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.”

The God Who is There

On 12 April 1961, 50 years ago this week, Yuri Gagarin, the Russian cosmonaut became the first man in space. He made a 108 minute orbital flight around the earth in his Vostok 1 spacecraft. Russia won the space race to be first to put a man into space. It was a great achievement. In the following years many people have travelled in space and some have landed on the moon. Gagarin became an international celebrity, and was made Hero of the Soviet Union. Vostok 1 was his only space flight. He died in 1968 when a training jet he was piloting crashed.

After his space flight, some people claimed that Gagarin had made the comment, “I don’t see any God up here.” It seems, however, that it was the Russian President, Nikita Krushchev, who said, in promoting anti-religious propaganda, “Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there.” Just 10 years later, in September 1981, Mr Krushchev died and stood before the living God.

The wonderful message of the Bible is that God has revealed himself to all people in his Son, Jesus Christ. In John’s Gospel we read, “No-one has ever seen God, but the One and only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. “ When Jesus was here on earth, and ever since, human pride has been the greatest barrier to recognising who he really is. That was the problem for Mr Krushchev and the Russian state, they were so proud of their achievements that they claimed they had disproved God’s existence. In the 1st century it was the Roman and Jewish leaders who rejected Jesus precisely because of his claim to be God’s Son. In the 21st century some prominent academics proudly proclaim their atheism.

While they were at Caesarea Philippi Peter, who was one of his disciples, confessed to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you Simon, son of John, this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” On another occasion Jesus prayed, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and have revealed them to little children.” Only a few people have had the opportunity to go into space, but here on earth we can all humbly recognise and know the living God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ.

Your sins shall be white as snow

The snow has come early this year. Just a few flakes at first, but within a few hours the landscape was clothed in a beautiful white blanket, pure and clean. Each of the trillions of snowflakes is unique, carrying the Creator’s signature. As darkness came and the temperatures fell, roads became difficult for those returning from work. Cars were abandoned as people began the long walk home.

The snow reminds us of one of God’s great promises to his people, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” God made this promise to a people who had rebelled against him. They were worshipping other gods, living immoral lives and being dishonest. They were seeking happiness in material things. They knew God’s law, but they wilfully and deliberately went their own way. It was not only individual people who did this, but as a nation they had turned away from the living God. So God spoke to them through his prophet Isaiah and called them to account. He did not immediately bring on them the judgement their sins deserve, but held out the promise of forgiveness and cleansing.

There are real parallels between those people and the way we are living today. Encouraged by politicians and unchallenged by weak church leaders our nation has turned from God. His moral law has been rejected as we have together decided to fulfil the desires of our own hearts. Inevitably we are reaping the painful consequences both personally and nationally.

There are times, however, when we face the reality of how we are living. Like a person who wakes after a night on the town and looks in the mirror, we don’t like what we see. We don’t like what we have become. In the light of who God is we see the tawdry life we are living and the deep stains our sins have left on our God-given conscience. We wish we could go back and change the things we have done, but it is impossible.

God’s solution is deep and real forgiveness. His Son, Jesus, died on the Cross to pay the price of our sin and rebellion. As we humbly confess our sins, and receive him as our Saviour, the scarlet stains of our sins are cleansed and we become as white and pure in God’s sight as the driven snow.