Bumping Life Off Self-Center
- Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Blame the bump on Copernicus.
Until Copernicus came along in 1543, we earthlings enjoyed center stage. Fathers could place an arm around their children, point to the night sky, and proclaim, “The universe revolves around us.”
Ah, the hub of the planetary wheel, the navel of the heavenly body, the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue of the cosmos. Ptolemy’s second-century finding convinced us. Stick a pin in the center of the stellar map, and you’ve found the earth. Dead center.
And, what’s more, dead still! Let the other planets vagabond through the skies. Not us. No sir. We stay put. As predictable as Christmas. No orbiting. No rotating. Some fickle planets revolve 180 degrees from one day to the next. Not ours. As budgeless as the Rock of Gibraltar. Let’s hear loud applause for the earth, the anchor of the universe.
But then came Nicolaus. Nicolaus Copernicus with his maps, drawings, bony nose, Polish accent, and pestering questions. Oh, those questions he asked.
“Ahem, can anyone tell me what causes the seasons to change?”
“Why do some stars appear in the day and others at night?”
“Does anyone know exactly how far ships can sail before falling off the edge of the earth?”
“Trivialities!” people scoffed. “Who has time for such problems? Smile and wave, everyone. Heaven’s homecoming queen has more pressing matters to which to attend.”
But Copernicus persisted. He tapped our collective shoulders and cleared his throat. “Forgive my proclamation, but,” and pointing a lone finger toward the sun, he announced, “behold the center of the solar system.”
People denied the facts for over half a century. When like-minded Galileo came along, they imprisoned him. You’d have thought he had called the king a stepchild or the pope a Baptist.
People didn’t take well to demotions back then.
We still don’t.
What Copernicus did for the earth, God does for our souls. Tapping the collective shoulder of humanity, he points to the Son—his Sonand says, “Behold the center of it all.”
“God raised him [Christ] from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church” (Ephesians 1:20–22 MSG).
When God looks at the center of the universe, he doesn’t look at you. When heaven’s stagehands direct the spotlight toward the star of the show, I need no sunglasses. No light falls on me.
Lesser orbs, that’s us. Appreciated. Valued. Loved dearly. But central? Essential? Pivotal? Nope. Sorry. Contrary to the Ptolemy within us, the world does not revolve around us. Our comfort is not God’s priority. If it is, something’s gone awry. If we are the marquee event, how do we explain flat-earth challenges like death, disease, slumping economies, or rumbling earthquakes? If God exists to please us, then shouldn’t we always be pleased?
Could a Copernican shift be in order? Perhaps our place is not at the center of the universe. As John Piper writes, “God does not exist to make much of us. We exist to make much of him.” It’s not about you. It’s not about me.
The moon models our role.
What does the moon do? She generates no light. Contrary to the lyrics of the song, this harvest moon cannot shine on. Apart from the sun, the moon is nothing more than a pitch-black, pockmarked rock. But properly positioned, the moon beams. Let her do what she was made to do, and a clod of dirt becomes a source of inspiration, yea, verily, romance. The moon reflects the greater light.
And she’s happy to do so! You never hear the moon complaining. She makes no waves about making waves. Let the cow jump over her or astronauts step on her; she never objects. Even though sunning is accepted while mooning is the butt of bad jokes, you won’t hear ol’ Cheeseface grumble. The moon is at peace in her place. And because she is, soft light touches a dark earth.
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