Steven Hawking, the renowned physicist and author, died last week at the age of 76. There is nothing remarkable about that news; every human being dies. That he died at the age of 76 becomes remarkable considering doctors diagnosed him with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 21 while a student at Oxford. At the time doctors gave him two years to live. 55 years later he entered eternity, though as an atheist he would have rejected the idea of heaven, hell, or any afterlife.
“In 2011, narrating the first episode of the American television series Curiosity on the Discovery Channel, Hawking declared: We are each free to believe what we want and it is my view that the simplest explanation is there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realisation. There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that, I am extremely grateful.”
In a famous interview three years later he said: "Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by 'we would know the mind of God' is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn't. I'm an atheist."
The picture of a weak, frail, mute, and wheelchair bound man remains the image of him in most people’s minds. Hawking’s atheism gives us Christians more sorrow in his death than his physical limitations in life. There is no other appropriate Christian response to Stephen Hawking’s death.
Understandably, the world responded with mournful sentiments, yet not all expressions of sorrow received the same response from some of the masses. For example, Wonder Woman Gal Godot tweeted, “Rest in peace Dr. Hawking. Now you’re free of any physical constraints. Your brilliance and wisdom will be cherished forever.”
Seems like a nice thing to say, but to many it was not.
Some found Ms. Godot’s lamentation troubling. To them only “ableists” would foster the idea that death without disability is superior to life with disability. One follower responded, “Stop making death seem like a positive alternative to being disabled!! It’s that attitude more than anything that makes disabled ppl’s lives difficult.”
As Christians we reject any mistreatment of another human being as sinful. Every ethnicity, both genders, and each human being bears the image of God. As an image bearer, we regard all other image bearers worthy of honor bestowed on them by our creator. Further, we praise God for the grace that enables the disabled to overcome the limitations we observe and they experience. Hawking, Beethoven, Fanny Crosby and many more massively contributed to the world despite physical challenges.
Nevertheless, sin and the subsequent curse has marred our bodies. The healing miracles of Jesus were not only immediate relief to the crippled, paralyzed, blind, deaf, mute, and diseased. The healing miracles gave a hazy look into what will be fully known when we are with the Lord. Jesus said so when he forgave the sin of the crippled man brought by his friends and dropped down through the roof (Luke 5:32ff). It was not necessary for Jesus to heal the physically broken to grant eternal forgiveness of sin. That he did so was prophetic, benevolent, and instructive - no more brokenness of any kind in eternity for those who are with Jesus.
At the resurrection our Lord will recover what was lost at the fall. Every human soul suffers from the impact of sin. Every human body suffers from the impact of sin. Some human bodies show the impact of sin less opaquely than others. Humanity longs for the day when there is no more disability, “We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing” (2 Cor. 5:2).
As Christians we do not think death without disability is better than life with disability. We think eternal life without sin and its consequences is better than the most abled life here on earth.
Christians advocate anything and everything ethical that improves the quality of life for all impacted in their bodies by the fall. LVADs for heart patients, prosthesis for the injured, glasses for the visually impaired, cochlear implants for any who have lost hearing, ACL reconstruction for the damaged, and on and on the list goes. Where modern science can relieve suffering or inability, Christians cheer the cause. Where science cannot relieve suffering or inability, Christians look to the life to come as far better than the life here.
Hawking’s death and the response of many illustrate again the canyon that exists between the Christian worldview and the worldview of unregenerate humanity. Christians must constantly discern the wisdom of this age against the teachings of Jesus and the rest of the Bible. Christian parents must passionately counter the misinformation streaming into their children’s minds from teachers, textbooks, and media of every kind.
The subject of life and death is part of a much bigger discussion of how Christians think. I’ll pick up the subject again next week.
As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.