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The other day, out of curiosity, I decided to look up where the centre of the universe is. We’ve all seen or heard about the various landmarks in different places – the centre of North America, the Centre of Canada or the U.S. or Mexico (or any other country), etc. There’s something at least mildly interesting about finding the centre of a place. So imagine my surprise when various sources reported that despite there being mass consensus about the universe beginning with a Big Bang, and expanding continuously, there is no centre to the universe! Apparently it has to do with space being curved and space and time coming into existence simultaneously, and other crazy concepts. Whatever the reason, we’re not going to be able to take a spaceship some day and find a floating sign declaring that we have arrived at the centre of the universe. Sorry all you selfie junkies!
But that’s okay. The question behind the search wasn’t really the geographical centre of the universe. The real question is what is the centre of our existence. I have come to realize how significant of a difference this makes in our view of life and how we live.
This question arose in my mind as I have struggled to work through and understand the concept of hell and the judgment of God upon humanity. To be blunt, this seems deeply unfair at times and almost cruel of God. I have struggled how to understand God as a loving God when faced with multiple passages talking about God’s wrath and judgment. I’ll freely admit, God seems pretty angry at times. So what gives?
As a Christian, I believe that the centre of our existence is God. Without going into details about the reason for this belief, in short it seems that a personal, intelligent God is the most logical explanation for a complex, conscious, and moral world. I believe anything other than that (an impersonal force or nothing) is inadequate to explain the reality that we see before us. Most Christians would at least claim to hold this belief, but I think a closer examination reveals a different picture.
We presently live in a society which places humanity or individuals as the centre of our existence, and I think that many Christians in North America (and even here in Mexico) have incorporated this view into their life. We still believe that God is “sovereign” over all, but there has been a subtle, but significant, shift. Whereas in prior times the teaching of the church was that God was over all and people existed to serve God, this is no longer what I hear or see. What I see is the following: People are the highest creation of God and God exists to serve us.
People in the Centre
I can anticipate many Christians objecting to this idea. We are not God, after all, and most people are well aware of their shortcomings. Nor is this idea without aspects of truth. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say. Reality in church life shows a tremendous amount of people-centred ideas:
- how could God do this to me? Why is this happening?
- it’s not fair for God to condemn people
- how can God say this is wrong?
- Jesus just loved people no matter what, and so should we
- people are so amazing and wonderful
- God just wants us to be happy and fulfilled
As I said, there is some truth in the concept I mentioned above (and the comments I listed), but there is also deception. To see it, we must look carefully at the full biblical picture.
God in the Centre
Few Christians would argue that God created the world and humanity (despite many disagreements about how He did it). And the truth in the above statement is that people are the highest creation of God. He created us in His image. This is huge and confers tremendous value on each person, whether Christian or not. BUT… this does not mean that we are the centre of the universe. While God created this universe and world for us, this does not mean that He created us to be the main point of the world. HE is still the main point, not us.
If we think about it, this is pretty obvious. Individual humans are certainly not significant enough to be the point of everyone’s existence. We are each rather frail and full of problems. But neither is humanity as a whole significant enough to be the centre of the universe. As a race, we are also extremely frail. Aside from faith, we don’t know where we came from or why we exist. We certainly didn’t bring ourselves into being, nor are we capable of ensuring our existence (just think of the disaster movies that show how susceptible we are to mass extinction from asteroids, etc.). Humanity, both individually and as a whole, is very transitory.
Scripturally, we see that we are representatives of God, not divine beings in and of ourselves. God created us in His image, then turned this world over to us to dominate and rule over. But there’s no evidence that He relinquished his role as king over the world – quite the opposite, in fact. The Bible is pretty consistent in declaring that God is the King. We, frail creatures that we are, are given the distinguished position of his representatives, participating with Him in ruling this world, but never intended to be the centre of it all.
Yet with the growth of humanism, this is the error that we have fallen into. We have embraced the value of human life (true), but forgotten that we are still subservient to the King. We have called God our Father and embraced His love, but set aside His equally valid role as creator and judge who still has a plan for this earth and fairly clear guidelines for what is right and wrong. We have forgotten that God is not focused on our happiness alone, but rather in shaping us and forming us into His image (He is the potter, we are the clay, as Isaiah says).
A Closer Look
This people-centred perspective affects a number of different spheres, mentioned above but amplified here.
- The nature of people – This is a challenging one, because the value of individuals is one of the greatest things that western society has taken hold of from Christianity (except for the unborn and, increasingly, the old and infirm). People are special and people are valuable. Where the people-centred and God-centred views diverge, however, is in the source of that value and the destiny of humanity. In the people-centred view, humans are seen as the pinnacle of evolution, but it is a bit confusing why we are valuable and special. As near as I can figure out, it is because we are unique, diverse and superior to “other” animals. But there is nothing in either our origin or our destiny that implies any particular value or specialness. Yet somehow this is the view of our society. And what’s more, there has somehow been a leap from the beauty and value of humanity to a belief that humanity is good at heart and getting better, despite a lack of evidence for that (yes, in some regards the situations of many are getting better, but it’s hard to argue that the actual nature of humanity has gotten much better). In the God-centred view, humanity finds its source and potential destiny in God. We are valuable and special because we have been made like God, but we are deeply aware of how far we have fallen (and continually fall) from that potential.There is tension in either of these views, without doubt. The first struggles to show why there is so much evil if humans are so intrinsically good, or why we have value if we are nothing more than intelligent animals. The second requires us to acknowledge our imperfection and guilt, but this is only negative if we fail to understand that God freely holds out forgiving and welcoming arms.
Key Question: What is the source and destiny of humanity? Does this actually confer on us individual and corporate value? Our answer to this question will guide most of our beliefs about us as a race.
- God’s Judgment – one of the biggest problem areas, as I mentioned above, is our reaction to God’s role as judge. When we view humans as the centre of the universe, we begin to see God as angry and judgmental, even evil. We are poor, innocent humans, trying our hardest to be good and do right (although this seems to me to be a rose-coloured glasses view of humanity). In this view, even those who want nothing to do with God are “good people” who deserve God’s love and grace. God exists to serve us and bring us happiness, after all.But if we remember that God is the centre of the universe, and view things from His perspective, the story is a bit different. These same people are not seeking to be faithful stewards of God and to do what is right – many have completely abandoned God, and most are certainly not seeking Him, and most are not seeking to do what is right, rather what is desirable, self-fulfilling and comfortable. He calls them to a certain way of life, and they just choose what they want to obey and what they don’t. The focus of most is their own happiness, ease and comfort, not the development of this world in accordance with God’s laws that bring life. It is true that in our present society, many of those values are in line with God’s teachings (after all, our culture is largely shaped by Judeo-Christian teachings), but that does not mean that people’s hearts desire God or His ways. Nor can we say that these values are intrinsic to humanity, as many of them have not arisen in other contexts (or are only entering other cultures as those cultures are influenced by our Judeo-Christian values).
When we understand God as the giver of life who is seeking to guide and lead people, to help us as we seek to navigate this life and develop this world, then the utter rejection by humanity of God looks a lot different, and His eventual judgment makes far more sense. But even though God consistently threatens judgement (and sometimes follows through with it), it is always with a desire to see people change their ways and do what’s right. It’s like he says, “This is what could happen, but please don’t make me do it!” God is consistently presented as seeking out, calling us and desiring restoration. It is humans who are presented as stubborn and obstinate.
Key Question: How many, when pointed to God or Jesus, will actually respond, and how many will shrug it off and keep doing things their way? If they want nothing to do with God, why do we try to declare that God is unfair to judge them some day? While I have particular sympathy for those who are trying to find God and seek what is right (and I pray God has mercy on them), many do not fall even into this category.
- Our life – it is very common to see, feel and hear despair over the difficulties of life. Yet this is only a problem if we believe that God is here to serve us. If we understand that God’s desire is our salvation from a broken and rebellious world (first and foremost) and to make us into His image (secondly), then it is neither surprising nor crippling to encounter difficulties. While this world can be fantastic and fun, it is temporary. While we are made in God’s image, we are far from what God created us to be. So it should not be a surprise that we go through difficulties. While not enjoyable, when we have God and His purposes at the centre of our life, we face them with a totally different attitude. We might not understand the specifics of why we are passing through difficulties or how God is going to use it, but we recognize that God can and will use it. The Bible reveals that God is completely for us – He desires what is good for us individually and as a race. But that means He wants us to grow and be transformed, not stagnant, a fact which automatically implies difficulties and challenges. It also means He is willing to give us our freedom, which includes making poor decisions that affect us or others, and facing the resultant consequences. God being “for us” does not mean a life free from problems by any stretch!Key Questions: If many have no desire to do what is right, and even those of us who do desire to do good struggle, why are we surprised by suffering? When Jesus and all the disciples took on suffering as part of the will of God for their good and to advance His kingdom, is it fair of us to expect any less?
- right and wrong – with us at the centre, we pick and choose what we want to do and what feels or seems good and right. But I believe a fair appraisal will show that our choices are most often dictated by the culture around us or what feels convenient or comfortable. When we put God at the centre, however, there is a fairly consistent analysis of right and wrong. I freely admit there are some passages that are difficult, but on the whole it’s pretty clear. And all people are held to that standard.But aren’t we to love all people, no matter what? Yes, but that’s not the whole story. Jesus loved people, it’s true, but since Mark declares that his primary message was repentance (Mark 1:15), and the message Jesus gave his disciples to preach centred around the same call to repentance and the promise of forgiveness (Luke 24:47), I suspect many of Jesus conversations with sinners – whom he gladly ate with – centred around this concept of repentance. This would certainly explain the reaction of Zacchaeus after talking with Jesus (Luke 19). With God at the centre, we are constantly challenged to repent of the wrong and seize the right, with clear instructions on what falls in each category.
Key Questions: Are our individual and shifting standards of right and wrong really adequate for developing and maintaining a healthy life and society? What does it look like to blend Christ’s obvious love for people with his declared message of repentance?
I’ll be the first to admit that making God the centre of our world is tough. I want to be comfortable. I want to have good things. I want God to solve my problems and I want Him to bless me. I want God to serve me. The good news is that God is for us. He loves us and treats us as His children. The “bad” news (which isn’t bad, just difficult) is that He wants us to be for Him as He is for us. He wants us to love Him and centre our lives on Him, not on ourselves. He wants us to take up our divine role as His stewards, building, governing and restoring this world. And that means putting Him in the centre, not us, and accepting all that comes with that.
For the non-Christian or one who doesn’t believe in God, this idea is foolish. Humanity is at the top of the food chain and we make our own destiny. But for the Christian, it is entirely different. If God (Christ) is the centre of the universe, then everything revolves around Him. We live this life not for our own happiness or satisfaction, but to participate in the mandate to create and uphold life. We awake in the morning seeking to know how to govern and live in this world in a way that glorifies God. We face adversity knowing that God is using it to shape us. We view our own sinfulness and the sinfulness of the world as a deviation from what God intended and fight against it with His help.
In short, we live to serve Him, instead of demanding that He serve us.