The Mars One organization is moving forward on their plans to send four astronauts at a time on a one-way trip to Mars, beginning in 2024. The intention is for these explorers to do a real-time experiment in how humans might survive on other planets by building a permanent human settlement on Mars. Their tasks would include maintaining their facility, researching and growing their own food.
Comedy Central’s Larry Wilmore recently discussed this topic on The Nightly Show. One of his panelists was a candidate for the mission, Sonia Van Meter. Wilmore asked her the same question repeatedly: why would you sign up for certain death? Perhaps Van Meter’s best response was “all death is certain.” And certainly, folks have died doing things far less remarkable than trying to colonize a new planet.
Wilmore’s mix of incredulousness and fascination is also reflected in a recent episode of Castle, in which a potential astronaut is murdered during a simulation of a mission. The main characters of the show are similarly enamored with the idea of a one-way trip to Mars and skeptical of people who would make such a choice.
We are dying so we might otherwise live.
As we read Mark 8 in church recently, I realized that Christianity leads people to a similar response. Jesus tells His disciples that anyone who will follow Him must take up their cross, and die to themselves. As my pastor pointed out, a cross at that time was more of a symbol of death than of suffering. Taking up your cross meant dying – even more explicitly and directly than a one-way ticket to a dangerous planet.
But, like Mars explorers, Christians aren’t only dying to their present life. We are dying so we might otherwise live. As Van Meter put it, “We aren’t going there to die, we are going there to live.” I think we might say the same about Christianity. Certainly, there are risks and there are sacrifices, but there are also great rewards. Or, as Christ says, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
I’m not totally convinced the risks of a Mars mission are worth the benefits, but I have a greater respect for the people making the attempt now that I see this commonality with the way of the cross. Beliefs cause people to make choices that might look crazy to somebody else. For me, that belief is grounded in the person of Jesus, who took risks too, and who took risks for me before I was even born. Committing to something is always life-and-death, in some way. It’s as much about the life you choose as anything else.