On March 14th, many were shocked to learn of the passing of Stephen Hawking. There is an initial shock in that Hawking was able to survive for so long after being diagnosed with Loy Gehrig’s disease at a very young age (21 years old). At the time, the life expectancy was very low, but Hawking’s diagnosis came at a time in which knowledge about the disease was increasing, treatment to the disease was adapting, and life expectancy was being increased. This, combined with the slow onset form that intruded Hawking’s life made people even more shocked to read of his passing because after having lived with it so long, it can be easy to forget that mortality exists for everyone.
There is no doubt that Hawking was a thinker. He is often compared to Albert Einstein, a point that is reiterated in Hawking’s death which comes on the same day as Einstein’s birthday, of course separated by 139 years. This comparison is elevated by the fact that much of Hawking’s work was based upon relativity, a theory developed by Einstein. His theories are elevated to supreme status within the world of science, thus elevating his own status as well. The result is a secular culture in intense mourning over the loss of a well-known scientist.
However, the secular world is not (or should not be) the only group mourning over Hawking’s death. Many will remember him more for his antagonism towards Christianity that came in his later years. While that point may frustrate many, it is for that very reason that Christians should be mourning. Hawking has said, “There is a fundamental difference between religion which is based on authority, (and) science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.” Such a statement expresses a dichotomy between two entities in which no dichotomy exists. Instead, apart from God, science cannot exist and to see them as two opposing forces is to willfully deny the conclusions of both a rightly-interpreted Bible and a rightly-interpreted science.
With a lack of faith in God comes a lack of belief in the existence of heaven as expressed when he says, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” If there is no heaven, then any work that Hawking engaged in during his life had no purpose. To take away any notion of heaven is to take away the meaning of life. At this point, we have yet to even discuss a lack of belief in Christ, which makes the situation even direr and leaves the purpose of life unprovoked.
Hawking thus died denying the very truth that he sought. For this, Christians mourn because we see once again a life that could have had much meaning be derailed by the pursuit of a false God (and one that doesn’t exist apart from knowing the true God). We mourn more because there is a soul that now lives eternally separated from God and that should bring us great sadness. It is, therefore, a reminder of the Great Commission that lies before us and calls us to be more forthright in our gospel proclamation.
Photo “Stephen Hawking” courtesy of user Rogelio A. Galaviz C. and Flickr.