Black holes have been in the news a lot lately with the new images captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). I have thought a lot about black holes the past few years, and how they are a picture of what we can end up like if we are not careful. Black holes are a kind of centripetal force. Sucking everything within, completely focused inward. According to NASA, “Centripetal means ‘center seeking.’”
Center seeking. Isn’t that what we are encouraged to be in our culture?
People can be black holes, completely focused on themselves; completely center seeking. Self-pity, pride, ungratefulness, crabbiness, resentment, self-righteousness, jealousy, selfishness, greed, lust, even fear is centripetal. NASA defines a black hole as “an area of such immense gravity that nothing—not even light—can escape from it.” [i]
The new images from the EHT are spectacular (see https://www.space.com/black-hole-event-horizon-images-einstein.html). These new images confirm Einstein’s theory about an “event horizon,” a point of no return before being sucked in. “The event horizon is the ultimate prison wall — one can get in but never get out.” [ii]
The images shown recently of black holes do show a very dark place surrounded by a ring of dying light – the event horizon, the place of the death of light.
“The image offered a final, ringing affirmation of an idea so disturbing that even Einstein, from whose equations black holes emerged, was loath to accept it. If too much matter is crammed into one place, the cumulative force of gravity becomes overwhelming, and the place becomes an eternal trap.” [iii]
Too much me, me, me and I lose my way on a darker and darker path. Not only am I no longer a light, but I suck others into my darkness. I can’t find my way to turn around. I am stuck in the eternal trap, behind the ultimate prison wall. I think we have all known people who seem to have gone past that point of no return. You can sense they don’t want to be the way they are, that they hate the words they say even as they come out of their mouths. But they are trapped. I think we are all, by nature, centripetal.
For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Romans 7:19 (NIV)
Love, however, is centrifugal – the opposite of centripetal – flinging outward, scattering seed, sowing life. Shining light. Encouragement, love, faith, hope, mercy, grace, praise, worship, forgiveness, thanksgiving, repentance, humility, service – these are all outward-looking, life-giving, centrifugal. God is centrifugal. God is a giver, and he wants us to be like him.
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV)
The gospel is centrifugal, or it was meant to be – a light on a lamp stand, bread and fish multiplied and given away. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV). Centrifugal has always been God’s intent for his people, his Temple, his Church.
“Interestingly, the Temple should have been a place where the poor and the oppressed found refuge. Instead, [in Jesus’ time and now too?] they found themselves pushed to the very margins of the society … God intended the Temple to be a place of centrifugal blessing—spinning outward the grace and mercy of God. The religious establishment had turned it into a place of centripetal privilege—pulling inward worldly status, wealth, and privilege. The exact opposite of what God intended had happened. Jesus, the one greater than the Temple, turns it inside-out and upside-down in his mission to turn everything around.” J.D. Walt, Invite Jesus to Church and Prepare Yourself
Jesus, the ultimate centrifugal force, turns everything around. He is the only one who can set us free from the eternal trap, the prison of self. Even if you feel you have gone past the point of no return, Jesus can give you the grace and strength to break free. Fling yourself out at his feet.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:22-25 (NIV)
“To the extent that egocentrism is proclaimed as both the route and the destination of life’s journey, the biblical message of service is extraordinarily countercultural. Christ relinquished divinity to become a slave. The last will be first; get down on your knees and wash someone’s feet.” -Gail Ramshaw, Treasures Old and New: Images in the Lectionary
[i] NASA. Space Place in a Snap: What Is a Black Hole? https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/learn/video/space-place-in-a-snap-what-is-a-black-hole/
[ii] Avi Loeb, chair of astronomy at Harvard University. Quoted in What Exactly Is a Black Hole Event Horizon (and What Happens There)? by Charles Q. Choi https://www.space.com/black-holes-event-horizon-explained.html
[iii] Dennis Overbye. New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/science/black-hole-picture.html?module=inline
Image By Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration – https://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1907a/; JPG saved from full size TIFF and converted with maximum quality level 12 in Photoshop 2019., CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77916527