Astronauts Who Found God

Astronaut John Glenn's return to outer space 36 years after his awe-inspiring orbit around the earth is a reminder of the kind of heroism that makes space exploration possible. What author Tom Wolfe called the "right stuff." What you may not know, however, is that for many of the early astronaut heroes, the "right stuff" included deep religious faith. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are best known as the first astronauts to land on the moon and take that "giant leap for mankind." But you probably don't know that before they emerged from the spaceship, Aldrin pulled out a Bible, a silver chalice, and sacramental bread and wine. There on the moon, his first act was to celebrate communion. Frank Borman was commander of the first space crew to travel beyond the Earth's orbit. Looking down on the earth from 250,000 miles away, Borman radioed back a message, quoting Genesis 1: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." As he later explained, "I had an enormous feeling that there had to be a power greater than any of us—that there was a God, that there was indeed a beginning." The late James Irwin, who walked on the moon in 1971, later became an evangelical minister. He often described the lunar mission as a revelation. In his words, "I felt the power of God as I'd never felt it before." Charles Duke, who followed Irwin to the moon, later became active in missionary work. As he explained, "I make speeches about walking on the moon and walking with the Son." Guy Gardner is a veteran astronaut who speaks in churches on the reality of God. What is it about being in space that seems to spark our innate religious sense? Two centuries ago the philosopher Immanuel Kant said there are two things that "fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me." Reflections about these things, Kant wrote, lead our minds to contemplate God Himself—the moral law revealing His goodness, the heavens revealing His power. As the psalmist put it: "The heavens declare the glory of God." Or as John Glenn put it just a few days ago as he observed the heavens and earth from the windows of Discovery: "To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith." Many of us have thought that science is antagonistic to faith. Yet most of the great figures who shaped the scientific enterprise from the beginning have been devout believers—people like Blaise Pascal, who invented the first calculator; Isaac Newton, who discovered the law of gravity; and James Maxwell, who formulated the laws of electromagnetism. All were Christians who felt that the study of nature did not challenge their faith but rather strengthened it. And that's exactly what space exploration can do in the lives who take part in it. If you're watching the Discovery mission with unsaved friends, explain to them how over the decades space travel has provided an unexpected dividend. Astronauts who powerfully encountered the God who created the heavens and the earth.


Chuck Colson


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