Imagine the entire history of the universe, all 13.8 billion years of it, as one cosmic year.
At the stroke of midnight on January 1st the Big Bang happens. The galaxy begins to unfold, to stretch across the vast expanse with forces unknown to us still. Waves and particles in motion weave in and out of the folds of the young cosmos. Galactic material whirls and whizzes, even spins around stars (or were stars twinkling yet?) in a series of mysterious dances.
Throughout February, March and April the celestial bodies waltzed from vastness to vastness, as if exploring the edges of space. Things were popping and sizzling – things I’m not scientific enough to name. But there was a hum about the universe. The ancient Hebrews might have called it formless and void but here’s where science illumines poetry, saying the expanse was abuzz.
Maybe there was an emptiness, maybe a wilderness quality to the Deep. But maybe the depths of space were quaking with riots of energy and cracking open new vistas with each surge, each spark. And maybe the creative forces were raucous like a Rolling Stone concert just getting started…
By May of this cosmic year the Milky Way begins to take shape. The world that we actually know emerges like a late bloomer, as if spring’s last blush. September is for solar systems according to this calendar, and right on it’s heels comes photosynthesis in October. The most basic cell life comes in November. Each month moves toward the familiar.
December burst onto the scene chock full of activity – some things never change. We get the growth of sponges by December 14th, followed by fish on the 18th, the next week brings plants, insects and reptiles. What we call Christmas Day delivers quite a present – dinosaurs! But we are nowhere to be seen yet, as if we’re missing the most epic party.
The world arrives at New Year’s Eve with a planet teeming with life – just not human life. It won’t be until night fall, sometime after 8:00pm, that humanity makes an entrance to the creative feat brought about by God’s ingenious juices of generative aliveness, in all it’s astounding forms.
But finally, we do join the Cosmos.
As my son and I watched, transfixed, Neil deGrasse Tyson describe all this activity in much greater detail (and with more verve), a thought occurred to me. Actually, it was a well-worn Bible verse that returned to me afresh, “For God so loved the Cosmos…” That is the Greek word we translate as ‘world.’ God so loves the Cosmos – all of it, from January to December, God loves everything that came into being and careened in wild, orchestrated orbits in the Deep. God loves all the developments from cells to sponges to dinosaurs… and humanity as part of the great goodness of Creation.
But something else struck me that afternoon. God has long loved the Cosmos. God doesn’t only love the part of creation that emerged in the final hours of a cosmic year. God loves it all and has been delighted by it all since January 1st some 13.8 billion years ago. God has lived in deep and lasting fidelity with creation for billions of years, this is a relationship with tender tenure and devoted durability across epochs of time and unfathomable kinds of increase.
The Hebrews say that the Spirit hovered over the Deep, over the unformed materials of life. God is likened to an eagle (see Deut. 32:11 where the same word is employed) who flutters and flys over the nest of its young to ensure they are safe until they grow strong enough wings to fly. It is the picture of God, a paternal presence, hovering over all the cosmos ensuring its growth, guarding it amid the maturation process. And what parent doesn’t savor the growing years of their children? What parent doesn’t keep a scrapbook of all the milestones and mark the incremental development on the doorpost, holding all these things close to heart?
It occurred to me, maybe for the first time, that God cherished all those billions of years with creation the way any parent would relish the growth of their children. God loves the Cosmos with such tenderness and unwavering devotion. God so loved the Cosmos – from January to December – that God would send a redeemer for the entirety of creation that waits and groans. We are part of that long love affair, part of those waiting for redemption. But we aren’t the only part of creation that matters; we aren’t the only part that is dearly and fiercely loved.
My son and I talked about God loving the Cosmos. This is one verse he’s heard over and over again in Sunday School in Burundi. “If I created something that cool, mama, I’ love every bit of it, too!” It seems to make sense to a child. God loves every bit of it. And if I am pulled into the sweep of such a love, how could I not love the cosmos? How could I not celebrate our shared redemption? How could I not honor the long relationship God’s cultivated with the cosmos since the very first bang?