Monthly Archives: September 2007

Weekly Devotional for September 27, 2007

You still have a week to make your preparations for the big celebration. I’m sure that you have next Thursday, October 4, circled in red on all your calendars. The date is of epochal importance, especially in Huntsville, Alabama. 50 years ago, October 4, 1957, Sputnik, the world’s first man-made satellite, was launched. The world, the cliché` goes, has never been the same.
A special section in the New York Times offered various perspectives on the achievement 50 years ago that ignited the space race. It fanned the embers of rocket science and high-tech development that had begun to gather in Huntsville into the blaze of excellence and expeditionary spirit that persists in the city to this day. Wernher von Braun and his primary team were settled into their work on Redstone Arsenal. News of the Soviet’s successful launch of Sputnik frustrated von Braun, whose hopes to launch a satellite aboard the Jupiter C rocket his team was testing had been dashed by the Pentagon.
Sputnik was only 23 inches in diameter, a small sphere of highly polished aluminum – the better to reflect sunlight and be visible from Earth. Two radio transmitters broadcast a beeping signal over wispy antennae. The frequencies were made public so that ham radio operators and scientists around the world could confirm the stunning feat. Banner headlines in newspapers across the globe screamed the Soviet scientific triumph. Looking back, the New York Times commented, ” The interrogatory of invention used to be ‘What hath God wrought?’ Now it was ‘What are the Russians capable of next?’” (New York Times, September 25, 2007) The U.S. would not launch a satellite successfully until Explorer 1, at the end of January, 1958. By then, the Soviets had already sent the dog, Laika, into orbit aboard Sputnik 2. American rocket scientists agreed that the Soviets won the race to launch the first satellite, might win the race to launch the first man into space, but would not beat the U.S. to the moon. Huntsville – and much of contemporary culture world-wide – has never been the same.
Sergei Khrushchev, son of the Soviet premiere, was 22 years old at the time of the launch. He recalls his father visiting a top echelon of generals and officials in the Ukraine, a trip he made with his father. Shortly before midnight, a phone call came for his father, informing him of the successful launch. The younger Khrushchev says that his father shared the news, proudly smiling at the outstanding event. The other dignitaries listened politely as he talked about rockets and what the event meant, but with little interest.
A markedly different reaction is offered by Homer Hickam, author of the memoir Rocket Boys (Made into the movie October Sky), a long-time NASA rocket scientist. He remembers tracing Sputnik across the West Virginia night sky, a dazzling point moving among the stars: ” If it had been God in his chariot that had flown over, I could not have been more impressed. It was awe-inspiring. Sputnik looked like a bright star that moved with such utter purpose that nothing could stop it; and I, in that moment, realized I wanted to be part of the movement into space.” (New York Times, September 25, 2007) I have dim recollection as a 5 year-old of watching the odd moving “star,” and perhaps listening to the beeping signal, but do not recall such awestruck response.
As the actual anniversary date approaches, most media are likely to be crammed with heralds of the significant achievement. Responses will run the gamut from the cool initial Soviet attention to gushing reveries like Hickam’s. I want to plant another couple of expressions to associate with the notable day. These faithful poetic expressions counter Hickam’s over-the-top description of the meaning of the event. They step back to ponder the Creator, into whose well-ordered space mankind hurled a tiny orb.
In a Psalm that appears to be written for worship by the community of faith, the sense of wonder inspired by the stars and the night sky repeatedly evokes thankful response. It bears witness to the love of God that pervades his every act of creation:

{1} O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
{2} O give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever.
{3} O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever;
{4} who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever;
{5} who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever;
{6} who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever;
{7} who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever;
{8} the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever;
{ 9} the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever;
(Psalm 136:1-9 NRSV)

The responsive Psalm crescendos with praise. It echoes the awe expressed in another Psalm inspired by observing God’s creation:

{1} The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
{14} Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:1, 14 NRSV)

Another faithful response to reflection on the vast greatness of God’s universe and mankind’s attempts to conquer it comes from about 10 years after Sputnik’s debut. The song was used in a Billy Graham film, and was sung by countless choirs and congregations in the 1960’s. Ponder these words as the celebration of mankind’s first satellite go on:

In the stars His handiwork I see, On the wind He speaks with majesty,
Though He ruleth over land and sea, What is that to me?
I will celebrate Nativity, For it has a place in history,
Sure, He came to set His people free, What is that to me?
Till by faith I met Him face to face, and I felt the wonder of His grace,
Then I knew that He was more than just a God who didn’t care,
That lived a way out there and
Now He walks beside me day by day, Ever watching o’er me lest I stray,
Helping me to find that narrow way, He’s Everything to me.
(Ralph Carmichael, He’s Everything to Me)

How awestruck are you by mankind’s achievements? Take a moment to find a place to absorb the deep grandeur of God’s night sky. If you can spot the space station or some other manmade space relic as a miniscule point of light crossing the sky, view it in the context of “what God hath wrought.” That is the God whose love for you endures forever, the love that is present with you every day as you faithfully follow Jesus. Celebration of that gift of grace should surpass any exhilaration over any of our Johnny-come-lately achievements.

J. Edward Culpepper, Ph.D.