Last weekend we slipped into one of the premier showings of First Man, the movie portraying Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. The movie takes us on board the X-15, Gemini and Apollo. We feel that we are there, experiencing the sheer terror of it all, pushing the limits of technology to land a man on the moon. The movie is gripping, as is the history.
My wife and I married on December 21, 1968, the day Apollo 8 launched to carry the first men to orbit the moon. They reached the moon 3 days later. On Christmas Eve, just before they disappeared to the other side of the moon and lost radio contact with the earth, Frank Borman and his crew read the Genesis account of creation. (Genesis 1:1-10). In the distance the earth appeared as a fragile planet on the moon’s horizon.
Six and ½ months later we sat in front of our black and white TV and watched Neil Armstrong leap from the last rung of the lunar lander’s ladder to take “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
James Irwin served as the commander and pilot for the lunar lander on Apollo 15. He became the 8th astronaut to step foot on the moon. After his return Irwin founded the High Flight Foundation as a non-denominational evangelical organization based in Colorado Springs. He said, “Some people make light of it and ask how can a technical person, an astronaut, believe in the Bible. I guess I also was a skeptic in my early days, but I have come to believe what the Bible says as being true.”
The last man to walk on the moon was Gene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972. Cernan described his experience. “I felt the world was just too beautiful to have happened by accident. There has to be something bigger than you and bigger than me. … There has to be a Creator of the universe who stands above the religions that we ourselves create to govern ourselves.”
We don’t know much about Neil Armstrong’s faith. Like every other aspect of his life, as portrayed in the movie, he was closely guarded. But Thomas Friedman includes an account about Neil Armstrong’s visit to Jerusalem that is telling, if true. According to Friedman, when Armstrong visited the Temple in Jerusalem he asked his guide if these were the very steps where Jesus stepped. When his guide confirmed they were, Armstrong reportedly said, “I have to tell you, I am more excited stepping on these steps than I was stepping on the moon.”
If Friedman’s account in his book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, is true, Armstrong’s words reflect the greater miracle: not that man stepped foot on the moon, but that God stepped foot on earth in the person of His Son. As John wrote, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw His glory, glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14).