A Hope That’s Out of this World

Spending 55 years debilitated by a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the illness known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, likely helped shape the late Stephen Hawking's view of God and the afterlife.

The noted physicist, called "legendary" in one media account and "Britain's most eminent scientist" by that country's Guardian newspaper, died in the early morning hours of March 14. His bestselling book, A Brief History of Time, endeavored to explain the origins of the universe apart from the biblical account of creation. It has sold more than ten million copies since its publication in 1998.

"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail," Hawking told the Guardian in 2011. He added, "There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

Hawking was among the best-educated of his generation, studying at both Oxford and Cambridge universities—becoming, in 1979, the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton, a Christian.

Despite being able to communicate only by using his one working finger to tap out messages a computer synthesizer would then read for him, Hawking was able to reach vast audiences in lectures, interviews, and appearances on popular television programs in Britain and America.

Part of his influence and success was due to his undeniable brilliance in his field. Hawking made valuable discoveries about physics, challenged long-established theories, and was a role model for a generation of science students at the university level. His perseverance in the face of a crippling disease, living decades beyond the "two or three years" predicted when he was diagnosed at age 22, inspired millions struggling with disabilities or difficult circumstances in their own lives.

"I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first," he said. That optimism is part of the paradox Hawking left us. Here was a man who, especially at the end of his life, disclaimed any possibility of God's involvement in the world. Hawking credited the "laws of physics," rather than the Creator of those laws, as the reason for our world’s existence.

At the same time, he offered an upbeat message for those in difficult circumstances: "However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. Where there's life, there's hope.”

But hope in what? For what? And why?

If Stephen Hawking's hope was in scientific achievement and understanding, then in a sense he would be correct in saying the brain just stops at death. The writer of Ecclesiastes put it this way: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going" (9:10). In terms of our earthly life and accomplishments, death does, indeed, draw a line under them.

But humanity did not arrive in this world through chance, or even under the laws of physics. We were created by a God who loved humans so much that He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, to redeem us from the curse of sin (John 3:16). Those who accept Jesus and His sacrifice as the atonement for their sins receive everlasting life.

Yes, there is something to hope for. Click here for a Bible study in which Pastor Doug shares the story behind the hope that exists for every Christian. You could say it's a hope that's out of this world!

Written by Mark A. Kellner.

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