Friday, March 8, 2024

The Center of the Universe

 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created:  things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

-Colossians 1:15-17 (NIV)

Last month, designer Matt Webb debuted his new app. And the minute I read about it I decided immediately that I absolutely did not need it and positively had to have it.

     I downloaded the app, called Galactic Compass, from the app store while I was still reading the article. When you open it, you see a big green arrow on your screen. That’s pretty much it. There’s a secondary screen you can click on with some numbers, like latitude/longitude, pitch, yaw, heading, and a few others. And those numbers, if you understand them, maybe give you a hint as to what the arrow on Galactic Compass actually points to.

     Open up the app, put your phone on a flat surface, and the arrow points toward the supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, that is the rotational center of the galaxy we all live in, relative to our position on the earth and its position in orbit and rotation.

     To hear him tell it, Matt taught himself to find the center of the galaxy living in an apartment with a great view of the stars at night. He originally used augmented reality and astronomy apps to identify the stars and figure out where Sagittarius A* was, but eventually was able — supposedly — to point in the direction of the galaxy’s center, wherever he was and wherever the earth was in its rotation. It has to do with math and physics and identifying the constellation Sagittarius, and — well, I understand it completely, as far as you know. I just  don’t have the space here to explain it.

     Eventually, he was able to code an app that will enable you, too, to point out the center of the Milky Way. All you need is a phone and a flat surface to place it on. (The math “breaks down,” Webb says, if your phone isn’t held flat. Something he’s working on for an updated version.)

     The app’s free, so there’s no reason not to try it out. It’s a whole new way to procrastinate! Or, while you’re waiting for an oil change or a doctor’s appointment, you can ponder your place in the universe as you look toward the fixed point around which everything we know spins. That is, as a matter of fact, what Matt says about his app:

"Once you can follow it, you start to see the galactic center as the true fixed point, and we’re the ones whizzing and spinning. There it remains, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, Sagittarius A*, steady as a rock, eternal. We go about our days; it’s always there.”

     He uses what amounts to religious language to talk about the center of of the galaxy. Of course, what’s there isn’t God. It’s an unapproachable singularity that would “spaghettify” anyone who got near it. There’s no love, no compassion. It doesn’t make or keep promises. It doesn’t care about justice or righteousness. You can’t even see it; it’s just a big wad of darkness that draws everything toward it. Knowing where it is won’t matter when you’re sick, or when someone you love dies, or when you’ve lost a job or are struggling with financial problems or are depressed. And while knowing about it may indeed tell you something about your place in an impersonal universe, it tells you nothing about your nature as God’s creation, made in his image. 

     It serves pretty well as a center for the galaxy, I suppose.

     It’s not nearly as effective as a center of your universe.

     So what is? What’s at the center of your universe? When life has you “whizzing and spinning,” where do you look to keep your bearings? What’s the fixed point for you, steady as a rock, eternal? 

      Some of us choose family, friends, people we love. Our children. A spouse. A social group. We find our identity in these people. Our lives revolve around whether we’re making them happy or they’re making us happy. We can’t conceive of what we would be apart from them. But if that’s our center, then when those relationships change we’re left adrift.  

     Some of us choose a career. The work we do becomes our orbit. Our arrows are constantly pointing toward what we accomplish in our chosen field. We evaluate the success or failure of a given day by how productive we’ve been. But if our work is our galactic center, then a career setback is a catastrophe. A layoff is universe-destroying. 

     Some choose wealth and financial security as the fixed point around which everything else spins. Others might choose experiences, joy, pleasure. Health is a popular center for a lot of universes. But none of those things are solid enough, powerful enough, or eternal enough to hold everything together indefinitely. Eventually, all of them will be lost to our sight and we’ll be left drifting in cold, empty space, without adequate  bearings to tell us which way is up.

     Paul begins his letter to the church in Colosse with something to say about what holds everything together. A big green arrow, pointing toward galactic center. “The Son,” Paul calls him here. Jesus, who is the image of a God who can’t in any other way be imaged. His is the power by which everything has been created, and his is the power that continues to hold what God created together. 

     But it’s not just that God through Jesus created and sustains everything. This power is not impersonal — Paul goes on to write that “God was pleased  to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus].” God created through Jesus because he wanted to. He wanted to make this universe we inhabit, he made it for us and he called it “good” and he intended for human beings to represent him in it. And when we failed, in Jesus he created us all over again. He “reconcile[d] to himself all things…by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”  

     Jesus is the center of the universe. He’s the center because it’s in Jesus that God’s power to create, sustain, and reconcile all come together. And every one of his created beings, especially us, needs to be sustained and needs to be reconciled. Jesus made us. Jesus holds everything together for us. Jesus gives us peace. 

     Whether you can ever point to the black hole at the center of our galaxy will likely never make an appreciable difference in your life. But if your internal compass doesn’t point to Jesus as the center of your universe, steady as a rock, eternal — well, there will come a time when you won’t know which way’s up.

     But point all your arrows to him, and you always will. Even when everything else seems out of control.

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