Look up at the stars and not down at your feet

Professor Stephen Hawking is a remarkable man and has won the admiration of millions of people around the world. He is a brilliant theoretical physicist and cosmologist and has demonstrated amazing courage and determination in the way he has coped with motor neurone disease for nearly 50 years. This weekend he celebrated his 70th birthday and was due to deliver a lecture at Cambridge to a distinguished invited audience. Unfortunately he was not well enough to be there but had pre-recorded his speech, as he always does.

The lecture was personal and moving as he described how he had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21 and had been told he had only a few years to live. At first he became depressed because he seemed to be getting worse quite rapidly and there didn’t seem any point in completing his PhD. However, when it became clear that his condition was developing more slowly, and also he was engaged to Jane, who became his first wife, his spirits were lifted. Describing this change he said, “After my expectations had been reduced to zero, every new day became a bonus and I began to appreciate everything I did have.“

As he concluded his lecture Professor Hawking said, “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious, and, however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.” His words reminded me of Johann Kepler, the great 17th century German mathematician and astronomer, who proved scientifically that Copernicus was right when he said the sun, not the earth, was the centre of our planetary system. As he studied the universe Kepler said he felt he was “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”

It is good for us all to look up at the stars and to be moved with awe at the creative wisdom and power of God. We do not have to be eminent scientists to appreciate this. All over the world people of every culture and language can see God’s wonderful visual aid, know that he is there, and worship him. Three thousand years ago King David wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”