Aquariums have often aimed at being other-worldly and strange. Their lighting is muted, atmospheric — out of need, but also out of desire. The worlds on display are so alien and so far beyond ordinary experience that one visitor to a pioneering European aquarium in 1860 demanded, "What in heaven's name am I actually supposed to see in there?"Indeed, places like this have the capacity to stun us, to lift us out of our everyday world and cause us to consider the world—the vast and endlessly astonishing world—around us.
I visited the Georgia Aquarium last month and—in spite of keeping one eye on my 2-year old and the other on my 7-year-old in a crowd much like the schools of fish behind the two-foot thick panes—periodically I would glance up and everything around me seemed to drop away. My stomach and heart clinched, and I felt, ever-so-briefly, as if I teetered on the edge of eternity. The creatures in front of me—some literally inches away—were so other-worldly and strange that they were reminiscent of encounters with God. Foreign, yet familiar. Related, but Other.
Watching tiger sharks slowly swim a mere few feet behind my children filled me with the same awe I have when I see pictures of Mars or deep space photographs. Richard J. Mouw (president of Fuller Theological Seminary and professor of Christian Philosophy) describes it best. When he was asked by a reporter what finding life on Mars would mean to Christianity in 1997, he responded in part:
So, to answer our 1860’s aquarium visitor, “What in heaven's name am I actually supposed to see in there?" God, my friend. God.
Creation is vast and complex. To consider God's awesome creating purposes is to be full of wonder. The Bible presents us with a "wonder-full" view of reality.
We need to cultivate this sense of wonder as we think about the meaning of scientific and technological advances. To be sure, not every "discovery" is something we ought to celebrate. Ancient errors and distortions regularly reappear in the disguise of "the new." But we will be best equipped to discern the genuine from the counterfeit if we are accustomed—not to a mood of fundamental worry—but to an experience of wonder that is grounded in a biblical perspective on reality.
(Image: taken by a friend at the Georgia Aquarium)