New Horizons

New Horizons July 22, 2015

Chaplain Mike of Internet Monk is appropriately awed by the new photos of Pluto and the remarkable human ingenuity that enabled us to take them. He’s also a bit unsettled that this sense of awe — of discovery, audacity, vastness, mystery and … well, boom-de-yada — seems more readily present and accessible in the marvels of things like the New Horizons mission than in the religious realm where he feels he’s supposed to find his deepest awe:

In a world where people can build a small, durable machine, outfit it with intricate, precise instruments, and send it off into space for a ten-year journey of three billion (!) miles, keeping it on course so that it meets up with a small dwarf planet on the edge of our solar system where it captures a treasure trove of meaningful data and sends it back to us — in a world like that, what does it mean to have an imagination for God?

nh-charon
Charon, up close. (Photo via NASA, obviously)

I mean, this New Horizons project is mind-blowing!

Learning about this expedition elicits a sense of wonder I’ve not felt in a long time. Three billion miles! To the exact spot where they aimed it ten years ago! Without any serious glitches! How far is three billion miles? How can I even begin to fathom this? This kind of stuff is invigorating. It expands the mind. It sparks the imagination. It calls forth genuine awe. This is big.

God used to be big.

… The Church and Christians like me have not done a good job translating, updating, and expanding the imaginative worlds of the faithful so that they can begin to conceive of a God who is even bigger than three billion mile space missions, a universe approximately fourteen billion years old, and quantum physics that describe microscopic realms where the “laws” we know do not apply. A God of infinite variety and complexity, who can only be fully appreciated by a spirit of humble awe and wonder as we gaze on “things too wonderful for [us], which [we] did not know” (Job 42:3).

He concludes not with a conclusion, but with a question:

Where are those who will help us develop and expand our imagination for God in these days of miracle and wonder?

Let me share where I find my answer to that question: Pentecost — the big bang of the gospel.

Pentecost wasn’t just a one-time event, it was the start of a process, an ever-expanding inclusion and reconciliation and embrace. The audacity of it was bewildering to those who were present at the start — not just to the onlookers who assumed these babbling disciples of an executed criminal must be drunk, but even to those disciples themselves. We read about Pentecost in the second chapter of Acts. Ten chapters later, most of the apostles are still there in Jerusalem, arguing over what it meant. (Everybody? Even Gentiles?)

But by this point Philip and his daughters were already on their way to Samaria. Why Samaria? Because that was the last place any good, respectable religious person would go and, so, once he realized what was happening, that was the first place Philip went. Samaria wasn’t that far from Jerusalem geographically, but in terms of cultural and religious and ethnic boundaries, it may as well have been Pluto.

And Philip wasn’t done yet — the next time we see him he’s hanging out with a eunuch (unclean!) from Ethiopia (unclean!). “Is there anything to prevent me from being baptized?” the man asks. And no, there isn’t, because that is what Pentecost and the unstoppable trajectory of the gospel means. So Philip and his new friend, his new brother, stepped into the water. One small step for [a] man, one giant leap …

I’m afraid I’m not doing justice to the scope of what I’m struggling to convey here. We live in a world of boundaries that seem as inconceivably vast as the distances of the solar system. We have rules and roles and they stunt our imaginations, turning us into small people with small thoughts about a small God. Pentecost blows away those rules and roles and boundaries. It gives us new horizons.

That’s big. That’s potentially every bit as audacious and mind-blowing and awe-inspiring and unsettling as the latest jaw-dropping photos from those magnificent wizards at NASA. This is what fuels and expands my imagination for God. A glimpse of something that big can give you a serious case of the boom-de-yadas.

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