The Total Perspective Vortex


When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him,and the son of man that You care for him?

Psalm 8:3-4

I’m a long-time fan of Douglas Adams’ book, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”  I’ve read all five books in the trilogy* multiple times, listened to the unabridged audiobooks (read by the author), and enjoyed listening to the original BBC radio drama.  I never really cared for the “visual” interpretations, including the BBC television series and the (in my opinion) absolutely horrible 2005 movie of the same name.  I’ll stick with the print and radio versions, thank you.

I’ve always been intrigued by “The Total Perspective Vortex” mentioned in the second book, “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.”  According to the book, the vortex is the most horrible device that a sentient being can experience.  Here’s how it’s described.

“…when you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says ‘You are here.’”

In chapter nine, one of the main characters, Zaphod Beeblebrox, is transported to the Frogstar world B to be placed in the Vortex.  Here’s an excerpt from his conversation with the Gargravarr, custodian of the Total Perspective Vortex.

At that moment another dismal scream rent the air and Zaphod shuddered.

“What can do that to a guy?” he breathed.

“The Universe,” said Gargravarr simply, “the whole infinite Universe. The infinite suns, the infinite distances between them and yourself an invisible dot on an invisible dot, infinitely small.”

“Hey, I’m Zaphod Beeblebrox, man, you know,” muttered Zaphod trying to flap the last remnants of his ego.

Gargravarr made no reply, but merely resumed his mournful humming till they reached the tarnished steel dome in the middle of the plain.

“I must get myself into the right frame of mind for this,” muttered Zaphod.

“There is no right frame of mind,” said Gargravarr sternly.

“You really know how to make a guy feel inadequate.”

“I don’t. The Vortex does.”

So in the novel, the most mind-shattering experience possible is to be confronted with the enormity of the universe along with your own utter insignificance in comparison.

Now, consider Psalm 8, the response of a young shepherd boy who would one day become King of Israel when he looked up into the night sky and contemplated the God who had created the entire universe.  David marveled that such and amazing and awesome God would stoop so low as to even acknowledge us, let alone care for us.  When David was confronted with the enormity of the universe (and his own insignificance and inadequacy in comparison) his response was worship and adoration for the One who created it.

That’s quite a contrast.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The Greek word translated “blessed” here is “makarios” which literally means, “happy.”  Only those who recognize their “spiritual poverty” are truly happy.  Only when we recognize that spiritually we bring nothing to the table, that we are completely and utterly dependent on God for everything, can we find true freedom.  Only when we admit our insignificance in comparison to Him and embrace His gifts of forgiveness and grace do we become inheritors of the Kingdom He has prepared for us.

The real tragedy is that many people foolishly hold on to their so-called “independence” and “autonomy.”  They believe that surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus is a sign of weakness.  They are proud of their status as “self-made” men and women who don’t need to bow before any “god”.  One of my own relatives has said, “I don’t need some god-man hanging on a cross for my sins.”  Sadly, they have fallen into the trap of placing themselves on the thrones of their own personal universes.  When we do that, we’ve set ourselves up for a big fall.

One day each of us will stand before the Creator of this amazing and astounding universe and we will see just how truly insignificant we really are in comparison to Him.

For the unbeliever, who has put their confidence in themselves, their abilities, the good deeds, and their success it is a mind-shattering experience to experience the “Total Perspective” of how insignificant we really are in the universe.  For the follower of Christ who has surrendered everything to Him and recognized that true significance is only found in our relationship with Him, discovering that we’re not the center of the universe isn’t mind-shattering at all.

It just confirms what we’ve already discovered.


* [If you got this joke then it's official, you're a fellow HHGttG geek.  If you're still wondering how a trilogy can contain five books, I suggest you start reading, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and (most importantly) Don't Panic!]



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2 Responses to The Total Perspective Vortex

  1. Riley Phillips says:

    Hey, I really enjoyed the movie! But perhaps reading the “trilogy” will put it in right perspective.

    What a great post. It’s one thing to consider how utterly insignificant we are in relation to the whole universe, it’s another thing to throw how utterly sinful I am into the mix. God’s loving invitation to enjoy his presence really is baffling when we attempt to put this mystery into perspective.

    • Pastor Jim says:

      Riley, your comment is so profound (and profoundly correct) that I’ll forgive you for enjoying the movie!