such is the story we tell ourselves, and what message does it convey? This: our home is unspeakably and incalculably insignificant, less than a fly-speck on the surface of planet Earth: accept your meaninglessness, o Man, embrace your nothingness, for you, and everything you hold precious, is as less than nothing.
As our world and our night sky have shrunk, so, strangely, has the scale against which we measure the grandeur of God. We cannot help our anthropomorphising of God, hovering over the heavens, encompassing the sun, the moon, and the same set of uncountable stars that Abraham was challenged to number. As the scope of our perspective has been intimidated by these incomprehensible numbers, so has our anthropomorphic Deity. We are bereft of the psychological tools to conceive of the blessing and honour, and glory and power of the God who made us.
Yet, nothing has changed. We still dwell here, we still love this beautiful place, the stage on which each individual cosmic drama of a life is still lived out. We still know truth, beauty, goodness, love, justice, honour, humour, tragedy, betrayal, pain, loss and evil. We still know with absolute assurance, that we are not alone in the communion of our fellow human beings. We still grope towards the ultimately meaningful.
More importantly, God is still the Creator, still the sustainer of every particle of the universe. In the words of Moses, the Psalms and the wisdom books we find the tools that we need to remake our attitude to Him. Grant that we must retreat almost infinitely farther than the prophets before the wonder and glory of the Lord, because we understand more the scale of His power. Grant Them His due. I will lift up mine eyes unto the stars
from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.