Christians can learn from Stephen Hawking
We’ve all seen the Twitter headlines this past week from Christians regarding the death of Stephen Hawking: “Stephen Hawking now believes in God.”
And while this statement is certainly true, after watching the documentary Hawking, I realized that while we all wish Stephen had learned from Christians while he was alive, Christians can learn some valuable lessons about life from Stephen Hawking.
In his address at the Paralympics, Hawking said:
“The Paralympic Games is also about transforming our perception of the world. We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create. This creativity can take many forms, forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics. However difficult life may seem there is always something you can do, and succeed at. The Games provide an opportunity for athletes to excel, to stretch themselves and become outstanding in their field. So let us together celebrate excellence, friendship and respect.”
#1: Human worth and life is not defined by our physical bodies.
It’s truly amazing to see someone so debilitated by ALS make such an impact upon society and science. While we may not agree with all of Hawking’s conclusions, Stephen discovered amazing concepts in physics, the properties of black holes, and other mysteries of the universe. But outside of his discoveries, Stephen’s life pictured that the existence of the soul is not limited by the condition of the body. Just because one can’t communicate, it doesn’t mean awareness, intelligence, and life is not abundantly present. And because of technology such as the program that empowered Stephen to speak, what we give to this world does not have to be limited by how we interact with it. Though some can’t lift a suitcase, their kind words could lift burdens. Though some can’t build with their hands, they could erect solutions to the good of humanity with their minds. Though some can’t defy gravity in athletics, they could search out its meaning and source in the universe of the mind.
While our society ends pregnancies for fear the child may be too disabled to have a decent quality of life, Stephen shows us that those with even the most confining physicality can contribute, love others, explore mysteries, and enjoy life. Christians can be assured there’s plenty of life and potential even in the smallest, least physically-developed human. And though we can’t hear our unborn children, we can be confident that their life and awareness exist beyond the capabilities of their physical parts. (For information on prenatal awareness, read or listen here: Prenatal Psychology: Are we making memories in the womb?)
The universe packed within the human soul is more vast than the expanse of the stars. And this is a mere reflection of the One who lies beyond them, who created and named each one.
#2 We can live life to the full, even in the constant threat of death.
In Hawking, Stephen explained that he had lived in the immediate threat of death every day for decades. And yet others had remarked how this fact did not compel him to live in isolation or fear, but rather drove him to make the best use of his limited time. He decided to draw as much fullness and meaning out of life as he could. To not waste it.
But if he --without God-- could embrace the everyday gifts of our Creator and courageously face the suffering of disease without the hope of a greater end, then how much more should Christians live in victory over circumstances and faithfully use every breath to bring good to this world.
Of all people, we Christians should celebrate the triumph of the human spirit God has given us. To have dominion over His creation is our birthright. To live is our opportunity. And to live eternally is the gift we can receive from Him.
#3 We should be willing to invest in the potential of the disabled.
Even though Stephen had proved himself to be a genius, he was treated as a child until engineers crafted his window of communication to the world, proving his brilliance was still intact. But what about all the other disabled that do not have this technology?
Most often we look at disabled people as obligatory projects to be cared for, rather than valuable assets to be respected. Can we see the potential they offer? Could we invest in educating and empowering them so they can contribute to the world? This investment would take much more than pity and compassion on our part, but faith in the abilities of the human soul and spirit.
But don’t fall into the trap of saying Stephen’s life was worth something because of what he contributed and what he achieved. He wasn’t worth something because others decided to love him. Ultimately, Stephen was valuable because God valued him. The successes and happy moments of his life are mere testaments to his worth that was there before he became famous. Remember that God gave Stephen life and the freedom to choose how he would live it, knowing he would never acknowledge Him.
I both honor and pity Stephen. I honor him for the courage and determination to make the most of each day. And I pity him- not for his illness, but for the fact that his soul and body now could have been completely freed from its chains and that he never came to know the infinite God in the immense universe he attempted to unlock. Ironically, while he would not want his own existence to be judged by only what could be physically seen, Stephen was never able to see the vast eternal God behind the vast finite Universe.
But since we understand and know this God, can we love life as Stephen did? Will we not waste a day, knowing our time is short and we can impact eternity? Let’s live in such a way to show the world what our Creator is like, even when others can’t see Him.