It’s an analogy that God Himself used in promising that the descendants of Abraham would be almost innumerable: “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Genesis 22:7). Those living in the biblical age had no idea how vast the universe really is, of course, but they could see the vast number of stars visible to their own eyes and could certainly visualize the vastness of numbers involved in comparing humans to grains of sand. It’s a simple analogy, but the more we grasp it, perhaps the harder it is not to feel totally insignificant. Being one of untold numbers of teeming humans is one thing, but sand particles all look alike, right, and the grains of sand analogy really can make one feel like a faceless speck if we think about it overly much.
That’s why I love the picture that accompanies this blog post. It came to me on twitter courtesy of @WOWfactsoflife (via blogger Ann Bowyer who retweeted it), and it immediately caught my attention and imagination. It shows grains of sand from a sea shore magnified under a microscope 250x, and it makes the point (for me totally unrealized) that grains of sand are in fact different. The grains may be made of shell, stone, coral, or other substances and they are not only often vastly different, but they are also all unique. We know that the countless stars are different, and every elementary-schooler learns that each snowflake is different, but seeing that every grain of sand is different somehow made the point to me of the variety in creation more than anything else might have done.
These grains of sand expand the analogy to make the point that God’s promise to Abraham was not of countless, faceless masses of descendants, but of billions and billions who are all individuals in the eyes of God. And that’s just on the outside! Although the grain of sand was the smallest particle known in the biblical world, we know through modern physics that each grain of sand contains, of course, an atomic and sub-atomic universe with its own characteristics. The line “To see a world in a grain of sand” from the poem “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake comes to mind; and we can understand through the microscope, and through physics theory, that every grain of sand is different on the outside and on the inside.
It’s an analogy that helps us realize we may be grains of sand, but to the God who made the Universe in all its macro and micro cosmic levels, we are indeed unique. So being analogous to a grain of sand is not as dull as you might have thought, and helps dispel the idea of our destiny as being part of a faceless multitude in standard issue, same size white robes. The idea of spending eternity getting to know not only God, but also all those unique grains of sand who become part of the family of God is an amazing concept - a thing of infinite as well as eternal variety.