The Bible and Society

How God’s Word is True

The Voice Heard Round the Earth (and the Moon)

Posted by Mats on 26/12/2008

The Voice Heard Round the Earth (and the Moon)
In a year wracked by violence, America’s astronauts sent a biblical message of peace.

By John S. Gardner

Nineteen sixty-eight was one of the most tumultuous years in American, even in world, history. By Christmas Eve, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy lay dead from assassins’ bullets; King’s murder had provoked bitter riots. The Democratic Convention in Chicago was marred by protests in the streets. Over 14,000 Americans died in Vietnam that year, as the Tet Offensive turned the country increasingly against the war. A demonstration in Mexico City ended with hundreds of deaths just before the Olympics there opened. Students rioted in Paris, at Columbia University, and elsewhere. The “Prague Spring” of liberalization was crushed by Soviet tanks.

In this distinctly un-cheery season, a voice of hope spoke from, quite literally, the far side of the Moon. Apollo 8, only the second manned Apollo craft to go into space after the tragedy of the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, had launched from Florida on December 21, 1968. Its crew of William Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman became the first humans ever to enter the orbit of another heavenly body and the first to see the “dark side” of the Moon. They saw, for the first time, Earthrise as they completed Moon orbits and emerged above the near side pointed towards Earth. Somewhere Copernicus was smiling as humans finally saw planets orbiting around the Sun, just as the Moon revolves around the Earth. Many have suggested that Apollo 8’s famous picture of Earth floating in space gave new impetus to the nascent environmental movement.

As the astronauts flew above the lunar surface on their scientific mission, they gave a live Christmas Eve broadcast to the people of Earth, showing pictures of the Earth and Moon. Then, to conclude the broadcast, Anders said: “We are now approaching lunar sunrise and, for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.” He began reading from the first chapter of Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Lovell and Borman continued with the passage until Borman reached verse 10:

And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

Borman then ended with this: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas — and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

Over the years, the message that Apollo 8 sent back has become sadly diluted. As the astronomer and author Carl Sagan said of space pictures, “There is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves,” a view not terribly far from that of the Soviet propaganda poster showing a cosmonaut in space with the slogan “There is no God.” In fairness to this perspective, one of the Apollo 8 astronauts (Anders) later abandoned his religious views.

But the message the Apollo 8 crew gave that Christmas Eve offers a very different perspective: We are not alone, but rather all together in something far bigger than each of us, or even all of us — and everything in creation, including our “good Earth,” is connected to our Creator. In the face of seeming hopelessness — indeed, as humans contemplated for the first time the place of a very small planet in an enormous black void — the reading from Genesis 1 was a cheering reminder of the ultimate reality that lies behind the startling picture. Irrespective of whether there is extraterrestrial life, the message of Apollo 8 stands for the conviction that ultimately, we are not alone, for God is with us. The message is, and remains, universal. Yet for Christians, “God with us” is Immanuel, whose birth we celebrate this week.

There could not have been a better conclusion to a sad year in history, nor a better message for the inhabitants of Earth to contemplate in that or any year.

John S. Gardner is a senior director of the White House Writers Group, Washington.

National Review Online –
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