Fathoming the unfathomable
I was mesmerized by the first-ever image of a black hole that a group of scientists released last week. I watched the press conference and was so moved by the passion and joy and excitement of these scientists sharing their amazing discovery. I’m not an expert, but up until that point, we’d never seen a black hole before. We had directly felt the detection of gravitational waves that were likely caused by a black hole merger. We have also observed gravitational wave events. But never before had we seen an image of it.
In fact, our understanding and belief in them was largely based on Einstein’s theory. But, low and behold, in actuality, at the center of the M87 galaxy, is indeed a black hole. It’s so monstrous and massive, it sucks up everything around it with intense gravitational pull that not even light can escape from it. Einstein and others argue that a compact mass, the result of a fallen star, disturbs spacetime so much, it creates a massive pull, the “points of no returns,” a.k.a the event horizon. We’ve speculated that at the center of most galaxies is a supermassive black hole and on April 10, a group of scientists were able to take a picture of it.
It is 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun. It’s 55 million light-years away from us. In order for a speck of light, a photon to escape the hole, it would need to be 18 billion kilometers away from the black hole. Put another way, it would need to be 122 times the distance between the earth and the Sun in order not to be sucked up by this massive force.
I was mesmerized at the incomprehensibility of its size and power, of its distance from us, reflecting then how huge the galaxy and the universe is, and how small I am in comparison. It’s hard to think you matter in a world that’s so big. We barely think we matter if we’re in a group of a 100 people. It’s hard to hold to the fact that you personally do have meaning and significance, and even meaning and significance to God, the creator of the whole universe. It’s hard to get a sense of our own consequence while also holding on to how huge the universe is, without falling into apathy or denial. We may just ignore the big things or just resign ourselves to not being able to do anything about them.
There is something, instead of nothing
So we might just cut everything down a size we can understand so that we aren’t overwhelmed. Or we might obsess with how big the universe is, or even God is, or even Jesus’ plan for world redemption and think what we are doing is totally useless.
I loved listening to the scientists talk about the black hole because they really believed they did something amazing—and they did. It takes a lot of self-awareness and self-worth, even, to be able to team up with 200 others to take a photo of something that is impossibly big and impossibly far, and think you’re doing your part in making the world better. I love the faith.
That moment built my faith. And it could build all of ours. We have reasons to have faith, too. For one thing, you are here. You get to observe something of this magnitude; you can observe a black hole and it cannot observe itself. You are something and you can consider yourself. You have an essence and existence, a “what you are” and a “that you are.” You are massive in your own right. There is something, instead of nothing. I have a specific assignment to the meaning of that something. You may not. But it’s hard to ignore one’s own contingency; the universe’s contingency; even the black hole’s contingency. There is something and it depends, necessarily, on more than itself.
Jesus’ life and death are like a photo of something as big as a black hole
I need that faith, to both hold on to the good that God is doing in the world and to also see my part in it. That’s how I felt when I was reading again the Triumphant Entry this week and wondering about how to even talk about the massive event that Jesus was inaugurating. The cosmic battle that was beginning in that moment. The first day of Holy Week: in this scene, the disciples have fetched a colt for Jesus to ride and they threw their clothes on top and set Jesus on it.
And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:37-44
A lot is happening in this passage, but imagine it like the beginning of a cosmic wrestling match where Jesus is entering the ring. He’s descending down from the Mountain of Olives; he draws the attention of the crowd and they start yelling and praising Jesus, as the only one who comes in the name of the world, bringing peace and glory. They are praising him because of the good works he has done on the earth.
The Pharisees, a conservative political party, who oppose Roman occupation in particular, and the assimilation of the Jewish tradition and faith to Greco-Roman culture, tell Jesus to tell his disciples to pipe down. Why? Maybe they are dissenting the royal affirmation of Jesus. I think, more likely, they are telling his disciples to simmer down so the Roman authorities don’t come and stop what they think is a potential uprising.
But the Pharisees have no clue what’s in store. They think Jesus might be enacting a small political revolution. But this is much more than a protest. Much more than a conquest of a political power, even. Jesus says if his disciples are quiet, the stones won’t be. The stones. The stones are affected by the event that’s about to occur. There is material consequence to what he’s about to do. There is something great afoot. A great battle is about to be waged. One against death. Death will try to swallow its opponent, Jesus, and it’ll spit him back out. Thus death is defeated.
Jesus, surrounded by people, parting a way, inaugurating something new. It’s not unlike that moment when God liberates the Israelites from Egypt. When Moses guided those slaves to their freedom, something new was happening also. In Jesus’ mind, this is the fullness of that liberation. This is the ultimate punctuation of it. And he is saddened to the point of tears when he views Jerusalem from the mountain top. He cries because their lack of faith, their own blindness, to the peace that Jesus brings will lead to their own destruction. He is sad that God’s people, the ones within the immediate vicinity, do not see him, and do not see their own destruction. He’s bringing a prophetic lament of Jeremiah, who also predicted Jerusalem’s fall at the hands of the Babylonians. Then, they didn’t listen to Jeremiah; here, they don’t see the very remnant of hope he predicted: Jesus.
Jesus is Lord is not just my opinion, it is a political statement.
God’s plan is bigger than Jerusalem, though; it’s bigger than the miracles for which Jesus is being praised. It’s big enough to effect the entire world. A war waged against death. Jesus is inaugurating a whole new reality. He is fulfilling the promise of God. He is extending the covenant of Abraham. The whole world is going to be saved. Death defeated once and for all.
Jesus through this entry, and ultimately his death, is also creating a whole new people group, again, to proclaim this message to the world. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Saying Jesus is Lord is not just my opinion, it is a political statement.
Jesus makes the cosmic graspable by humankind. You play a part in its very broadcast, awakening people to become conscious of this event of salvation. We do our part in the cosmic event by living in consciousness of it and sharing of its reality. Tell the story of the new Kingdom of Life that liberates us from Death.
But you might still have trouble grasping the gravity of the event. Jesus defeats death by dying? It really is completely counterintuitive and it’s not how we envision any sort of conquest. Today, we still think that most life and liberation happens through conquest and power struggles. Jesus’ alternative brings a whole other mechanism. Not his empowerment, but in fact his disempowerment. Through the very fact that he became human, and also through his death.
How can we express that liberation through our lives?
How can we live into it? We really have to show people how we are markedly different because of our encounter with Christ. I think Christians have had some success with this over time, but also have failed quite a bit too. At our best, we’re setting the captives free. But at our worst, we’re the ones enslaving them. We have to be the alternative. We have to do it another way.
I think Circle of Hope is trying to do that. To broadcast the cosmic power of Jesus’ death and what it inaugurates in the world. Your participation makes you a part of that project. It puts you on the team. You’re like one of the scientists who helped photograph the black hole in the middle of M87. You can bring to light something that people just speculated about or maybe just felt the pull of. You’re naming the change agent and helping people know him and know how he impacts the world.
We do that through life in our cells. A movement of people knowing Jesus by knowing each other. A movement that multiplies and grows. We build real community, that people share in, contribute to, lead through. We do that by giving people hope for their despair; people find it in worship, in prayer, in relationship, even in using the practical tools that you internalize in psychotherapy. We broadcast the message through a commitment to peace and justice, and give people practical ways to express them.
Yes, Jesus is changing the whole world. It’s bigger than we can imagine. But you are not irrelevant to it. You are changed through it also. You are given hope through it too. And the things you do, the things you say, the way you live matters. It broadcasts that message to the world.