Some years ago, we saw, almost hourly, pictures of the rocky surface of Mars flashing across our television screens, upfront and in color. With the aid of the robotic "Spirit Rover," a combination microscope and camera, scientists were in awe of their recent successes and the media saw fit to thoroughly cover it.
As NASA searched for signs that told of water and life on Mars, questions began to emerge in editorials and intellects: "What is life?" "What if we find it?" "Where did it come from?" and "Where did it go?" It was a news story that seemed to dredge up interest not only from scientists, but philosophers, anthropologists, ethicists, and educators. Carried within these age-old questions was a new sense of excitement.
Even ancient observations also seemed to take on new meaning. It was modern technology that was making it possible that along with the scientists themselves, we were looking at things never before seen. But the sentiment was similar. "Lift your eyes," cried the ancient prophet, "and look to the heavens: Who created all these?"(1) There was the common sense that we were beholding in some of these images, things more wonderful than we could get our minds around. "When I consider your heavens," proclaimed another, "the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?"(2) There was a contagious sense of awe. "We hit the sweet spot," exclaimed scientist Steven W. Squyres of NASA's successful landing in a crater on the surface of Mars.
But for some, there was also a sense, even in the midst of bright pictures and brimming scientists, that it was all, already, yesterday's news.
"Unlike the scientists behind the Mars mission," proclaimed one editorialist, "I feel neither shocked nor awed." The article was a lament over what often seems the growing dullness of life because of the ease of the instantaneous, because we have been awed into boredom, and lulled into indifference. Mourning a handful of instant gratifiers within our consumer-driven, resource-abounding culture, the writer argued, "What used to seem out of reach is now within easy reach... the world offers too much, too easily, and demands too little." It was a certain expression of what C.S. Lewis would have called "our horror of the Same Old Thing." But the most fascinating thing about this lament was the author's conclusion. "I want to go deep, not far," she concluded. And she hastened back to a day spent on the beach with two children, examining sand in awe.
Ancient writers of Scripture seem to describe the awe of a child as vital to life in all stages. "Did I not tell you," said Jesus beside the tomb of Lazarus, "that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"(3) In his words to the mourning Mary and Martha, Jesus equates the glory of God to the shock and awe of life and new life where death threatens. Jesus calls their brother Lazarus out of the tomb and says as the dead man steps forward, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go.'" The glory of the one who created life is shown in life all around us and in his jarring triumph over death.
Whether still looking at Mars and marveling at the sight or glancing away at the unimpressive flow of perpetually yesterday's news, life begs for another glance. In John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Christian and the Interpreter along their journey come across a man with a muck rake in his hand. Steadily raking filth from the floor, the man "could look no way but downwards" and so, could not see the celestial crown being offered him from above.
"Lift your eyes," cried the ancient, "and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name."(4) God, the prophets of old insist, is worthy of our wonder—yesterday, today, and forever.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Isaiah 40:26.
(2) Psalm 8:3.
(3) John 11:40-44.
(4) Isaiah 40:26.