Let’s get heavy! Today we’re going to engage the formation and structure of the universe – no big deal. Strap on your helmets and gird your loins, it’s gonna get opinionated in here!
Before we get into this, it should be noted that my personal worldview is essentially “Judeo-Christian” in nature. That said, there are many big questions surrounding life/death/the universe/things of the supernatural realm I am tremendously confused by or undecided about, so I try to keep an open mind. How exactly the world came into existence and how the universe is structured would certainly fall into this category.
In that spirit of open-mindedness, let’s chat about a controversial* word featured in the Genesis account of creation that begs some explanation.
“And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.” (Genesis 1:6-8 KJV)
Firmament. Not a word you hear every day. Kind of tough to conjure what a firmament is, its function, or what it might look like.
While the modern definition for firmament is: “1. The heavens or the sky, esp. when regarded as a tangible thing,” its usage in Genesis appears to also indicate that a firmament is a sort of cosmic barrier or divider to distinguish between distinctive elements. The original Hebrew word that we’ve translated as firmament is raqia, which translates as “an extended surface,” or an “expanse,” while the word has also been likened to a “vault.”
<quick sidebar> It seems that whether or not firmament means “expanse” or something more like “vault” or “dome” has been the source of an ongoing kerfuffle involving infallibility of Scripture issues; relating to whether or not the Genesis account jibes with science. Before writing this, I had no idea firmaments were such a hot tamale issue. Personally I have no pony in this race, my faith is not shaken either way. I’ve witnessed too many miracles and wonders to not believe in a God. But I do like to search for truth in the meantime… <end sidebar>
Anyways in my search for enlightenment on the topic, I came across this helpful graphic which portrays how the ancient Hebrews perceived firmaments and the structure of the world. (Clearly they were heavily influenced by NES classics Metroid and Wizards & Warriors**).
Now, a lot has happened since Genesis was written. We’ve learned a great deal about our planet and even outer space. We can see stuff light years away, and explain a good bit about the universe. Yet we haven’t found the roof or any walls yet… and we also haven’t been able to prove or disprove how exactly the world came to be or how exactly it is set up
Many have come to believe our universe is infinite or at least infinitely expanding – an untamed, endless, structureless vortex that goes on forever. Some also believe we are just one universe of many.
Just trying to wrap my head around that stuff stresses me out so bad… makes me want to go get some coloring books and watch Boy Meets World for a few hours. But I take some solace in the fact that not even the likes of Stephen Hawking can explain these things. Some things we are not meant to know I guess, and that’s fine by me.
I don’t necessarily discount any of the above theories, including the notion of the world consisting of specific “firmaments” placed by God, which presumably separate different realms like heaven from earth. Let’s be honest… none of us – from the greatest biblical scholar to the greatest scientist – has all the answers regarding our cosmos. Maybe we are set up like level 3 of Wizards & Warriors. Or maybe God created an infinitely expanding universe? Maybe our realm is held up by giant Cheeto columns. Who knows.
Perhaps after this life I will ride my heavenly pet Futalognkosaurus into space and learn the secrets of the universe. Until then all we can do is continue looking for answers, praying for wisdom, making educated guesses, and having some faith.
*Before writing this article, I had no idea the word “firmament” was controversial. After doing a bit of research, I understand that some Biblical literalists take very seriously how this is translated. It’s certainly not my intent to needle anyone here or in any way discount any beliefs, we’re just talkin’ right?
** As you try to solve the mysterious wonders of the universe, may I recommend the theme song from Wizards & Warriors to get the juices flowing.