False centers and restless hearts

Earth-Solar-System-640x400A young man and woman on their first date were getting acquainted over dinner. He droned on for 45 minutes talking all about himself, never letting her get a word in edgewise. Finally, running out of things to say, he announced: “That’s enough about me. So, what do you think about me?”

We see in that story the self-centeredness that is the essence of sin. Martin Luther (1483-1546 AD) defined sin as in curvatum in se – the self turned in upon itself. It is the worldview where the “I” is the final truth, the ultimate reality that trumps the “we” of relationships. These relationships include the most important, that of the creature with the Creator, yet this relationship with God for the me-centered person is often weak, and may eventually be discarded altogether. This attitude refuses to acknowledge that “God made me,” and in its conceit concludes that “I made God.” God gets shelved next to Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, nice ideas for children, but hardly compelling for adults.

The self-centered worldview resembles humanity’s conception of the universe before the Polish mathematician, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543 AD). Earth was at the center, and the sun, moon, and planets revolved around the earth. Yet Copernicus calculated that rather than the Earth being at the center of the solar system, the Earth, moon, and planets revolved around the sun. With the sun at the center, mathematically, everything fell into place.

And herein lies a parable. There are three categories of people when it comes to God:

1. What sun?  These are the new atheists. If the sun symbolizes God – “God is light; in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5, NIV) – for the atheist, no sun is necessary. Humanity is at the center, and humanity is enough. God does not exist.

2. The sun rotates around the Earth. Most people live out their lives with the “I” at the heart of existence. It is a solar system where the Earth (symbolizing self) is at the center, and the sun (God) and everything else revolves around the Earth. Many who bear the name “Christian” live out their lives this way. God becomes the servant in my lavish palace, bringing me my meals, doing my housework and laundry, making me comfortable. God exists for me; the Lord is my coping mechanism. The problem comes when God doesn’t show up for work. Disappointment with God may lead to me denying God’s existence altogether.

3. The Earth rotates around the sun. A minority of Christians undergo a “Copernican revolution.” They experience the “aha!” moment when it all clicks. They realize that God doesn’t exist for me; I exist for God. Their spiritual solar system is re-arranged, with Jesus now at the center. The Apostle Paul understood this, writing: “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28, NIV). Rick Warren knew this, too, opening his The Purpose Driven Life with these words: “It’s not about you.” And when we realize that, our lives are taken up into a Cause bigger than ourselves, producing the joy and peace that we can never know if we remain the center.

On the other hand, false centers always produce emptiness. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) observed: “Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” May the Lord open our eyes and give us the grace to make God the true center of our lives.

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Photo credit: Wallike.com

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