I love astronomy. You may think that’s strange coming from a pastor. I don’t; turns out astronomy is simply a branch of theology. If theology is the study of God, then any branch of learning that examines His creation will ultimately lead back to a greater understanding of – and consequently love for – the Creator. Not following me? This might help. At the end of the lifespan of some massive stars, gravitational collapse can cause runaway nuclear fusion resulting in a phenomenal explosion known as a supernova. The star is quite literally blown to pieces in an inferno that races outward at roughly 10 percent of the speed of light. The brightness and intensity of these explosions often surpass the cumulative light given off by its host galaxy! Put another way, the death of this one star is often more luminous than the combined brightness of the roughly 200 billion stars closest to it. Astounding!
Was there ever a more significant death than the death of Jesus Christ – the effect of which exceeds the combined impact of every other great deed? His one act of selflessness outshines every philosophy, religion, mantra and heroic effort that inspires us. When He breathed His last breath hanging on the cross of Calvary, the blinding light of grace and freedom swallowed up the dim glow of history past, present and future.
“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit…” 1 Peter 3:18
Supernovae also have something to teach us about our own lives. Consider the fact that as a star ages, it expands. As it grows in circumference, however, its outer layer cools and condenses, which causes the rapid gravitational collapse we just spoke of (cooler objects are heavier, or more dense, than warmer objects). This collapse is what triggers the runaway fusion resulting in a glorious death and rebirth cycle.
We can observe a similar cycle in our own lives: growth → collapse → spectacular death → scattering → new life.
Let me illustrate with an example from my own life.
In the summer of 2007 my wife and I packed our belongings and headed to North Carolina from Waco to help start a church. I had aspired for years to become a lead pastor of a new church, and though we would initially serve as the college pastors, this seemed like a significant step on my way to fulfilling a dream. However, soon after we arrived, we found ourselves leading the fledgling church. In my own youthful mind, my promotion had been accelerated and I was elated at achieving my goal of pastoring a church at the young age of 26. This represented the growth phase of our little cycle.
Inexplicably, however, over the next nine months I found myself dealing off and on with depression. I am not prone to massive mood swings, but I couldn’t seem to bring any balance to my emotions. Also during this time our church slowly and painfully dwindled in numbers due to a number of challenging circumstances. This represents the collapse phase of this dream.
Because of these and other external pressures, combined with internal insecurities and immaturity, we found ourselves packing up once more and heading back to Waco on the heels of a failed venture. I was so low emotionally that I threw a temper tantrum in the parking lot of a gas station south of Atlanta when the pump malfunctioned. I slammed the nozzle into the side of our Penske moving van while yelling, threw it to the ground, and marched inside to inform the sweet cashier that her pump was broken and I wasn’t paying for the spilt gas. She was gracious and instructed me to move to another pump, where I think we met an angel – but that’s a story for another time. This low point would most certainly qualify as the spectacular death of a vision.
Directionless and disillusioned, we attempted to put the pieces back together once we landed in Waco. Instead we found ourselves living in a friend’s guest room while I delivered pizzas. Food service of any kind is a commendable occupation, and I can honestly say that this was one of the most rewarding jobs I have had, but to show up on the doorstep of former colleagues three years out of college with their pepperoni pizza and cheesy bread was undeniably a humbling experience. This would qualify as the scattering phase – an utter loss of pride, direction and control.
During this time, however, we asked the Lord what we could expect out of the next season of life. We felt like He said that we would pay off our college loans (still more than $23,000), start a family and discover what we were really made for. In other words, God was about to establish our finances, family and future. Over the next four years, that is exactly what God accomplished. By the end of 2010 we were debt free, had our first two baby boys (we’ve since had one more and have one on the way), and our unique contribution to the body of Christ became more clear and exciting than ever. More than that, we have discovered intimacy with Jesus in ways that we may have missed in North Carolina.
I can testify that the spectacular death of a dream has birthed more in its death that I can imagine it would have in its lifetime.
If you find yourself somewhere between growth and rebirth, consider the supernova and take heart! God is at work behind the scenes and is bringing about something beautiful, even in the midst of the pain and questions.
Lastly, the unimaginable heat generated by a supernova smashes lighter atoms together to form heavier elements like carbon and even iron, and then it flings them into the cosmos where they coalesce into new stars and planets. These elements are the seeds of rebirth. The death of just one star can catalyze and supply the formation of many new ones. In fact, the word supernova is derived from the Latin words for abundant and new, or “abundant newness.” Even the cosmos reflect the paradox that death actually brings about new life. Jesus prophesied of His death and instructed His followers to eat His flesh and drink His blood, and that it would be better for Him to die and depart so that He could send His Spirit to live in His followers. His death, in one sense, scattered the heavy elements of forgiveness, righteousness, and divine wisdom to the ends of the earth so that many more souls could be reborn than He was able to reach while on earth, willfully bound by human limitation.
The death of this one Star made a way for billions of others to be formed and to give light to a desperately dark universe.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24