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God, the Cosmos and Humankind

Iapetus: Titan's moon
Saturn's satellites

When the Cassini spacecraft launched into space nearly seven years ago, its destination - Saturn - appeared as a speck in a sea of stars. More than a billion miles later, Cassini has at last arrived at the ringed planet and discovered a dynamic world full of surprises. While the Cassini spacecraft continues its four-year tour of the Saturnian system, the Huygens probe, carried by Cassini, will plunge into Titan and its mysterious atmosphere on Jan. 14, 2005. Built and managed by the European Space Agency, Huygens will be the furthest object to touchdown on an alien world. The mission will provide information that may help us better understand Saturn's biggest moon, the only moon in the solar system with a thick atmosphere. Still dormant and without navigation capabilities, the probe will travel the last 4 million kilometers (almost 2.5 million miles) on its own. Timers on board will wake Huygens up just before it enters Titan's hazy atmosphere. (Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) was a Dutch scientist who discovered Saturn's rings and, in 1655, its largest moon, Titan)

Meanwhile on planet earth we are mourning the death of thousands of people after the fateful Tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Caused by the movements of the earth's crust via the tectonic plates it is something that our hugely successful technology is unable to prevent. Going out into outer space is one thing; coping with what lies underneath us is quite another thing. We have our limitations.

It is ironic that God seems to be also limited by tragedy, suffering and death among our race and in all the natural disasters that continue to happen, not only on earth but in the expanding universe. For many people these events are an argument against belief in God. For, they say, if there is a god he could have surely made a more perfect world. As many have pointed out, of course, this is not a rational argument as this would mean that God was a manipulator of humans and events for his own pleasure. The universe and life on earth would be set in aspic without hope of growth. The Christian belief in God is based on arguments (as well as on the witness of Jesus) that life is a process, a growing up into 'humanhood', in which there will be setbacks and failure, if not disaster. The 'perfection' lies always in the ultimate future rather than in the present.

There is hope in this understanding of God's creation of life and the cosmos. The success of human ingenuity as witnessed in the past two hundred years puts a positive stamp on the understanding of life as a positive development despite the terrible setbacks experienced. It also involves the very human concern that life is about relationship, not only with others as we grow up, but also (if there is a god) with our origins in the mind of a creator who formed us for the best possible reasons of a loving and caring union of wills. Disaster like the recent tragic events does not then mean that Christians are forced back into agnosticism or atheism on account of what has happened and have to 'admit' that our faith is wobbling! As others have said recently, our response to the Tsunami is to do something to help the survivors and communities who have lost everything.

Belief in God for the many different religions is an acknowledgement of a purpose in life situated upon this small planet earth. The vastness of the creation in which we are placed may either dismay us into cynicism or alternatively enthuse us to respond in what we call 'faith'; trust in the value of life and whatever lies beyond for us all; and also trust in God who has faith in us! The author of John's gospel, living admittedly in a society in which 'god' was taken for granted, has Jesus saying, 'Trust in God always; trust also in me. There are many dwelling places in my Father's house .... I am going there on purpose to prepare a place for you.'

This was the Jesus who said also, 'I am the way, the truth and the life', who was put to a cruel death. We believe that he was vindicated by God - the creator God of the universe.

© Aelred Arnesen

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