Professor Clark Williamson replies:
This question is a classic in the literature of Christian theology. In the 17th century, Blaise Pascal agonizingly reflected on himself in relation to the immensity of the universe: "When I consider my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and behind it, the small space that I fill, or even see, engulfed in the immensity of space which I know not, and which knows not me, I am afraid...Who has set me here? By whose order and arrangement have this place and time been allotted me?"
Pascal was not asking a new question. Long ago the psalmist asked "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them" (8:3-4).
For Pascal the very immensity of the universe discovered by seventeenth-century science, plus its coldness and indifference to human beings and the concerns of the human heart, caused him to react with uncertainty, fear, wonder and a need for reassurance. Like Pascal, Paul Tillich interpreted the question of God and God's being as the existential (that is, profoundly human) question that arises from the anxiety of being finite and knowing it. For Tillich, as for the scriptures, the alternative to anxiety or fear is faith; faith is the "courage," the "heart" ("courage" comes from the French word for heart, coeur).
So, who is God and why should it matter to us "in this sea of sand?" God is the God of a singular promise and a singular command. The promise is that we, you and I, are loved, that all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, we matter and we matter to God. We are important; that we live our lives and how we live them matter to God. Our lives are ultimately meaningful because we are meaningful to the One who is ultimate. The command, as we all know, is that in turn we are to love God with all our selves and our neighbors as ourselves.
God is the great Companion who understands; who grieves with us when we grieve, rejoices with us when we are happy. In short, the answer to the question, why should who God is matter to each of us "in this sea of sand," is that each of us matters to God. And knowing that, taking it into one's heart, gives life its ultimate meaning. Our ultimate meaning and importance isn't based on how little or big we are (and particularly not on how important or big we think we are), but on who God is. Our lives are ultimately meaningful, no matter how limited, because God graciously loves us.
Indiana Professor of Christian Thought, Emeritus, Christian Theological Seminary
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