Stars, Not Constellations


How many constellations can you see from your front porch?

Are these constellations real?

Not exactly.

Stars are real, constellations are simply the names we assign to patterns of celestial luminaries. Constellations have “implied” not “intrinsic” reality. They are not native to the universe but exist only in the human mind. However, when enough people see the same shapes in the night sky, the constellations enter the collective consciousness and become as established as the stars themselves.

The same thing happens in the firmament of divine revelation. Individual verses are linked in connect-the-dot fashion to form doctrines, which are then coerced into systematic theologies. A way of seeing truth becomes the truth itself. Points of revelation are locked into patterns. Order tames chaos. Methodology replaces mystery.

Some patterns are named after their primary proponents like Calvinism and Lutheranism. Others are known by their dominant characteristics such as Methodism and Evangelicalism. These “isms” are touted by their adherents as the correct interpretation of the Bible. Other views are branded incomplete or heretical. Indeed, for a dark time in church history, those who didn’t see the proper shape of truth were tossed into prison or burned at the stake.

Arranging information into a comprehensible form is what the human mind does. The essence of intelligence is to discern patterns and to extrapolate their effects upon us. The error comes in assuming our mental picture is the truth rather than an inadequate metaphor for what lies beyond our reach. After all, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways” (Isaiah 55:9).

It takes an act of will to see past artificial constellations to individual stars but doing so may open up the glories of God in a whole new way.

My Stars

I’m more into stars these days. It’s too easy—and harmful—to confer sacred status on human paradigms based on a few proof texts. Better to steer a course by the most brilliant lights and agree to disagree about constellations and asterisms. (Look it up.)

What do I trust to be objectively true? What do I hang my faith on? What are my anchor stars?

I have four I’ve identified so far:

An intelligent Creator: Reality either arises from nothing and is empowered by inanimate forces or is designed and animated by an intelligent being. Materialists hold the former view, theists the latter. Neither position can be conclusively proven but theism makes more sense to me.

The uniqueness of Jesus: A Martian scholar studying human civilization could single out the lynchpins of our history. Dominant among these pivotal people would be Jesus of Nazareth. Why a Jewish peasant has been so prominent may be debatable but the fact that he has seems irrefutable.

Existence of immortal souls: I’m convinced there’s more to us than our bodies and that the immaterial part of us survives death. From resurrection stories to near-death experiences, history is replete with glimpses beyond the grave. These episodes and the language used to describe them may differ but I believe they confirm another dimension of existence beyond the purely physical.

The supremacy of love:  I see love as the most powerful dynamic in human relationships. Life is most enjoyable and fulfilling when we love one another as we love ourselves. Most religions affirm the primacy of Agape and, selfish genes notwithstanding, even evolution recognizes the importance of altruism.

There are many more points of lights to consider; many other things I hold to or have questions about, e.g., the essence human nature, the source of evil, the future of the universe, the dynamics of prayer and revelation, to name a few. I’m just not as certain of what I know or believe about these.

If you had to deconstruct your constellations and identify your anchor stars, what would they be?

*          *          *

“Facts never lead to actions all by themselves.
They can only inform a system of values.
I would rather live in a society based on good facts
interpreted by a good value system
than in any other kind of society.”
—David Sloan Wilson


7 thoughts on “Stars, Not Constellations

  1. Appreciate the analogy, Mike. Agree with the comments, but I think you do as well- just that you are warning us not to think we’ve nailed it all down in our way to seek to make sense of the stars. It’s a good reminder… people tend to lose that aspect of G-d (which is partly why I still put a “-” 🙂 He has revealed Himself in Christ, but we forget that part of Him that is yet beyond our understanding (He is the Rock that is higher!). Appreciate you, Mike

  2. Very powerful illustration, Mike! It seems to me that you have shown a great deal of light here–much truth in what you are saying! Thanks for the valuable insights here!
    I am curious, though. In other writings, you seem to have put quite a bit of stock in the “findings” of various modern thinkers. Wouldn’t you say that the same critical look is due in their case? Those who have helped (for lack of a better term) you see the things you’ve seen which have caused you to move away from your evangelical moorings–are they not also mere people looking at mysterious stars and finding constellations of their own?
    Assuming that you would concede the point, it seems that the question then becomes: Where could we ever possibly find a reliable point of reference for truth, since any ground upon which we might stand is itself subject to the same scrutiny as the other objects?
    Perhaps the problem is the presuppositional adherence to foundational epistemology…
    Fundamentalist Christianity, it turns out, is really another modernist foundational ideology competing with others that are “irreligious.” But to move away from it in favor of a different animal of the same kind?…
    If you ever have a few minutes to spare some time, I would love to suggest an essay by Rodney Clapp called “How Firm a Foundation: Can Evangelicals Be Non-Foundationalists?” It’s a chapter in his book, Border Crossings (an collection of many such excellent essays). If you like, I would be happy to scan it and send it to you.
    Shalom! 🙂

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