The Launch

On February 24th, the Space Shuttle Discovery took off on its final flight. I always try and follow the Shuttle launches because for many years my dad has worked as a contracted programmer for NASA. The Space Program was an important part of my life. I grew up in Clear Lake, a community populated with many NASA folks and “space people,” as I like to call them. And how cool is this: I had a Sunday School teacher that was an Astronaut. No offense to any of my other teachers, but his examples and stories were just a bit more interesting than anyone else’s.  In 2nd grade, I went to see a Shuttle launch in Cape Canaveral, Florida. When the Shuttle launched, you could see all the flames, and with binoculars, you could see the Shuttle itself, but it was still tiny and far away. It was amazing, but I remember feeling far away from the action.

Today I read a fascinating article which helped me remember this experience, and it explained to me why it was a fairly good idea to have the audience 6 plus miles away from the launch pad.[1]  In a Shuttle launch, the Shuttle’s three main engines fire first, releasing 37 million horsepower with a temperature of 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  The two white Solid Rocket Boosters then fire, releasing an extra little boost of 44 million horsepower.  The sound pressure energy level at the launch pad is 220 decibels. At a mile away it is 135 decibels. Human death by sound (the intense vibration) would occur at around 200 decibels. At 400 feet away, the heat would kill you. For perspective, most major league baseball parks have a distance from home plate to the centerfield wall of about 400 feet. At 800 feet, the sound and its vibrations would be fatal. Ok, I admit I should have been a lot more thankful for my beach spot 6 miles from the launch pad. I think that worked out best.

There is a fascinating Scripture in Exodus describing an encounter between Moses and God. Earlier, the text has told us that God and Moses would speak intimately and personally like friends. Here, we are reminded of God’s eternal power and holiness:

And He said, I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But he said, ‘You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’ And the LORD said, ‘Behold there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.’[2]

Basically: Moses, you have no idea what you’re asking for. 

This is such an intriguingly detailed account of Moses’ intimate encounter with God. The message seems to be that God is so powerful and glorious that even in our most personal encounters with Him, we still have no grasp for His true glory. He reveals Himself to us, but if we really fully glimpsed His beauty, our heads would go ‘poof.’  We are reminded of this at the beginning of the Gospel of John: No one has ever seen God… (John 1.18a)

 But this is the beauty and glory of Christ Jesus. In Him, God fully reveals Himself in a way which we can see, and we encounter God in the most intimate way, face to face. Jesus is not merely a teacher, or thinker, but he is the revelation of God’s truth and grace. Jesus responds to his disciple Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say ‘show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his work” (John 14.9b-10). Paul speaks to this in his writings as well: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1.19). He also states it this way, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4.6, [emphasis mine]).  Here Paul seems to be comparing Moses’ encounter and his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Our greatest promise from God is His covenant and revelation in Christ Jesus. God is certainly beyond our understanding, but in Christ, we know Him and have communion with Him. Christ reveals God even beyond the dangerously close encounter Moses experienced. Christ is the fullness of God. He is Lord of all. The Space Shuttle might be one of our greatest and most impressive innovations. And God of course is so much more powerful than the greatest of our creations. But he has invited us to Him, closer to His glory than we could know and would even dare to go.     


[2] Exodus 33.19-23

Guiding real people to embrace a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ