Monday, March 28, 2011

Geocentrism vs. Heliocentrism and the Gospel

From the times of the ancient Greeks, the best minds thought the earth was the center of the universe. Ptolemy formalized much of this thinking, providing tables that, with moderate accuracy, predicted astronomical events. Elaborate machines were made to model the solar system with everything circling the earth.

In the 1500s, Copernicus proposed a model placing the sun at the center of the universe. Following him, Kepler took the idea, combined it with detailed observational data, and mathematically discovered that elliptical orbits of the planets around the sun precisely described the observed data.

Much controversy ensued as proponents for both models debated back and forth. Galileo's trials are probably some of the best known examples of the turmoil caused by these ideas. One of Kepler's contemporaries by the name of Tycho, while disagreeing with him on theoretical models, employed him for his brilliant mathematical skills and observational abilities. Tycho's hybrid system had the earth at the center with the sun and outer planets orbiting it, while the inner planets orbited the sun.

I recently Stumbled upon a pretty cool web site. Like the elaborate armillaries of old, this site shows the positions of the planets relative to each other. Among its features, it will animate the solar system to show how the movements vary relative one to the other. Also, it has two modes, one to show the Tychonian geocentric model and one to show the Copernicean heliocentric model.

Below are two short videos. Each one is approximately eight earth-years of planetary movement compressed down to thirteen seconds.

The first shows how the planets trace crazy paths as they rotate around the earth. Everything is pretty chaotic. If you watch closely, you can see planets going around in spirograph-like swirls and swoops, doubling back on themselves and then crossing across their previous path as the observed motion in the sky is modeled with the earth at the center.

The second shows very neat and orderly motion with each planet rotating around the sun in an elliptical path. There are no crazy changes in direction. Each object traces a predictable, stable orbit with the sun at the center.

It's easy to see why the new model eventually replaced the old one in the way most people think about planetary motion. It reflected in a much simpler way the way things work. Yes, there was turmoil making the change, but the change eventually did come.

As I experimented with the controls for this virtual armillary, I realized these two models visually demonstrate very nicely the difference we have in our lives depending on who is at the center. You see, we have center upon which all our decisions, actions, thoughts and emotions are based. We are born at the center. To put it bluntly, we are self-centered. We believe everything revolves around us. Things and people around us have to move in crazy directions to keep this model working. We can watch the evening news or read the morning paper or look at our own lives to see the effects of these paths. Bombings. Coupes. Murders. Anger. Divorce. Mayhem. Chaos.

The problem is we weren't originally designed to be the center. All the problems come from the fact that this model doesn't match the reality we were created for. However, there is One who was created to be the center, God. When we shift our perspective and place Jesus at the center of our universe, all of a sudden things start moving into a better orbit. If we seek His will, His decisions and His direction for our lives, the patterns in our life will improve. He has always intended to be the center of all things, including our lives. When things revolve around Him, rather than us, paths that were crazy, chaotic and unpredictable become calm, smooth and routine.

Like the shift from the geocentric model to the heliocentric model, there will be turmoil. There will be turmoil in our own inner being. Self is used to being central and will soon enough want to move back to that place. When we realize it happening, we need to again shift focus and re-establish the rightful King to His place.

Additionally, there will be turmoil in relationships with others as changes in ourselves change the way we interact with them. This requires learning new ways of seeing and new ways of being as we submit our will, along with everything that flows from that action, to Jesus. Unfortunately, not everyone will like or agree with these changes. Many will desire to stay at the center of their own lives. When we refuse to walk the needed chaotic path to match their model but continue to follow the path around the Son, turmoil will ensue.

Eventually, this turmoil on the personal level will escalate to the global level. There is coming a time when two forces will collide. One will desire human will and the other will desire God's will. However, just like the heliocentric model eventually overcame the geocentric model, so too will the Christ-centered model replace the human centered one.

Where will your center be?