Copernican Revolution

These were my closing comments on Sunday, February 20, at the end of our DiscipleNow event for youth.  The theme of the the weekend was “Center Stage,” and raised the question of how your life might be different if Christ–and not you–occupied center stage.  It reminded me of an illustration I’ve used for a while now in talking to people about faith.  I shaped it up and shared it in worship that morning.  I’d like to share it here with you.  Thanks for reading.  –Jim


I once had a visit from a man who told me his wife was leaving him, but he didn’t know why.  I didn’t know why either.  He was good-looking, successful, a regular churchgoer who appeared to be devoted to his wife and children.  But now she was leaving him, and he wanted to know why.  “Tell me more,” I said.  So he did, and as he talked it became clear to me that his wife was only one of the planets whirling around him in his personal solar system.  His faith, his career, his political ambitions, his new house on the lake, his Harley-Davidson motorcycle…all of these things were also important to him but only insofar as they made his life richer and better.  He finally stopped talking and asked me what I thought.  I asked him if he had ever heard of Nicholas Copernicus.

Copernicus was a 16th century Polish mathematician.  He was the one who came up with the idea that the earth went around the sun instead of the other way around.  He’d had the idea years before, but it was only after years of working out the mathematical proofs that he became convinced it was true.  I picture him working in his study, coming to the end of a long, complicated mathematical equation, and writing down the result.  And then I picture him staggering out into the back yard, looking up at the sun and—almost literally—feeling the earth move under his feet, feeling the sky tumbling down, tumbling down as he imagined himself standing on the surface of a planet that was rotating at some 600 miles per hour while it hurtled through space around the sun.  It was such an earth-shaking idea that he didn’t publish the results of his investigation until the year of his death. 

His book was immediately banned by the church.  It was banned because the Bible made it clear that the sun went around the earth.  It was banned because, if Copernicus was right, the earth wouldn’t be the center of the universe anymore, and neither would we.  What this man who came to see me that day had to come to terms with is that he was not the center of the universe, either.  I challenged him to put God in that place instead and take up his rightful orbit around God instead of the other way around.  I promised him that if he would only do that, he would find that all the other things in his life would take up their proper orbits as well.  It was a whole new way of thinking for him, and it wasn’t easy to imagine.

One of the Greek words for “conversion” is the word epistrephein, which means to turn around, but the other word is metanoia, which means to change your mind.  I think it is this kind of thing the Greek word refers to: a change of mind so radical that it completely reorients you and your way of thinking.  The Copernican Revolution was so-named because it revolutionized the way people thought about the universe, the world, and themselves.  They were no longer at the center.  Conversion can be just that kind of displacing phenomenon.  If you put God at the center of your personal universe, then you can no longer occupy that place.  You have to take up your proper orbit around God.  But I believe that if you do everything else will fall into place, in just the way it’s supposed to.  You don’t have to take my word for it, though.  You can try it for yourself. 

Only then will you know if it’s true.

2 thoughts on “Copernican Revolution

  1. Back around this time of year, in 1970, during the last of my senior year in high school, I was starting to look into college. Although I loved and still love my mother, she told me that she and Dad just did not have the money to pay for college for me. They were also, as many parents were at the time, hesitant to apply for financial aid and refused to do so. They said that I would have to try to find a way to work my way through college. Having a high draft lottery number, I would never be drafted(I did look into enlisting but the Army, Navy and Air Force all told me that, based on my test scores, I would most likely to be assigned to work with nuclear weapons – something just as incredible to me now as it was then, I said, “thanks but no thanks”. So, interested in a medical career at the time, I got a job as a nurse’s aide in the local hospital taking college courses part time as I could afford them. As an “orderly”, as nurses aids were often called, I often helped care for those about to die. Some of them, who had gone to prestigious colleges or universities and had influential careers and earned all sorts of money, told me the same thing, as is says in the Bible, all that was vanity and meant nothing to them at the near end of their lives. Things that they did for love and the good of their fellow humans, or regret for not having done such things, was most important to them then. Back then, sometimes I greatly envied those who had been able to go on to college and develop, to them, “influential careers” and then I would meet someone else who realized what the important things in life were, at the end of their lives. Later, I would see those who were my peers on life paths that I thank God I did not travel – there, but for the grace of God, I would have gone. I would recommend that any young person pick up a Bible, turn to Matthew 25, read it and heed it. The world will tell them that many things are important but they only pave the road to hell and will leave them, at life’s end, full of regret.

  2. Please enlighten this mason at the Castle of the Smithsonian Institution as to where I can find scripture in the bible that says the sun goes around the earth:) You are the best!

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