If you somehow haven't yet seen the first photographs from the James Webb Space Telescope, I'm here to fix that for you. But also, if you're on a mobile device, get on something with a bigger screen. The bigger the better. I'll wait.
Galaxy cluster SMACS 0723. The twinkly white lights are nearby stars; all the other lights are distant galaxies. To quote NASA: "This slice of the vast universe covers a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground." If that doesn't blow your mind, check to make sure you have a pulse.
After seeing photographs like these, people of culture and taste are frequently reminded of Calvin and Hobbes.
Of course, these pictures provoke all kinds of philosophical, spiritual, and/or theological reactions. Many are in awe at the scope and grandeur of God's creation. Joseph Smith trended on Twitter for a little bit because he taught that God created "worlds without number" and his followers see this as evidence that he was a prophet. Of course, he also taught that "the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God" and there is as yet no indication that any of these worlds is inhabited, but Calvin and Hobbes has an answer for that.
aPredictably, I observed rather different reactions from former Latter-day Saints and other atheists who opine that these pictures prove God doesn't exist because the universe is so big and humans are so insignificant. I saw snarky comments like "God created all this, but he's still watching you masturbate." So obviously people will read into massive distant celestial objects whatever implications they feel like reading into massive distant celestial objects. I was struck, though, by how old this particular line of thinking is. People in biblical times knew very little of modern science, but they were not oblivious to the fact that the universe is bigger than Earth.
When I consider your heavens,
To an extent I can relate to the snarky comments, because I have become quite convinced that God cares a lot less about some things than Latter-day Saints and other Christians think he does, and that Latter-day Saints and other Christians know a lot less about him than they think they do - but still I believe that the higher power who orchestrated everything in the James Webb Space Telescope photographs is omniscient and omnibenevolent to be as intimately aware of my life as he is every atom, and as concerned about my life as he is about the fate of solar systems. On the one hand, I just resonate with the idea of Alma 30:44, that "all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator." And with this idea, I do not look for a "God of the gaps" in the things that science can't yet explain, but rather I see him in everything that science can explain. I resonate with the God described in Joseph Smith in Doctrine and Covenants 88:41 who "is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever."
Personal philosophical inclinations aside, I believe that this Creator exists and cares about me first and foremost because I believe I've communicated with Him and that He's responded to me and guided me at several points in my life. And I was going to write a whole post on that subject this week but then these photographs came out and I wanted to focus on them instead because they're freaking awesome.
A million billion planets and they're spinning out in space
Regardless of the differing perspectives we bring to these photographs, everyone except the QAnons who think they're fake should be able to agree that they give us a healthy dose of perspective and remind us that we aren't such a big screaming deal. Maybe if Putin spent more time looking at pictures like this, he would realize the futility of trying to make himself important by invading a tiny little country and committing war crimes. That's kind of a tangent but I wanted to bring it up because I feel like most Americans have forgotten that Ukraine is still under attack and Putin still needs to die.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.