In the musical Carousel Billy Bigelow says to Julie Jordan, “What are we? Just a couple of specks of nothing. Ah, you can’t even count the stars in the sky, and the sky’s so big the sea looks small; and two little people—you and I—we don’t count at all.”
Have you ever felt like that? I confess there are occasions when the immensity of space surrounding me, and the eternities of time behind me and ahead of me, tempt me to think I am a “speck of nothing” who doesn’t count at all. And other Christians have had moments when they felt the same way. Blaise Pascal, who live in Paris in the 1600s, is chiefly remembered for the Pensées (“Thoughts”) which he wrote. In Pensée No. 194 he said:
I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than in another, nor why the short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at some other point of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me. I see nothing but infinites on all sides, which surround me as an atom, and as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more.
The Psalmist also had the same problem, for he said, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you established; what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4). Indeed, the vast space and time around us seem indifferent and sometimes even a little hostile to us. This is why home, of all places on earth, is the sweetest place. Within the vastness of the universe in which the sky is so big that even the sea seems small, home is, as it were, that one little sugar cube of space where we can relax for a while without feeling that we must do and be something special or else suffer unhappy consequences.
It’s also frightening when we think of ourselves in comparison with the immensity of time which passes by, even in the space of a few years. I was impressed with this recently as I researched my father’s life to write his biography and came across photographs taken in the 30s and 40s which brought back memories of times which now seem so very far away. We seem very small in comparison with both our past and his future, because we can really make decisions and control our lives only in the present moment. What happened in the past is fixed and will not change, nor can we cross tomorrow’s bridges today.
Such a train of thought could easily make one feel that he is indeed a “speck of nothing” who “doesn’t count at all.” Why should God be at all concerned for any one of us in comparison with the vast space and time that he has created? Yet God’s Word declares that he loves us even more than a mother loves her infant: “Can a woman forget he sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet will I not forget you. Behold I have engraved you on the palm of my hands …” (Isaiah 49:15-16).
God would not be God unless he were concerned with us little “specks of nothing.” Were he concerned chiefly with what was great and mighty, it would imply that he was not complete in himself and therefore needed to curry the favor of the great in order to receive the support and fulfillment which he otherwise lacked. But since God is all-glorious, the best and most perfect of all beings, he is completely fulfilled in himself, and so he manifests his perfection precisely by being so very concerned with us. In that God cares for us “who are but dust” (Psalm 103:14), he acts consistently with his own perfection.
Therefore, whenever we think of our smallness and are tempted to believe that “we don’t count at all,” let us remember that our smallness is why we count for everything. Whereas by the world’s standards the smaller we are, the less we count, by God’s standards the smaller we are the more we count. This is why the Psalmist, who confessed that he was “poor and needy,” yet exulted in knowing that “the Eternal takes thought for me” (Psalm 40:17). And Paul learned that just when he was weak then he was strong, for God had told him, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Daniel P. Fuller