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Pluto in a dark age

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Kevin Sartin

Theology Columnist

Two videos posted on the politics page of the Washington Post’s online presence. One made with hidden cameras over a lengthy business lunch. Eight-plus minutes of grainy, sometimes sideways footage of an official at Planned Parenthood discussing the best strategies for extracting living children in various stages of development from their mothers’ wombs so as to preserve their organs intact for the purpose of selling them to research agencies. This cold, dispassionate chat about harvesting livers, hearts and lower extremities proceeded as if the topic of choice was the weather or last night’s ballgame and not the premeditated murder of tiny human beings.
The second video was more professional-looking, and certainly the mood was more jovial. A crowd of people in the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory mission control counted down the final 10 seconds together as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft finally reached Pluto after 9 ½ years of space travel. Music played. Cheers erupted and then morphed into a chant of USA! USA! as little American flags waved and ecstatic researchers hugged and high-fived. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden hailed the successful Pluto photography mission as a demonstration of “how great our nation is” and reveled in the occasion of NASA having “visited every single planet in our solar system.”
Both videos resonated with me, mostly because some of the moments that have involved the greatest sense of the nearness and reality of God for me have come from the inside of the womb and from the far reaches of space. Standing outside on a clear night gazing up at the stars, pulling the moon out of the sky and bringing it up-close-and-personal through the lens of a telescope, I have felt what I’m sure the Psalmist must have when he penned the words “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Surely one of the places the greatness of God is most clearly seen is in the vast reaches of space. I have also sat in darkened rooms at various times and in various doctors’ offices, staring at black and white images of all five (and soon to be six) of my twenty-week-old daughters on wall-mounted monitors, holding my wife’s hand and listening to the ultrasound nurse say things like “there’s her heart – see the chambers beating?” and “now we’re going to measure her head.” Amazing, life-changing moments where technology afforded me the opportunity to see God’s creative activity first-hand, a pre-introduction of sorts to the little people I was soon to meet. Once again, words from the Psalms played through my mind: “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
But one of the tragedies of our fallen human nature is that we see what we want to see, and we ignore or explain away what we don’t want to see. So sometimes when we look at an ultrasound all we see is a lump of tissue, an inconvenience to be disposed of, a collection of parts to be harvested and sold. And sometimes when we look at images of a planet (or dwarf-planet) from the three-billion-miles-away far reaches of space, all we see is the triumph of technology and the supposed greatness of our nation. Willful ignorance isn’t really ignorance at all. It’s avoidance. It’s disregard. It’s an expression of our desire to remain in the position of ultimate authority over our lives and over our existence. If we ignore God, if we pretend that we can’t see His hand everywhere around us, then maybe we won’t have to contend with the claims of authority He makes on our lives. James A. Michener once said “An age is called Dark, not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it.” In this dark age, there is plenty of light yet for those who want to see. All we have to do is open our eyes.

Kevin Sartin is pastor of First Baptist Church on Main St. in Nashville. Rev. Sartin holds a Master of Divinity Degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and has spent the last decade pastoring churches in Louisiana and Arkansas.