Warning: Ad Astra Spoiler Ahead
James Gray’s movie Ad Astra is a soulful take on space exploration. Ad Astra is Latin for “to the stars”. The film follows Roy McBride’s pursuit for his estranged father, Clifford McBride. Clifford is a famous astronaut who spent his life searching for life. That search cut him off from his wife, son, and eventually, his crew. In a sad irony, his “mission” for life cut him off from life. (SPOILER!) After a fight with his son, the elder McBridge departs from the station he called home and enters Neptune’s orbit. The once great cosmonaut becomes a satellite of a dead planet.
McBride’s flaws aside, his desperate search for cosmic company resonates with me. I too, want to know that I am not alone. I want to be reassured that somewhere out there someone is watching with a friendly eye. I doubt I’m alone. We all look at the world around us and long to find a signal of reason. The conflicting pictures of violence and beauty drive us to seek, in a word, reconciliation. We want a vision that reconciles us to the harsh facts of the world while finding firm footing for our ideals and hopes. Yet for many of us moderns, the prospects of this search looks bleak. Camus said that man “feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.” That silence is what McBride must have felt when he saw Neptune for the last time.
The New Testament attests to the human need for reconciliation. The New Testament paints a vivid picture of a place of justice and peace, where the wrongs are righted and where there’s a place for everyone at the table. That place is the kingdom of God. But in order to participate in the kingdom, we must be “born from above” (John 3:3), and Jesus is the only one truly “born from above” (v. 31). The space between us is the reason to go ad astra. But the gulf is too wide. Anti-matter engines can only take us so far. What spiritual technology do we have to cross the infinite?
The Christian message is that since we could not cross the chasm, God did. As we were not born from above, God himself entered Earth’s atmosphere. Like Clifford, God sent his son (John 3:16) on a ‘mission’. Unlike Clifford, Christ’s mission led him into humanity. His was a mission to seek, find, and save. “Since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared the same humanity…” (Heb. 2:14-15). Athanasius sums up the significance of the incarnation in these words: “He became what we are so that we can become even what he is.” In short, he became “born from below”.
The gospels illustrate in various unique ways how Jesus participates in our condition. An important aspect of this participation is through Christ’s recapitulation of Israel, a nation God chose to represent the human race. In Matthew’s account, Jesus shares our condition by re-tracing Israel’s steps. As Israel did before him, Jesus goes to Egypt. He is baptized, reenacting Israel crossing the Red Sea. He wanders in the wilderness for forty days, recapitulating Israel’s forty years in the desert. While sharing in their exile and suffering, Jesus remains faithful to his mission. In all of this, he is sharing in, summing up, and fulfilling Israel’s story. In Matthew 5, Jesus then goes up to the mountainside, just as Moses did before him. You may recall that the people were too afraid to go up with Moses. But Jesus brings them with him. He sits with them and eats with them. And he tells them what it is like to be in the kingdom. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall see God.”
Jesus is God in the flesh, the God-with-us. He catches us up into his story. Because of everything God has done in the Christ, we no longer have to painfully ask, “Who will go up into heaven?” (Rom. 10:6), because the ruler of heaven has come down. This is good news for us. This is good news to take with us in our loneliness, our grief, our pain, to know the God who has come down and has felt the cold wind. And this is good news we take to other human sojourners. As Christ’s diplomats in this war-torn galaxy, we transmit this hopeful message across the airwaves: yes, there is life out there, and his name is King Jesus.