One of the most beneficial results of the study of science is an appreciation for the details and nuances of things. One can look outwards and consider the infinite number of stars, worlds, and galaxies in their incredible diversity, and such a sense of majestic creation can leave one overwhelmed and breathless. Yet one can also look inwards and consider the impressive complexity and finesse of a single cell, compound, or even atom, and such a sense of majestic intentionality can leave one dazed and humbled.
And yet, as the Christian faith (and many other religions) teaches, amidst all the majesty of the universe large and small, this particular world of Earth, and this particular species of man, holds a particular focus of the Creator. For some, this is irrational and unnerving: why should we consider ourselves so important in the grand scheme of the universe?
Tolkien addresses this understanding in his creation myth, the Ainulindalë, in a line which my eyes ever before this most recent read had glazed over:
“This habitation might seem a little thing to those who consider only the majesty of the Ainur, and not their terrible sharpness; as who should take the whole field of Arda for the foundation of a pillar and so raise it until the cone of its summit were more bitter than a needle; or who would consider only the immeasurable vastness of the World, which still the Ainur are shaping, and not the minute precision to which they shape all things therein.”
Alongside awe and wonder is sharpness: an appreciation on the particular, the specific, precision. For the incredible beauty of creation lays not only in the large but in the small, not only in the majesty but also in the focus. While a viewer may gaze upon a painting and take in the incredible sum of all the parts, a connoisseur can comprehend each brush stroke, each choice of paint and style, each subtle gesture. Yet the artist carries something more beyond that: a history, a memory, a connection to each of those individual components, drafted over time, that come together into the majesty of the whole. The audacity of Christianity is not that so great a Creator could exist that could bring the world into being, but instead the claim that the Creator could know and love a single part of that world so intimately as to intervene on its behalf, be born into it, die for it.
In that way, it is the sharpness, even more so than the majesty, that leaves us with awe and wonder. Science helps us see the details of the field and the expanses of the immeasurable vastness so that we understand how small and little a thing our world and our people are in the grandeur of God. Faith helps us to then recognize how nevertheless the small and the little is so significant in the eyes of a loving God, shaping still the world we live in.