It was 4:30 AM on my last day in Moscow, but I was wide-awake. I don’t know whether I was reflecting on my Russian experience or looking forward to going home, but for some reason I had a bad case of the “big-eye.” I tried to go back to sleep, and then I read for a while. Finally, I went to the window and looked out at the world. As I peered into the darkness from the twenty-eighth floor of my hotel, I could see cars twisting through the streets and ant-like figures moving down sidewalks on their way to work.
There is something fascinating about watching a city come to life in the early morning. I almost felt like a voyeur as I cleared off the windowsill and propped myself up next to the glass. With my chin fixed on my knees, I was mesmerized as I watched a new day dawn over historic Moscow.
As I contemplated the thousands of people winding their way through the streets of the city, I was suddenly struck by the transition from traditional Russia, to modern Russia, and then to postmodern Russia. Traditional Russia has been Christian for over a thousand years. The regent Olga, baptized around AD 955, was the first Russian leader to embrace Christianity. Modern Russia, on the other hand, adopted a Marxist ideology that took pride in its atheism. Now the Soviet Union has passed from the scene, and postmodern Russia, like all the rest of the postmodern world, must reinvent itself for whatever lies ahead. But how does Christianity retain the blessed assurance of the gospel in a postmodern world that says uncertainty is innate in human existence?
Curtis Chang has analyzed Augustine’s fifth century response to paganism and Thomas Aquinas’s thirteenth century response to Islam, and he says, “This is not the first time Christianity has needed to figure out what to say to a civilization in danger of dying.” He goes on to explain that Christians have to enter the challenger’s story, find the flaw in that story, and then capture the challenger’s story within the gospel story (Chang 6, 8).
We enter the postmodern story by accepting the idea that the world is a fragmented conundrum of uncertainty. Scientifically, humanity is part of a moving frame of reference where energy, mass, and motion are the building blocks for a universe that stretches out in time and space into an eternity that is beyond human comprehension. Change and uncertainty are present whether one has a postmodern mind-set that speaks of “the trace of meaning that never arrives” (Detweiler 16) or a biblical view that says “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Eccles. 1:2). If we eschew the dogmatism of the past and acknowledge that change and uncertainty are inherent in human experience, we meet postmodernism on its own ground.
To show that human existence is part of a moving frame of reference, I must return to the twenty-eighth floor of my Moscow hotel. As dawn approached, I began to make out the shapes of various structures across Moscow, and I noticed a particularly large office building a few miles to the east of my hotel. It was twenty-five or thirty stories, and the two buildings towered above the rest of the city like a pair of giant bookends. Night continued giving way to day until finally a tiny beam of light appeared to the left of the office building, and I knew the Moscow sunrise was underway.
As that first beam of sunlight sneaked over the horizon on the left side of the office building, the earth moved – that is, the earth with its attached office building rotated to the left, and the tiny beam of light disappeared behind the building. As I continued watching, the earth continued moving to the left and the office building began to uncover the sun. Initially, a tiny sunbeam peeked out on the right side of the building. Then as the earth continued rotating to the left, the beam of light grew larger and larger until the full circle of the sun could be seen. Towering above the city and juxtaposed against the sun, the two buildings had helped confirmed that the human “dance” taking place on the streets below was part of a “cosmic dance.”
The Tragic Flaw
The demise of traditional absolutism and the rise of late modern/postmodern relativism have created a “value-vacuum.” The modern generation established that the earth is round rather than flat, but, like the foolish people who tried to build the Tower of Babel, the postmodern generation has gone on to claim that human beings, individually and collectively, are the ultimate “measure of value” in the universe.
However, if value is not universal, then social, political, and economic factions are left in a polarizing struggle to achieve their own interests. The run-a-way power of the Russian mafia and the spectacle of Moscow children trying to stay warm by sleeping next to underground heating pipes is perhaps the ultimate picture of polarization run amok. Of course, the Russian example could be duplicated in other cities around the world. It merely confirms that the tragic flaw of postmodernism is the denial of eternal values and the polarization of human values between the weak and the strong.
The Constant Christ
How do we capture the postmodern story within the gospel story? We begin by reclaiming the high ground against relativism! The gospel is eternal, and we corroborate the gospel when we demonstrate that some values do not change. Constant value adds the “why” to the “who, what, when, where” of history, and it explains the resurgence of the gospel in Russia and China in spite of their schemes to eliminate Christianity from the face of the earth.
In this article, “constant value” is explained in relationship to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. In Einstein’s famous formula of E=mc2, “c” represents value that does not change. More specifically, “c” represents the free space velocity of light as a scientific constant. Regardless of the movement of the light source, the movement of the observer, or even the force of gravity, the speed of light is invariant. Scientifically, constant value is superimposed upon all forms of motion whether one speaks of uniform motion in the special theory of relativity or nonuniform motion in the general theory of relativity.
The question, of course, is whether we can argue by analogy that the idea of constant value in the physical world can serve as a model for constant value in the spiritual world. I would argue, however, that many people still cling to the idea of some kind of spirituality. They speak of the uniformity of “this world” and the nonuniformity of that other “spiritual world.” When the gospel says, Jesus is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8) it merely superimposes constant value upon all the variables just as the constant speed of light superimposes constant value on uniform and nonuniform motion. In laying a Christian template over the theory of relativity, I have reaffirmed that finite humanity is the ultimate uniformity, that Almighty God is the ultimate nonuniformity, and that the “constant Christ” is the mediator between the two. I have used the cosmic dance to tell an old story in a new way.
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