From nebula to nebula—these are the hours struck by the clock of eternity: from the dissipation of the solar systems into nebular gas by their falling together, to their condensation again into suns and worlds, by the action of physical laws—thousands of millions of years in each hour, and the hours infinite in number. This is a hint of eternity. How many times, then, there must have been a world like this evolved in the course of this running down and winding up of the great clock, with beings like these we now behold! how many such worlds and such beings there must now be in the universe, and have always been! Can you think of the number? Not till you can think of infinity. The duration of life upon the globe, to say nothing of man's little span, is hardly a tick of this clock of eternity, and the repetition of the birth and dissipations of systems is well symbolized by the endless striking or ticking of a clock.
Then, sooner or later, comes the thought, What is it all for? And from the great abysm comes the echo, “What for?” Is it our human limitations, discipline of this earthly life, when we have to count the cost and ask what it is for, that makes us put the question to Infinite? When the cosmic show is over, what is the gain? When our universe is again a blank, who or what will have reaped benefit? Will the moral order which has been so slowly and painfully evolved, and which so many souls have struggled to live up to, still go on? Where? with whom? I seem to see dimly that you cannot bring the Infinite to book, that you cannot ask, What for? of the All—of that which has neither beginning nor end, neither centre nor circumference, neither fulfillment nor design, which knows neither failure nor success, neither loss nor gain, and which is complete in and of itself.
We are tied to the sphere, its laws shape our minds, we cannot get from it and see it in perspective; away from it there is no direction; at either pole on its surface there is the contradiction of the sky being always overhead. We are tied to the Infinite in the same way. We are part of it but we may not measure it. Our boldest thought comes back like a projectile fired into the heavens—the curve of the infinite sphere holds us. I know I am trying to say the unsayable. I would fain indicate how human and how hopeless is our question "What for?" when asked of the totality of things. There is no totality of things. To say that there is, does not express it. To say that there is not, do not express it. To say that the universe was created, does not express the mystery; to say that it was not created, but always existed, does not express it any nearer. To say that the heavens are overhead is only half the truth; they are underfoot also. Down is toward the centre of the earth, but go on through I and come out at the surface on the other side, and which way is down then?
The Unspeakable will not be spoken.
In the light of science we must see that life and progress and evolution and the moral order must go on and on somewhere; that the birth of systems and the evolution of planets must and does continue, and always has continued; that if one sun fades, another blazes out; that as there must have been an infinite number (how can there be an infinite number? where is the end of the endless?) of worlds in the past, so there will be an infinite number in the future; that if the moral order and the mathematical order and the intellectual order disappear from one planet, they will appear in due time on another.
All that which in our limited view of nature we call waste and delay—how can such terms apply to the Infinite? Can we ever speak truly of the Infinite in terms of the finite? To be sure, we have no other terms, and can never have. Then let us be silent and—reverent.