For Part I, click here.
In Part I, we talked briefly about how we are part of creation, yet we are set apart from it, and that there is something, some quality about us that the all rest of the universe does not possess. As it turns out, there are many different ways to talk about that quality, but get ready for it to explode your brain when we put it in terms of sound.
Like we discussed before, sound is ultimately just motion. It’s molecules moving around and bumping into other molecules, causing them to move. Tap a key on your keyboard (or, if you’re reading this on a touch-screen device, give your screen a high-five in the face). Did you hear that tiny little click sound? That was your finger (or the palm of your hand) causing a tiny displacement of air molecules, which in turn displaced the molecules around them, which in turn displaced the molecules around them – a chain reaction which at some point reached the molecules of the hairs inside your ear and made them wiggle a bit. This wiggly-hair motion in your ear canal is then translated into a neurochemical signal, which is then interpreted by your brain as a recognizable sound, all faster than you could say “Bob’syouruncle.” (And, in fact, if you did say that aloud, it would happen all over again.)
But we can’t hear all displacements of air molecules, can we? Humor me again: Point your finger in the air and wiggle it back and forth. Can’t hear a thing, right? It’s not making any sound (unless you are an extremely powerful and fast finger-wiggler). But it’s definitely displacing air molecules – it’s moving through air. So what’s the difference? Why do some wiggly bits make sound, and others don’t? And where are we going with all this anyway?
As it turns out, as far as the universe is concerned, there’s really no difference. It’s all just molecules bumping into each other, and it happens all the time. The difference is not in what’s happening so much as in our capacity to perceive what’s happening. You know how we see light and color, but there’s really a much broader spectrum of radiation – only a small subsection is actually visible to the human eye? Same thing here. There is a vast spectrum of vibration going on all around us, at all times, but only a small subsection is audible to the human ear. We’re only able to perceive a small part of what’s really going on. If we could hear the whole spectrum of vibration, everything would constantly be filled with a barrage of sound, all the time, a maddening wall of noise that would explode our brains’ capacity to process it all. God, in His infinite wisdom, has deemed that a really bad idea, so He made us capable of perceiving only a small portion of what’s really going on.
Isn’t that how it should be? We are tiny, finite beings. We can’t handle the big picture. If we were to hear everything, to see everything, to know everything, we would be crushed under the weight of the universe, unable to process the sound of a billion billion stars burning in all directions at once, unable to discern anything among the quadrillions of neutrinos passing before our eyes. We are small. God is big. God can handle what we cannot. He has it under control, and He only lets us see and hear and know what we need to get by. That is exactly how it should be, and blessed be God for having the mercy and wisdom to make it so.
But, as with every coin, there’s a flipside here. Everything is constantly vibrating and radiating and percolating and wiggling and what-have-you all the time – but that’s all that’s happening. It’s just physics and chemistry playing out their one-size-fits-all rules. It’s just molecules bumping into other molecules, knocking everything around a bit. There’s no meaning or purpose or ultimate goal to gain from the natural occurrence of these processes. It’s neat, and an infinitely impressive piece of clockwork, but that’s all it is – a giant set of gears just grinding away, doing what they’re supposed to do.
Or at least it was… until us.
In Scripture, God creates us last, after all other things are set in motion. He makes light and dark, the earth and sea, the sky and space, and populates all that with ferns and cactuses and dogs and platypi and whatever, but the finishing touch, the master stroke of all creation, is… man. “Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth” (Genesis 1:26). Why does man have such an exalted spot over all these created things? What sets man above chimpanzees, or dolphins, or snails for that matter? All of these things can hear, see, and know things. Chimpanzees finger-paint and make basic tools, pigs play video games, and velociraptors can open doors. What can man do that animals can’t?
Man can recognize Beauty. Bees may be attracted to flowers as a source of food, but only man takes delight in the visual feast of a blooming meadow. Birds may respond to the chirping of other birds for mating purposes, but only man hears the music of nature in every note of birdsong. Lions may eat meat in order to survive, but only man stops to savor each bite of a well-prepared steak. No other creature (except the angels, of course) has the capacity to recognize and enjoy Beauty for Beauty’s own sake.
Man is the key to giving the whole universe meaning. Without man’s capacity to recognize beauty, everything is nothing more than a soulless machine… but when man enters the picture, suddenly the universe has a meaning and direction beyond itself. The universe then becomes capable of accomplishing a purpose – to show man beauty – and what’s more, since God is Beauty Himself, that purpose is to show man something of the nature of God.
In short, God created the entire universe, the vast expanse of stars and planets, the mind-blowing palette of colors and sounds, the uncountable numbers of animals and plants, the infinite complexity hidden within each cell and even each molecule, simply for one purpose: for us to come to know and love Him.
And as He told St Teresa of Avila: “I would create the whole universe again just to hear you say you love Me.”
Again, more to come, so stay tuned.
This blog post has won the 2013 Super Internet Award for Most Uses of the Word “Wiggle” And Its Variants.