Asking the big questions

In December 2015, Major Tim Peake became the first British European Space Agency astronaut to visit the International Space Station. In a recent interview, he said that one of the things he misses most is seeing his home planet from space. He said, “I might see a picture of a spacecraft and suddenly it takes me right back to being on board the space station and looking out at the universe. You do have to kind of pinch yourself and say, ‘Yes, I was up there, looking back at Earth’. It’s mesmerizing; it’s constantly changing, every time you look out of the window you see a different part of the world. You might be at a night part of the orbit looking at thunderstorms or the aurora; you might be in a day time looking at volcanoes erupting and glaciers and lakes, so it’s just stunning both by day and by night.”

Tim has started a new role as an official UK Scout Association ambassador. He said, “As a cub scout I remember going out on those early night hikes and first sleepovers in the outdoors. Sleeping under the stars and looking up is when the big questions come out: What’s out there? How did life begin? Where is it all going?” These are the big questions for us all.

Johannes Kepler was an eminent scientist and a Christian. He developed a love for astronomy at an early age. In 1577, when he was six, he observed the Great Comet and in 1580 the Lunar Eclipse. Kepler is best known for discovering the three mathematical laws of planetary motion. He also discovered the elliptical patterns in which the planets travel around the sun. As he studied the universe Kepler said, “O God, I am thinking your thoughts after you.”

The heavens bear eloquent testimony to God. He created all things, guides history, and knows every one of us intimately. In Psalm 8 the psalmist says, “O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! Your glory is higher than the heavens. When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers – the moon and the stars you set in place – what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honour. You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority.”

God is not far from any one of us

In 1977 NASA launched the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft. They are the longest operating spacecraft in history and now, travelling at 10 miles per second, are both billions of miles from earth. They have passed by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and sent photographs back. In 1990 Voyager 1 took a photograph of earth, from a distance of 3.7 billion miles, which is called the Pale Blue Dot. Each Voyager has only 68 kilobytes of computer memory. The smallest iPod is 100,000 times more powerful. They are still sending signals back to earth, which take 16 hours to arrive. It is anticipated that soon they will leave our solar system and enter interstellar space. One of the men who worked very hard on planning the project, and who is now 76 years old, said, “We’re anxious to get outside and find what’s out there.”

The Voyager missions make it clear just how big the universe is and how small the earth is. Our planet is unique in the billions of miles the Voyager spacecraft have explored. Earth is very special with its abundance of water and teeming life. We human beings are also unique. In half a human life time of travel the Voyager spacecraft have found no evidence of other living beings. As they enter into the unknown darkness of interstellar space it seems unlikely they will find any there either.

The most important thing for us all is not so much to find out what’s out there, but to know who is out there. The Bible tells us about the great Creator God. In the opening verse of the Bible we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The account of creation which follows tells how God created the earth with all its beauty and how he created men and women to experience his love and to enjoy fellowship with him.

God has also sent his Son, Jesus, to this earth to live our life and to die so that we might be forgiven and know God. Finding God does not depend on messages from ancient spacecraft billions of miles away in space. In Jesus God has drawn near to us and shown us what he is like. He is not far from any one of us. The youngest child and the frailest adult can talk to him and he hears, for in him we live and move and have our being.