Carina Nebula viewed by Hubble Space Telescope

Carina Nebula viewed by Hubble Space Telescope

“Messiah: 1. the awaited redeemer of the Jews, to be sent by God to free them.
2. Jesus Christ, when regarded in this role.
3. an exceptional or hoped for liberator of a country or people”

Decades ago as a young person, I liked to visit the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., where one exhibit featured a nine-minute film that played continuously in a loop. I would stand there, in awe, watching it over and over again.

It was called “Powers of Ten: A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe – and the Effect of Adding Another Zero.”

Narrated by MIT physics professor Philip Morrison, the short movie takes viewers on a virtual high-speed voyage into outer space, zooming away from earth another order of magnitude (10 times farther) every 10 seconds, thus traversing through our solar system and vastly beyond, eventually past the Milky Way galaxy unto the outer reaches of the known universe – ending up 100 million light years from home. Upon returning to earth, the cosmic roller-coaster pauses temporarily at its initial starting point at the planet’s surface, but now continues on “in the other direction” – that is, inward. Microscopically traveling by a new order of magnitude (10 times smaller) every 10 seconds, the same rate as the previous journey, this time the “fantastic voyage” ventures inside a man’s hand. We survey skin cells and other structures, then chromosomes and DNA, and, as the magnification increases exponentially, molecules and atoms, until finally we arrive at our destination: a single proton within the nucleus of a carbon atom.

Watch “Powers of Ten”:

Not only does “Powers of Ten” (as well as a later remake called “Cosmic Voyage” narrated by Morgan Freeman) provide a glimpse of the astonishing complexity and magnificence of creation and the relative size of all things known, it also, intriguingly, shows man to be more-or-less right smack in the middle of two universes, one infinitely larger than us and the other infinitesimally smaller.

Think of it: Zoom out to, say, one light-year of distance from earth (10-to-the-16th-power meters) and our sun is seen as a tiny speck in space. But zoom inward, toward the center of a carbon atom, and you’ve traveled the same number of orders of magnitude, sixteen (10-to-the-minus-16th-power meters, or 0.000001 angstroms), and the atomic nucleus is likewise seen as a tiny speck in space.

With this mind-blowing relativity in mind, man is obviously not “small,” as we’re often told, except when compared to the distances, speeds and heavenly bodies inhabiting outer space. But relative to the equally mind-bogglingly small universes of inner space – well, let’s just say, you and I are to the tiny particles in the nucleus of an atom as the Milky Way galaxy is to us.

Thus perched between these “parallel universes,” we human beings exist on this remarkably beautiful blue-green-and-brown spinning sphere called Earth. And as such, we are faced with a great enigma – a Creator who can conceive universes large and small, both equally incomprehensible in their largeness and smallness (not to mention their infinite complexity and wonder), and yet Who places, right in the middle of it all, human beings, full of all our vexing and even malignant flaws.

For what purpose?

That’s a mystery. It is THE mystery.

In our life on this Earth, our first and most tangible reality is the wondrous natural world surrounding us and providing all our material needs. We are likewise blessed with marvelous faculties – two little spherical cameras called eyes with which to see, ears to hear, plus all our other senses and abilities, all topped off with an astonishing super-computer – our brain. All this, that we may perceive, navigate and live our lives successfully within this natural world, like the rest of the animal kingdom.

Alas, we’re not just animals, ordained to live in an eco-system, locate food, procreate and try to steer clear of predators. For co-existing with this natural world is a mysterious moral dimension in which we humans are also immersed. Animals don’t share this moral realm, nor do plants, rocks, mountains or oceans, nor for that matter do atoms, molecules, planets, stars or black holes, all of which “act” in accord with their given nature, all without honor or dishonor, reward or punishment. Kittens aren’t good, and man-eating sharks aren’t bad. Only man dwells in this peculiar moral realm wherein good and evil not only manifest, but seem to be focused directly on recruiting us! As such, we inevitably assume the role of conduits of good, or of evil – or more often, of both good and evil, since both realms relentlessly strive to claim our minds, hearts, loyalties, and ultimately our souls.

It is this moral dimension that is the matrix from which most of our problems emerge, overshadowing and often overwhelming everything else in our lives.

For despite all that is truly amazing about human beings – the civilizations we’ve built, literature and art we’ve created, diseases we’ve conquered, our dizzying scientific and technological achievements and, most important, our genuine capacity for nobility, generosity and self-sacrifice – we are seriously troubled, problem-ridden creatures. The human race is a giant mess, and from everything we know, always has been. Along with our conscience (a little speck of God’s mind that he graciously enfolds within each one of us) and the many virtues with which we are blessed, we’re also mightily beset by pride, doubt, anger, selfishness, greed, lust – in fact, by ignoble impulses and destructive proclivities of every imaginable sort, almost as though we had a genetic predisposition toward them.

As a result, our world includes entire nations that resemble insane asylums where the most deluded and dangerous people are those in positions of authority. Moreover, each culture, religion and political ideology has a set of core beliefs about which adherents are absolutely certain, yet which are utterly at odds with the core beliefs of all other cultures, religions and political systems. Even worse, in the case of major utopian systems like communism, Nazism and Islamism, millions are brainwashed into not only embracing impossibly irrational, degrading and destructive beliefs, but into believing they are required to force everyone else on Earth to adopt their beliefs – or else be subjugated or slaughtered.

False messiahs

Clearly there is something in our makeup, some mysterious inheritance from ancient times, that beckons us to so easily cross the line of conscience, morality and reason – to violate God’s laws, to become spiritual outlaws. In Christian shorthand, we’re all “born in sin.”

It’s one of the great mysteries of life that some people – usually after great suffering and soul-searching – eventually manage somehow to mature into responsible, conscientious, moral adults, while others unfortunately become ever more entangled in dark thoughts and feelings, leading to self-destructive or predatory behaviors.

But here’s the rub. Even in those who eventually leave behind their former sinful behavior, the nature that allowed it seems to linger somewhere deep within us like a latent virus. Moreover, even if we were somehow graced to become totally free of our sinful nature, we still cannot undo the sins we committed in the past. In a cosmic legal sense, we’re still guilty. We’re like offenders who have broken the law and hurt, violated and damaged other people, and though we may now sincerely regret what we did, we’re still guilty of having done it! How can our guilt then be taken away? Can the past be magically wiped out? This is where the idea of the Messiah as savior comes in.

Unfortunately, because repentance and facing our own dark, angry, sinful nature can be painful and requires humility, many people are more inclined to skip the introspection and just appoint an earthly savior to rescue them from their misery. The most notorious example of a false messiah in modern times was Adolf Hitler, although both Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong were responsible for far more deaths. All demanded obedience and worship in return for a glorious kingdom on Earth, but of course it didn’t work out. It never does – but we keep trying

Thus, in America, many people saw Barack Obama as a political messiah and invested all their hopes and dreams for the future in him, with 69 million voters casting their ballots for him in 2008.

“We thought that he was going to be – I shouldn’t say this at Christmastime – but the next messiah,” veteran broadcast journalist Barbara Walters told Piers Morgan on CNN. Newsweek editor Evan Thomas told MSNBC, “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above – above the world, he’s sort of God.” And upon Obama’s 2012 resurrection – I mean, reelection – Newsweek celebrated the occasion with the front-cover headline, “THE SECOND COMING.”

A messiah, at least in the Christian sense, is not only supposed to lead people out of bondage and oppression, but to take away their guilt and past sins. Obama was, in effect, anointed by the majority of American voters to absolve their guilt over our great national sin of slavery (and later, racial segregation). But instead of cleansing us of our national guilt, Obama and his administration, especially his attorney general, Eric Holder, cynically magnified and enlarged our guilt, using it as a weapon to confuse, confound and divide us, to neutralize patriots and critics, all for the unholy purpose of amassing ever more power.

Most Americans – some sooner, some later – ultimately realized that not only was Obama not a messiah, he was arguably the worst, most dishonest, incompetent, anti-American president in U.S. history. His radical-left administration caused tremendous harm not just to the nation’s constitutional system of government, its economy, security and culture – but to its national soul. That’s because, to “fundamentally transform” a uniquely great nation like America into just one more pathetic redistributionist welfare state presided over by an all-powerful nanny government, the American people must be seduced into becoming less independent and less moral than they once were, they mustn’t trust in God quite as much as they once did, they must become less rugged and resilient, less logical and competent, less principled and courageous than they once were.

This, alas, is the true legacy of the Obama presidency – the degradation and demoralization of America.

The desire for a messiah – a God-anointed person who will lead us to lasting peace and happiness – is embedded deep in the human soul. The messiah is central not just to Christianity and to Judaism, but also to Islam, which has its own exotic version of a last-days deliverer.

In fact, polls reveal that a large percentage of Muslims currently living in the Middle East believe they will see, in their lifetime, the coming of their messiah – whom they call the Mahdi. But believe it or not, Islam anticipates that the Mahdi will return with a sidekick – Jesus, whom Muslims call “Isa.” The Muslim Jesus is expected to tell the entire world that he is not the son of God, was not crucified and was not resurrected from the dead. Rather, according to Muslim teachings, Jesus’ message upon his return will be that he does indeed exist, but that he is – surprise! – a Muslim, and that all the world must convert to Islam.

Since human beings, as is demonstrated again and again, are prone to disastrously appointing false “messiahs” to absolve their sins and lead them to peace and freedom, one question, which has endured for millennia, looms large: Is the messiah a political (group) savior, or a spiritual (individual) one?

Twenty centuries ago at the time Jesus walked the Earth, the Jewish people, citing the biblical prophets, were awaiting a great leader descended from King David who would rescue and lead them into a time of lasting peace on earth. However, Jesus, when urged to lead a rebellion against the Roman oppressors and occupiers, said he had come to lead a different sort of revolution – an inner one, within each person. Why?

True Messiah

If we’re completely honest, at some point during our lives we realize we are broken in such a deep way that we cannot fix it. Our problem with sin, with deep roots going back to our childhood and beyond, seems to cling to us all of our lives. Even in the best of us, the traumatic memories are so deeply embedded, the strength of sin so powerful, our emotional responses to stresses so deep-seated, that even with our best efforts we remain a shadow of the person we’d like to be. We never seem to be totally healed – not with medications and therapy, not with diet and exercise, not with church attendance and rituals, not with sermons and Bible study, not with righteous behavior and good deeds.

We need something we cannot give ourselves. We need true healing; we need forgiveness; we need a new identity; we need new life.

All this brings us to the coming of the Messiah, as described so poetically in the Gospel of Luke:

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem … To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:4-14)

This, of course, is just the beginning of the story. From Jesus’ ministry and life-changing teachings, to the miracles he performed, to his perfect example of how to live life, to his ultimate crucifixion and resurrection, His life and death – and life again – are truly “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”

The simplicity and sincerity of Christ’s essential message is conveyed by one of my very favorite scriptures, courtesy of John the apostle:

Here is the message we heard from him [Jesus] and pass on to you: that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to be sharing in his life while we walk in the dark, our words and our lives are a lie; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, then we share together a common life, and we are being cleansed from every sin by the blood of Jesus his Son. (1 John 1:5-7)

John mentions no dogma, no required observances, rituals, special diet and so on. Just an appreciation of God’s forgiveness through His Son, and this glistening instruction: If we “walk in the light, as he himself is in the light” – that is, if we calmly and humbly welcome God’s light of understanding to shine in our minds and souls, by which light we will see our sinful nature – He will grace us with repentance. And “then,” assures John, “we share together a common life, and we are being cleansed from every sin by the blood of Jesus his Son.”

Again, living “in the light” – not losing ourselves in worry over the past, nor anxiety and fear over the future, but, in faith, staying anchored in the present moment, in the presence of God – involves facing our own vexing imperfections and faults, without condemning ourselves, or covering up the sin, or struggling with it to fix it, but just patiently waiting on God for help. When we do that, we are, in that very moment, being transformed, redeemed, graced to “share together a common life” with God.

These are, of course, simply my reflections on an enormously profound subject. But I believe such deep matters are meant to be pondered by each of us in our hearts, without worry, without pressure, without fear of hellfire hanging over us. If we don’t understand something, it’s OK. If we experience doubt as to what we believe, it’s OK – just honestly admit it. That’s all. God sees all, and will help.

Earlier we considered the question of why God would position these frail, fragile, flawed creatures called human beings betwixt alternate universes – magnificent cosmic clockwork large and small – and immerse them likewise in two opposing spiritual dimensions of good and evil, virtue and wickedness, sanity and madness.

Why are we here? What is God intent on creating in this special realm – the realm of man – that He couldn’t create any other way, or anywhere else in the universe, even 100 million light years out?

Perhaps the most quoted scripture in Christendom, John 3:16, points to the answer: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

In response to this ultimate expression of God’s love for us, our appreciation and worship of God in return may be the one thing the rest of the universe cannot deliver. Only through the troubled lives we lead and the lessons of humility and faith we ultimately learn can real love of God come into being.

Why did God put such imperfect beings in the space between all that perfect cosmic clockwork large and small? Maybe in the Creator’s mind all that stuff just serves as the ornate setting, and we – we’re the crown jewel of His creation. Not that we’re anything praiseworthy, mind you. It’s just that God wanted children – and all the stars, planets, oceans, rocks, trees and birds just wouldn’t do.

But in leaving a race of prodigal sons and daughters here, untethered in a moral wilderness with the freedom to follow their own folly for a season and thereby learn precious lessons, God knew many would eventually come to their senses and come back home to him. May it be so with you.

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