Apollo 11 and reigniting the hope of heavenJuly 16, 2019
Fifty years ago: is that a long time or not a long a time ago? The answer depends on your perspective. Do you remember where you were the night we landed on the moon? If so, you can likely retell it with wonder and joy. If not, were you likely not yet born and you’ve been raised more on Star Wars than Norman Mailer. Never heard of Norman Mailer? That says a lot about your worldview. Mailer’s 1969-79 work, “Of a Fire on the Moon” tells the Apollo 11 story in a way worth revisiting as it captures the larger than life spirit of the the Apollo adventure. (It’s also an example of long-form series journalism that no longer exists in print media.)
As I talk with people about the moon landing 50 years ago, I’ve been surprised how new the Apollo 11 (and Apollo 8) stories are for many people. Even those who are of an age to remember seem to know little about the faith which propelled the exploration of space in the first place. There’s no lack of coverage of the anniversary of the historic even: National Geographic dedicated its July issue to “The Moon and Beyond.” There’s a feature film, “Apollo 11” and a documentary, “Apollo: Missions to the Moon,” and countless interviews and look backs from every media outlet. But even with all that, there’s something missing.
I was asked by a teenager, “why haven’t we ever gone back?” which led to the question, “why did we ever go in the first place?”
Why look to the heavens? Why wonder what’s beyond the planet upon which we live? Why dream such impossible dreams that defy the very laws of physics? And, after having achieved such a giant leap for mankind, why abandon the Moon for fifty years?
What’s missing are a few practical realities – things like launch systems with reusable rockets and cheaper infrastructure – but more important is in the intangible need: public enthusiasm for the exploration of space.
What we need is some really good science fiction – like C.S. Lewis and Norman Mailer used to write. We need someone to draw the mental pictures for us to imagine together anew the fantastically impossible beyond. What’s over the edge? What’s beyond what we can now see? And we need a positive vision that that makes us want to know the truth more than we fear the possibility of a hostile universe. For this we need Christians writing good science fiction.
There’s plenty of science fiction out there today but it is almost exclusively dark and dystopian. So, by good science fiction I mean science fiction that draws us to the edge and makes us want to leap. Stories that are transcendent, characters who are valiant but real so we can relate and future filled with beauty and hope. What we need is something that rings true – something older than magic and more truer than science. We need stories that are ancient future truth and who better to tell those stories than one who know the Creator of the heavens and the earth?
According to Genesis 1:14-19 it was on the fourth day of Creation that “God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.”
The Psalmist and the prophets and Job make frequent reference to God’s creation of and sovereignty over the moon and the stars and the planets in their courses above. Might there be fodder there for aspiring authors to take us to places beyond the horizon of the Earth to that which now only light can reach?
I did an informal survey asking “why” we should want to explore space and the most frequent response I received was “because its inspiring.” Inspiring? What does that mean? When I asked, the words given were “awe,” “wonder,” “beautiful,” “peaceful,” and the most frequent referent was that somehow space helps us feel “closer to God.” That’s interesting to consider. Is God more proximate if we are 500 miles above the earth? Of course not. But it is the perspective on the size of the Earth from outer space that makes us feel more who we are – desperately small in relation to the size of the universe in which we live.
This week, as attention turns to the moon and the Apollo 11 landing, you will hear great stories of the faith. Behind all that was a people who were inspired to reach – and explore – the heaven because they believed in that which is beyond all that is. How might we reignite the hope of heaven today?