Martian perspectives

The Mars Exploration Rover Spirit is about to get down and dirty on the Red Planet, and what I want to know is, who’s driving? Suppose you were the NASA engineer assigned to put that 400-million-dollar dune buggy through its paces. Imagine that it’s your job to tool around a rock-strewn planet 38 million miles away, using a cheap joy-stick and surplus 3D glasses—while hundreds of nervous scientists and engineers watch your every move. For most of us, a bad day at work is jamming the copy machine. Can you imagine the nightmares this guy has?

All systems are go. Mr. Johnson, we are ready for you to make history. You may drive the NASA-Boeing-FedEx-Pillsbury-STP Mars Exploration Rover Spirit down the ramp. Johnson! Forward, man, forward!! You’ve got it in reverse!!! For the love of God, Johnson, hit the brakes!!!! Arrrggghhh!!!!!

Still, if it was me behind that joystick, I’d be powerfully tempted to show the world something besides red dust and rock samples. I’m talking about burning some rubber, doing a few donuts and getting that baby airborne! I’d show them Martians that when it comes to all-terrain vehicles, Earth rules!

Back to reality. At such times as these, there are always those who ask, “Why bother?” We’ve studied Mars for centuries. What do we expect to learn that we don’t already know?

Here’s a truism that applies to Mars and Earth alike: If you want to really know a place, there’s no substitute for going there.

When I made my first trip to Mexico, I didn’t really expect to see people taking siestas beneath huge sombreros, but I’ll have to admit that years of watching bad movies had filled my brain with a lot of dumb ideas about Mexico and her people. Once I’d lived there, once I’d made friends there, once I’d eaten their food and worshipped in their churches, most of my preconceptions were changed forever.

We’ve already examined Mars from a great distance. Spirit gives us a rare opportunity to see Mars from four feet above the ground. Spirit is a rolling laboratory and if all goes well, we’ll come away from this adventure with a new perspective that will challenge some out-of-date assumptions.

Postmodern ideology says that objective truth doesn’t exist. Whether we’re talking about scientific fact or moral principles, postmodernism says that we inevitably flavor everything with unintentional bias. Truth is always warped and blurred by our earth-bound perspective, not unlike our view of Mars from earth-based telescopes.

But imagine for a moment that a Rover-like vehicle landed in Topeka, Kansas, and began scurrying up and down the streets, sending photos and scientific data back to its creators. And imagine that we intercepted those signals—what might we learn if we could see ourselves from the perspective of an alien society?

Better still, suppose that a galaxy-hopping anthropologist has been studying our world since the beginning of time. He pays us a visit and even leaves us a thick volume detailing his insights: Earthling Anthropology, available for $19.95 at your local Barnes and Noble. What might we learn about ourselves from such an individual?

This is where Christianity and every other world religion part company. Religions are built around the insights of learned and holy men, insights that postmodern thinkers distrust because they lack objectivity. Christianity is different. Jesus Christ claimed to be God incarnate. He came to earth from the ultimate high ground, a place outside of the created universe, a place that existed before the universe began.

If Jesus Christ is God, his perspectives on life and truth would be faultless. From such a man, we could learn a few things.

Thus, Christianity and postmodernism agree—we cannot discover truth by studying our belly buttons. We cannot find truth by guessing. We can only know truth when it has been revealed to us by someone with an outsider’s objectivity.

The One who comes from above is head and shoulders over other messengers from God. The earthborn is earthbound and speaks earth language; the heavenborn is in a league of his own. He sets out the evidence of what he saw and heard in heaven. No one wants to deal with these facts. But anyone who examines this evidence will come to stake his life on this: that God himself is the truth. The One that God sent speaks God’s words. —John 3:31-34a, The Message (John the Baptist testifying about Jesus Christ)

Then Jesus was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit and said, “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding the truth from those who think themselves so wise and clever, and for revealing it to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way. My Father has given me authority over everything. No one really knows the Son except the Father, and no one really knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” —Luke 10:21-24, NLT

The quest for knowledge has been part of our human experience since the beginning. Scientific inquiry is a good thing, but there is some knowledge that is forever beyond our reach—unless it’s revealed to us by someone greater and wiser than we could ever hope to be. The Mars Exploration Rover Spirit will give us a new perspective on Mars. Jesus Christ has already given us a new perspective on life.

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