Thursday, April 02, 2015

What’s at the Centre?

What — or rather Who — controls the forces in play here?
Do you ever think certain Christians may be just a little bit too nitpicky about things that don’t matter a whole lot? If so, this might be one of those times.

Or not, depending. Bear with me here.

There’s a sign outside a little old moss-covered urban church building that I drive by on the way to work. It reads like this: “Welcome to Jesus, the centre of the spiritual universe.”

Not wrong, strictly speaking, is it? Drawing attention to Jesus Christ is not something to be taken for granted in Christendom in these days of apostasy — and no, I’m not just being dramatic. We have churches not so far away that are called “Christian” in which the Head of the church is not only not a priority, but is not acknowledged as divine or even historical.

The Spiritual Universe

And to call Jesus the “centre of the spiritual universe”? Well, it’s certainly not a mistake. It is an important and necessary truth, one that the writer to the Hebrews takes great pains (and several chapters) to spell out. Are you impressed with the notion of invisible and powerful spirit beings? Jesus Christ is superior to angels, and it’s not a close contest. Do you find yourself taking a reverential attitude toward significant spiritual figures of the past? Jesus Christ is more consequential and praiseworthy, not to mention more foundational, than even the greatest religious leader. 

The “centre of the spiritual universe”? I would say so.

But there’s something that doesn’t work for me about the adjective. Neatly bifurcating the physical and spiritual universes in our thinking is certainly modern and “rational”, but it does not reflect reality. To limit the Lord Jesus to the “spiritual” universe is to do him a bit of a disservice.

Because he’s also the centre of the physical universe, is he not?

The Physical Universe

After all, he created it. “All things were made through him,” says the apostle, “and without him was not any thing made that was made”. If it exists, he did it. Furthermore, he’s holding together the physical universe we inhabit right this minute. Paul says, “he is before all things, and in him all things hold together”. The IVP Commentary uses the word “cohere” for “hold together”, but the sense is clear.

The ancients also reflected on God’s ongoing government of the physical universe before we made such neat distinctions between matter and spirit: the apostle Paul quotes Cretan philosopher Epimenides who wrote, “In him we live and move and have our being”. 

But the lesson Paul draws is that “he is actually not far from each one of us”.

We Know All This, But ...

We are not spirit beings: we are physical beings with spirits. The repercussions of our relationship with our Creator and Sustainer are not restricted to the spirit realm but necessarily ripple throughout the world we see, hear and touch.

All this is garden variety Christian orthodoxy, not some novel take on the person of Jesus Christ. But I wonder if the subconscious distinction between the physical and spiritual universes evident in the wording of that church sign doesn’t creep into my daily life just a little bit.

Am I closer to my Saviour when I go to church because I am engaged in a “spiritual” activity? Surely not. But if not, why do I sometimes behave as if I am? Do I speak and act the same way among Christians as I do at the office or do I toggle back and forth between two distinct worlds? Is there a sense in which for me, Sunday is the “Lord’s Day” and Monday isn’t — at least not quite so much?

Jesus Christ is not just the centre of the spiritual universe. He is the centre of the universe. Period. Full stop. He lays rightful claim not just to hearts and minds but to eyes, hands, feet and tongues; not just to the discrete parts of our lives that we regard as “spiritual”, but to every moment of every day.

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