Discovery, Awe, and Humility
Today was the final liftoff of the Space Shuttle Discovery, STS 133. It was an extraordinary and profound event for me in a couple of ways. First, it was truly awesome to witness so much power under complete control, doing exactly what was expected. It was amazing to have a human made device that went from sitting completely still in Florida to being over 100 miles up and over the Indian Ocean less than an hour later. Watching such a complicated machine with so much demonstrated explosive capability safely carry fellow humans completely off of our planet so quickly…there just aren’t words for it. We have so overused superlatives in daily language that we now have no way to express a superlative experience. C.S. Lewis commented on this 50 years ago when he said, “Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”
The second profound aspect of watching this launch was doing so
on my laptop
sitting at my desk
500 miles away
with a Dr Pepper in my hand,
seeing the camera’s perspective as it sat on the external tank between it and the shuttle,
looking back at the receding Florida coastline,
then the curvature of the planet,
then the blackness of space
with the unfiltered brightness of the star fueling our solar system,
watching from less than 20 feet away as the solid rocket boosters fell off,
and finally as the shuttle itself disengaged and proceeded on to its mission.
As I watched and marveled, I wondered in prayer what God feels when He watches us do these things. Does He share in our joy, in our healthy pride? Does He feel like a proud parent watching His children taking such a big step in exploring a new part of His Creation?
I believe to some extent He does. Yet, He who sees the end from the beginning also sees more. I felt in the place of the disciples, and for the first time, truly understood where they were coming from in the following passage from Mark 13:1-2 (and repeated in Matthew 24 and Luke 21):
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
Why am I trying to be a downer? I’m not. There are definitely thoughts generated that leave me to grieve that our greatest achievements are so ephemeral. I balk at Solomon’s declaration that ‘all is vanity,’ when applied to this context. But it simply is the truth.
I believe we can be proud of our accomplishments and simultaneously believe that we should be humble about them. As much as Jesus was giving a message about the upcoming Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the larger picture of end times, I think He was also reminding us that our greatest achievements (and He does call the Temple great) are like a toddler’s first painting posted on the refrigerator—significant for what it symbolizes, but frankly unimpressive.
What encourages and excites me is, if this is one of our first scribblings, what does God have in store for us later to achieve in Glory?