On this little planet that we call home, there exists approximately 400 miles of vertical space between the surface where we walk, and the upper shell of our atmosphere.
Long before we reach 400 miles, the oxygen level becomes so thin that we would lose the ability to breathe, and the temperature so cold that we would freeze to death.
Beyond this shell, these short 400 miles, lies the most inhospitable, the most unforgiving, the most terrifying of all hostile environments: the vacuum of space.
The Second Creation
After light in Genesis chapter 1, God creates the Expanse, bubble, a tiny strip of breathable atmosphere which makes life on this planet possible.
The word expanse here, in the Hebrew language, refers to a solid barrier. In the ancient world, it was known as the Vault of Heaven, a solid dome that fit over the top of a flat earth.
A different kind of Universe
To understand the Genesis story, we must picture the universe as the ancient writer would have imagined it. This will be the subject of the next post in this series, Genesis chapter 1 verse 7. But we will begin the exercise now.
Picture first, a single, giant ball of water.
This is “the Deep,” the great primeval ocean, the only thing that exists at the dawn of time. There is no surface. Only God is outside the waters. Inside this chaotic water, God first creates “light.”
Then God speaks for a second time, and a space opens in side the water. A solid barrier comes into existence, pushing half the water up and half of the water down. The water that was pushed up becomes the blue sky. The water pushed down remains as the ocean, or the Deep.
As knowledge grows
When the ancients looked up, they saw water. When they looked down, water. They imagined that the crust of the earth floated on the surface of a giant sea, and that the blue above was the same as the blue below. Really, what else were they supposed to think?
They wrote a story based on what they saw: Water above, and water below. Because all good stories are based on observation of the real world.
The details, however, and whatever scientific flaws they may contain, is not the point. The story is, what it means, and the revelations about ourselves and God that we can still take from that story. When the writer of Genesis 1 tells us that our world is surrounded by water above and below, he means to point out the miracle of our world existing at all.
The ancients found themselves completely surrounded in a hostile environment – the water, the deep, the ancient symbol for chaos, oblivion, and death.
Today, we know that the universe looks a bit different.
Still, the basic point remains the same now as it was then. In fact, the more we learn about the universe, the great expanses of space, and the crazy number of coincidences that all had to coincide to make life on earth possible, we are compelled to find our existence even more unlikely.
Science does not drive us further from the miraculous. In fact, there is no greater proof of how profoundly unlikely life actually is.
We humans exist in a pocket, 400 vertical miles between us and the vacuum of space.
Just to put this into perspective, it would take about five hours to drive that distance on the freeway.
The diameter of the Earth, from one pole to the other, is 7,900 miles.
The circumference – that is, the distance we would travel along the surface of the planet, from one pole to another and back again – is 24,900 miles.
The distance that light has to travel from the sun to the earth every second of every day is about 92,960,000 miles.
And compared to the size of the entire universe, our planet is basically microscopic.
Inside these unbelievably vast dimensions, God has created a pocket, 400 vertical miles, on which our survival depends. So dependent are we on our Creator, and so loved.
When confronted with the immensity of the Universe, people of faith tend to have one of two reactions. Either we feel tiny, insignificant, and disconnected from our Creator, or, the unlikeliness of our existence magnifies the love our creator must have for us. Which of these reactions do you have? Why?
Missed the last few verses? Catch up with Understanding Genesis 1:5.
Move on to Understanding Genesis 1:7 now!