Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.” (Gen 11: 1-8)

Today’s reading from Genesis, on how we build monuments to ourselves rather than face our mortality with and in God, speaks to me louder than usual this Thursday morning. Because yesterday I heard the sad news of Stephen Hawking’s death. The self-described atheist, who was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 21 and given only a few years to live at the time, persevered for over 50 years after that, having made it his life’s mission “completely” to explain the big questions of cosmology according to human reason alone. “If we discover a complete theory,” he fantasized back in 1988 in his book A Brief History of Time, “it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God.” And decades later in a 2011 interview, Hawking professed, “I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” And in another interview in 2014, as he continued to work his “computer,” he offered this clarification of his views on God: “In the past, before we understood science, it was logical to believe God created the Universe. Now, however, science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant when I said we would know God’s mind was that we would know everything that God would understand if he existed. But there are no Gods.”

There was “so much” Stephen Hawking wanted “to do” before he died, with the ultimate goal of attaining the “triumph of human reason”; of proving that no human problem or question is beyond a human solution or answer. Just like the people described above in Genesis 11, who undertook settling and building at Shinar, rather than dispersing and multiplying all over the earth as God had commanded (Gen 9: 1,7), Hawking really wanted “our way” to triumph over God’s. While I do say this morning, thank You, God, for Stephen Hawking’s contribution to the study of black holes and such things, I also note that his work did not shine light on the “black hole” in the human heart, nor make humanity less “afraid of the dark.” Only God can do that. And He does that for me, on a daily basis. May He do that also for Stephen Hawking today, that he R.I.P. and not in a dark place. “Glory be to You, Who has shone us the light!”


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