Humans have always been a curious species. For millennia, we have asked the most difficult questions such as “where did life come from?” We have often also hypothesized an answer – “the gods made us”, or “God made us”, or “we evolved from some sort of organic slush”. Whatever the answer may be today, it remains that we go by faith; even science goes by faith. Science has not been able to generate life from inanimate chemicals, even though scientists have the resources, the brains and the technology that billions of years of chance and natural selection did not have. Our beginning remains shrouded in mystery.
The movie Prometheus is out to explore precisely this question. The explorers of the Prometheus spaceship follow a mysterious trail: space “engineers” have visited our planet on a number of occasions and have left a map for us to find them. The explorers go on a hunch; they believe that these engineers have engineered (or created) life on earth. When they meet, what will they say to them? “Thanks guys, for engineering us. By the way, why did you do it? And where did you come from?” They are haunted by the mystery behind it all; it will not let them be. They must explore it; they must quench their thirst.
And if they find the engineers (they do, by the way), will this be conclusive evidence that it was not God who created life on earth? One of the scientists on the expedition seems to think so. But the main character, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw who is a believing Christian, cleverly replies: “but who engineered them?” The mystery continues. They realize soon enough that the planet that they have discovered is only a satellite planet on which the “engineers” developed and held very dangerous bio-warfare. In fact, it was so dangerous that it wiped out all but one of the engineers living on that planet.
Where is the planet of origin for the engineers, then? Once they make contact with the sole engineer and engage him in conversation, they learn that the engineers are from a place that we would understand as “Paradise”; the mystery thickens. Dr. Shaw must go to this place and meet them. Driven by this mystery, she must ask the question: “why?”
Prometheus acts as the prequel to director Ridley Scott’s 1979 movie Alien, and I believe that one of the reasons that many follow the Prometheus/Alien saga is because it is full of mystery. Indeed, that which tries to give an answer to our beginning is very mysterious. There is something in us that is naturally drawn to mystery; we want to know the truth to such an extent that it greatly bothers us to not know. We need to seek it out or it will drive us mad! Furthermore, we move forward in our personal and societal development thanks to mystery. The unknown draws us to itself; we seek out the causes of mysterious things. As we discover more truth through this seeking, we advance in knowledge. In other words, mystery is necessary. But what happens when we remove it from our lives?
Here is an example. The early Eastern Church Fathers spoke of the many mysteries of the Divine Liturgy, that is, the Mass. There are many signs – actions, objects, words – in the liturgy that draw us deeper into the mystery of God and the heavenly liturgy. As such, the liturgy is essentially a great mysterious Theo-drama – the Divine Liturgy as a participation in the heavenly liturgy is by its very nature mysterious because we participate in something that is of heavenly nature. Many have remarked in recent years that much of this mystery has been lost in our liturgies; we have rather adopted a mundane and dull counterpart that has been drained of much of its previous mystery. Yet if we are so attracted to mystery – the mystery of God being the deepest of all mysteries – our liturgies will not survive if we continue to remove it. If God is indeed the greatest of mysteries, then it is through mystery that people might encounter him. Dare we take away the opportunities for this encounter?