Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

How would a biblical writer respond to the image of a black hole?

In light of the first images of a black hole, Mark Woods explores the beauty of space, and how the Bible can help give expression to our response.

It’s an astonishing achievement. For the first time ever, we’re able to see an image of a black hole.

Put like that, it might not seem like much. But this is an astronomer’s dream: black holes are regions of space so tightly packed with matter that their gravity so immensely powerful that not even light can escape. Even a few years ago, no one would have predicted that one day we’d be able to see one.

The image that’s been captured is the product of eight interlinked radio telescopes and a sophisticated computer programme that’s processed their data to create a striking image. It shows a dark centre surrounded by a ring of fire, which is created when superheated gas falls into the hole.

And it’s huge. This black hole is 500 million trillion kilometres away and is larger than our entire solar system. Prof Heino Falcke, who first proposed the experiment, told the BBC: ‘It is an absolute monster, the heavyweight champion of black holes in the Universe.’

There are two different ways of reacting to a picture like this. At one level, we can be awed by the greatness of the achievement – who would have thought we were capable of it?

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

But there’s another response too – and perhaps most thinking people will feel like this sometimes.

We live in a universe that is vast beyond comprehension, where black holes devour galaxies, where there are billions of stars and planets – and as far as we know, we’re on our own. We’re tiny specks of organic matter on the third planet of a small solar system somewhere in the Western spiral arm of one galaxy among millions. What on earth does anything we say or do matter? How can we talk of living a meaningful life, when in the face of so much space and so many marvels we are so utterly insignificant?

It’s not unreasonable to think like this. But the Bible got there before us – one of its writers had the same reaction when he looked up at the stars and realised just how far away they must be.

Psalm 8 says: ‘When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?’ (verses 3-4, NIV).

Instead of being overwhelmed by a feeling of worthlessness, though, the Psalmist is overwhelmed by gratitude. God, he says, has made human beings ‘a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour’.

The Bible’s message is that even in such vast created universe, human beings are of infinite value, each one of us known and loved by God. Christians respond to this immensity not with fear or despair, but with praise: ‘Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!’ (verse 9).

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