Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. —1John 3:2
Iron, Magnesium, Hydrogen, Helium . . . if you ever gave thought to where those 92 elements on the Periodic Table came from you would probably assume, as most scientists did, that they were simply part of the universe from its beginning. In fact no one thought any differently until 1957, when the famous astrophysicist Fredrick Hoyle published a paper on stellar nuclear synthesis, or in less technical terms “how a galactic star burns itself down to nothing.”
Hoyle proposed that only two elements, hydrogen and helium, existed at the beginning of the universe, and that these two elements coalesced into stars. Extreme gravity inside the star causes the hydrogen to fuse with helium and this process is what “lights” the star and turns it into a massive fireball.
Eventually, after a couple billion years, a star burns through its fuel supply of hydrogen and helium and as it does so it produces the next few elements on the Periodic Table: lithium, boron, beryllium, and carbon. This brings us to 6 elements in the universe.
But the star, like some crazed pyro intent on incinerating itself, proceeds to burn through those elements and creates six more in the process, all the way up to Magnesium on the Periodic Table. But these too must go—everything must burn. In fact, as the star burns itself down it creates the first 26 elements of the Periodic Table, all the way to Iron. But that’s where the fire dies, “Iron is the final peal of a stars natural life.”
So where do the rest of the elements in the universe—elements 27 through 92 (Cobalt through Uranium)—come from? Well, when a star finally burns itself down to a cold iron core, it finally dies. But, oh, what a death, described here by Sam Kean in his book The Disappearing Spoon:
Suddenly lacking the energy to keep their full volume, burned out stars implode under their own immense gravity, collapsing thousands of miles in just seconds. Then, rebounding from this collapse, they explode outward. For one glorious month, a supernova stretches millions of miles and shines brighter than a billion stars. During a supernova so many gazillions of particles with so much momentum collide so many times per second that they high jump over the normal energy barriers. Every natural combination of element and isotope spews forth from this particle blizzard.
So here is the awaited analogy—and thank you for your patience. In the worldly furnace of trials and temptation, certain elements of godliness are produced in our lives: patience, kindness, self-control, etc.. Such elements could only be forged in the crucible of earthly sanctification. But when Christ appears, sanctification will be subsumed in a glorious supernova of resurrection power, “taking our weak mortal bodies and transforming them into glorious bodies like [Christ’s]” (Phil. 3:21), “we will all be changed— in a flash” (1Cor. 15:51-52), and we shall “shine like the brightness of the heavens” (Dan. 12:3) with a whole new array of elemental gifts and capacities.
The doctrine of Rewards would lead us to understand that at the moment of our transformation, what we are formed into will have everything to do with what we are formed from (1Cor. 15). The raw material of that supernova will be us: our choices, thoughts, actions, attitudes, character, our entire life, and what has been made of it. Our unique, individual life will be magnified, glorified, and transformed, and our reward will be in the resulting likeness: in our radiance, however bright; in our capacities, however gifted; in our being, however glorious; in our magnitude, however attractive. Our Reward will not simply be upon us; it will be us.
Unfairly, it would seem, talent, beauty, intellect, education, wealth, and opportunity have been meted out in this world without regard to personal merit: Brad Pitt does not deserve to look like Brad Pitt. Rewards flip this right-side up: our life here determining what will be innate to us there.