Recently I rested on a church pew—at the boat harbor. It is a gorgeous oak pew, the kind you sit on in a Baptist church, which is precisely where this pew had come from. The church replaced the pews with padded chairs in order to fit 30 more people into its sanctuary. My sister-in-law, spying beauty and spirit, bought one of the homeless pews and was taking it out to her fish-camp island in Alaska.
It took six muscular men to hoist the pew onto the truck and then walk it down the ramp onto the dock floats. There it sat for an hour, waiting its turn to be loaded. God on the dock. But the job wasn't done. The men soon hoisted it onto the deck of our barge. Hours later, the pew went sailing all night on the Pacific out to our island. God yet nearer: God on the deck.
These days I am reading Colossians, the book of Scripture that proclaims the "fullness of Christ." As I read the first chapters, I feel the strain of language as the writer attempts to tether to the page the incomparable majesty of Christ: he who is in all and above all, who is before all things, who is the firstborn over all creation, who holds all things together. We discover that the fullness of Christ's gospel has been a mystery, something "kept hidden for ages and generations." But now that mystery is made clear.
Here it is, the deepest secret that our forbears and even angels longed to hear and know but were not told: "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27, emphasis mine).
I hope the parallels here are not trivializing: the mobility of it! Who could imagine a church pew on the deck of a barge, sailing the ocean? Who could imagine God inhabiting people, inhabiting us? The very Son of God, a tabernacle in sneakers. It is so bizarre that most who have heard the claim throughout the ages have rejected it.
Not long after the pew sailing, I watched "The Most Astounding Fact about the Universe," a video gone viral, narrated by the famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Against stunning imagery of the cosmos, with an infectious soundtrack provided by the Cinematic Orchestra, Tyson explains in a deep lyrical voice that the atoms that make up our bodies came literally from the stars themselves, who exploded their "enriched guts" into the universe, creating our world and providing the elements that compose our bodies. The most astounding fact is this, says Tyson: "We are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but more importantly, the universe is in us …. We are made of star-stuff."
Tyson, a self-described agnostic, ridicules the notion that human beings are special, that the universe was built for us by some Creator. Yet he finds meaning and significance in our star-shared atoms: "I feel big because my atoms came from those stars."
I'm moved and inspired by Tyson's cause. He has good news! This shared makeup, however random and impersonal he believes its cause, is not reason for despair or disvalue, but rather grants all human beings significance, belonging, and nobility. "I feel … ennobled, I feel a connectivity. I bask in the majesty of the cosmos," he says evangelistically on late-night shows and in university lectures, to energetic applause.
I recognize in his stirring messages that science and faith have a common enemy: apathy and meaninglessness. Lives so sunk in the quotidian, the mean, and the small that we fail to look up and recognize who we really are. The stars are within us! I am moved and awed already by Tyson's message.
But the Christian message takes an unprecedented and audacious step further: The Maker of the stars is within us! And not only that: We will live with the Maker of the stars—forever. We will bask in his majesty. Connected. Ennobled. God on our deck.
How will anyone believe these truths when we as God's people appear to forget them ourselves? Along with the rest of the world, we so often lapse into apathy, forgetting who we are and whose we are. We end up heightening the absurdity of our claim rather than lessening it. When God's people forgive their persecutors, befriend the unlovely, bless their enemies—when our lives are characterized by a love that cannot be explained by physics or astronomy or any other branch of science—our claim of an indwelling Savior is suddenly less ludicrous.
We can live this way, all of us. We've been given everything we need to do it, through the Holy Spirit. Go out under the night sky. Look up at the stars, be astonished, then remember the truly most astounding fact about the universe: "Christ, the star maker in us, the hope of glory!"
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