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FIRST-PERSON: Understanding our limitations

JACKSON, Miss. (BP)–Another seven lives have been lost, and another space shuttle has been reduced to jagged, smoldering rubble. As we watched the tragedy unfold before our eyes once again, many people undoubtedly experienced flashbacks to that terrible day in 1986 when the Space Shuttle Challenger went down during launch from Florida.

At times like these, videotape has to be one of the curses of the modern age. With videotape we can view the awful events of Feb. 1 over and over again, as we have viewed the events of Sept. 11, 2001, over and over again. One has to wonder about the long-term effects of such repetitious instant replay on the psychological and emotional health of individuals — especially children — and the nation as a whole.

We didn’t need another tragedy of this magnitude. One headline in Sunday’s newspaper read, “U.S. copes with yet another disaster.” With the threat of all-out war rising daily in that most ancient of battlegrounds, the Middle East, and the world aflame in so many other places, we didn’t need the looping, 24-hour-a-day news reports of the death and destruction that rained down on Texas and Louisiana.

Shuttle launches and landings have become so routine that they are taken for granted by most folks. As it turns out, the launches and landings and missions of the space shuttle have become that way not because the danger has been wrung from the process, but due to the incredible knowledge and skill of the people involved. It’s difficult for laypeople to understand just how dicey each space shot is, regardless of the safety measures. It all looks so finely crafted and well done.

Perhaps now is a good time to step back for a moment to look at the bigger picture — and once again realize our human limitations.

Exploration has always been dangerous, whether it was on the high seas in search of a new world, across the frigid crevasses of the Arctic in search of the North Pole, or in the cramped cockpit of a rocketship in search of the sound barrier.

When King David gazed upon the heavens and marveled at God’s handiwork, he was expressing sentiments held long before his time and treasured to this very day. Who are we? From whence did we come? Where are we going? What is to become of us? All the attempts to expand the boundaries of our knowledge really boil down to a quest to discover such answers, don’t they?

God has given us great minds with which to explore the wonders of our world and our existence in the universe. Of course, some people have turned their great minds into a repository for wicked thoughts — the Hollywood establishment comes to mind — but that certainly wasn’t God’s intent when he made us a little higher than the creatures and a little lower than the angels.

God gave us big brains and filled us with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. That’s why we scale peaks and split atoms and map genomes. That’s why the human lifespan has doubled since the days of the Roman Empire, and why we went from the wobbly flight of a few feet in North Carolina to globe-straddling jetliners and moon shots in less than a few decades.

A serious problem arises, however, when we begin to believe that our own knowledge and wisdom are as great as God’s. That is certainly not what he intended, and we’ve been getting into trouble over this issue since the Garden of Eden. This is not intended to imply that the space shuttle program was designed to supplant God in our lives, but it is intended to point out that too many of us continue to see the acquisition of such knowledge not as a way to draw closer to God but as a way to put ourselves on a par with him or even replace him in our hearts and minds. The ancient Babylonians tried to do that, with limited success. How can we believe we will fare any better in our day?

Among our prayers after such a high-tech tragedy as Columbia should be an acknowledgement before the Father of our own intellectual limitations and God’s boundless knowledge. For all our sakes, may we never confuse the two.
Perkins is editor of the Baptist Record, Mississippi Baptists’ newsjournal, www.mbcb.org.

    About the Author

  • William H. Perkins Jr.