In this past Sunday’s first reading, we hear the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham follows God’s orders to sacrifice his only son Isaac, but before he does so, God stops him because he has demonstrated his devotion to God. At the end of the story, the Lord’s messenger says:
“I swear by myself, declares the LORD,
that because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;”
While I usually focus on the rather unbelievable scene with the intended sacrifice of Isaac, this time I was struck by the similes: “as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.” We often hear these similes, and others like it, in a variety of contexts. For example, they include phrases like a single grain of sand on the beach, a drop in the ocean, no single snowflake is the same, etc. Perhaps it is because our best understanding of what is vast or infinite comes from comparisons with the created world.
I think this our best avenue for understanding “boundless” for a few reasons. First, however small, we can still sense our place within it. It may amount to seemingly nothing, but a single star still contributes to the entire whole. Second, we live in the physical dimension and are created bodies ourselves so we can make sense of objects, landscapes and descriptions of this world. And third, the beauty of the created world, like a starry night, already has an sense of transcendence that draws us outside ourselves.
On one hand, it is easy to view the statement “you are like a grain of sand on the beach” and feel overwhelmed by our smallness. However, I think we can also consider how these comparisons also connect us to something much larger than ourselves, which I believe comes from God.