My senior year of college I took an introduction to theology class with my roommate. Neither of us needed the class to fulfil any requirements; we both thought it would be kind of a lark, an easy five credits.
It was a fairly easy class, but it managed to surprise me anyway. By that point I'd pretty much abandoned the strict literalist vision of God I'd grown up with, and half-expected that any theology class at my Christian university would insist on the rigid definitions of the Holy that I had already rejected. I expected to roll my eyes a lot, secretly, in the back of the class.
That's where I was surprised. I couldn't tell you, off the top of my head, a single fact I learned in that class. What I vividly remember is a sense of freedom, of being able to finally, guiltlessly let go of the too-tight dogmas that had been choking me with frustration. I'm sure the class taught no radical or unapproved doctrines, but I will always appreciate the new sense of expansion I gained there, my dawning awareness that any God of all creation must be infinitely larger than I'd been led to believe.
This is my clearest memory of that recognition: Our professor brought in a series of astronomy maps something like this one day. First she showed us a map of our solar system with a dot marking the Earth. Then she showed a map of the Milky Way galaxy with a dot marking our entire solar system. Then she displayed a map of our local "Virgo Supercluster" of galaxies, with a dot marking our galaxy...and so on.
I'd never taken astronomy beyond whatever basics I learned in high school science, so I sat in the back of the class with goosebumps. That awe bowled me over again today when I found this site, showing the scale of just our own solar system (via John Scalzi's By the Way journal). I already knew the universe is, like, big and stuff, and pardon my language of course, but holy. fucking. shit. I'm supposed to believe a Creator who could cradle all this in the crook of her arm is really the kind of God who would set up a strict set of rules on a piddly backwater planet and expect all the possible denizens of the universe to abide by those rules during their microscopic blips of life in that immense universe, or be rejected by God for all the rest of time eternal? I'm supposed to think a God of this enormity would be apathetic about how well the galaxy's residents care for each other and their home, and inflexibly furious if some of those residents possessing the same genitalia have the audacity to fall in love anyway?
That kind of thing doesn't make sense to me anymore. You might as well try to convince me that God will be angry at gay penguins, polygamous lions, or spiders who kill their partners after mating. I can assure you it's not about my rebellion; it just makes no sense to me. If God is big, accept the vastness of God. If God is small, then preach the limitations of God. But don't try to convince me of God's immensity while also claiming that God is grossed out over the very same things that you just happen to be uncomfortable with already.
The Beginning of Wisdom
You have brought me so far.
I know so much. Names, verbs, images. My mind
overflows, a drawer that can't close.
Unscathed among the tortured. Ignorant parchment
uninscribed, light strokes only, where a scribe
tried out a pen.
I am so small, a speck of dust
moving across the huge world. The world
a speck of dust in the universe.
Are you holding
the universe? You hold
onto my smallness. How do you grasp it,
how does it not
I know so little.
You have brought me so far.