For the Beauty of the Earth

On December 24, 1968, three astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders, orbited the moon for the first time.  Before the mission, there had been considerable discussion of what to say when this historic moment came.  NASA left it up to the astronauts, but Borman later said, “We all tried to come up with something, and it all ended up seeming trite to us.”  They consulted with others, but everyone felt inadequate to find appropriate words.  Finally, the wife of a colleague said, “Why don’t you just go back to the beginning?”  So here is what all three astronauts shared with their distant fellow-earthlings on Christmas Eve:

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:

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.  And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.  And the evening and the morning were the first day.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.  And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament:  and it was so.  And God called the firmament Heaven.  And the evening and the morning were the second day.  And God said, Let the waters under the heaven 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.

And from the crew of Apollo 8 we close with goodnight, good luck, a merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.

I find it interesting that some of the most brilliant scientific minds and swashbuckling test pilots (as most early astronauts were) felt completely inadequate to describe the view of the earth from the moon:  a uniquely habitable planet cocooned within a protective atmosphere bathed with swirling clouds which hold the water of life; land masses bordered and defined by vast blue oceans.  A world so small, so far away (no men had ever been this distant from fellow humans before) that, even from earth orbit, they could not see the billions of individuals who inhabited it.  A world even God declared to be “good” when He had put His finishing touches on it. 

Make no mistake:  only God has the words to adequately describe what He made and how He made it.  And those astronauts understood it from a unique perspective that no others before them had ever seen.

The following summer, July 1969, three other astronauts – Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins – returned to the moon, only this time two of them landed on it.  It was surreal to think of humans actually walking on the surface of another heavenly body, the “lesser light to rule the night.” 

Michael Collins, who drew the short straw and didn’t get to set foot on the moon, said in a recent interview:  “The moon was nothing compared to my view of home planet.  I’d look out the window and there it would be, a tiny little thing.  You could obscure it with your thumb.  But every time you put it away somewhere it would pop out.  It wanted you to look at it; it wanted to be seen.  It was gorgeous.  It was tiny, shiny, the blue of the oceans, the white of the clouds.  Those streaks of rust color we call continents – it just glowed.  Having gone out 240,000 miles and seen it, it gave me a much greater sense of fragility …”.

Note how Collins instinctively uses anthropomorphism to describe the earth:  “It (read, God) wanted you to look at it.”  No matter our vantage point – from the top of Everest to the bottom of the Grand Canyon; from the Redwood forests of the west to the Sahara in Africa; from lightning storms to tornadoes to rivers to rock formations to microscopic life to blue whales; from here on the planet surface to lunar orbit – God wants us to look at His creation and stand in awe of it!  Why?  Because, curse it or deny it or periodically take it for granted, the earth is God’s creation and it speaks to the mind and heart of His existence.  It is God’s inescapable, constant reminder that Someone far bigger than we can imagine exists, and He has caused everything else to exist, and our purpose is to honor and serve Him.

Bill Anders of Apollo 8 later said, “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.  Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge.  There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.  Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world ...” (Ps 19:1-4).

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20).

The humanist can bluster; the pompous atheist can rage; the stuffy philosopher can speculate; the naturalist can deny man’s eternal soul, but every person at some point will have a moment of clarity – perhaps facing his death, or viewing the birth of her child, or contemplating the cosmos – when he knows without a shadow of a doubt there is a God. 

On the reading of Genesis Frank Borman said:  “I think we were trying to convey the fact that it wasn’t just all happenstance, that there was a power behind the world and behind life that gave it meaning.”