Stephen Hawking, the brilliant theoretical physicist who once advised “to look at the stars and not at your feet,” died at his Cambridge home on Wednesday at the age of 76. Hawking was given a life expectancy of two years after he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) in 1963. He amazed the scientific world with his theories on singularities, black hole mechanics and quantum gravity, but was also known for his biting sense of humor. When comedian John Oliver asked him if there was the possibility of a universe where he was smarter than the famed physicist, Hawking shot back, “Yes, and also a universe where you are funny.” Hawking also guest-starred in such comedy shows as The Simpsons, Big Bang Theory and Futurama.
But Hawking was not without controversy, especially among the religious community. An avowed atheist, he once said that it was not necessary “to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and get the universe going.” In 2011, Hawking compared the human brain to a computer, noting that “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
I am grateful for Hawking’s razor-sharp mind that transcended his shriveled body and roamed the far stretches of space. Yet I can’t help think that his assessment of an afterlife as a “fairy story” for people who fear the dark is a gross caricature. First of all, true Christians are not afraid of the dark; they invade the darkness with God’s light and love. Secondly, there are no fairies in heaven — but there is God, the Glorified Jesus and a vast community of saints. The Bible has many descriptions of heaven that are complex and multi-layered. It is a healing garden, a city, a diverse celebration, a house with many mansions, a loud wedding feast. Our corruptible human bodies will be traded in for eternal models that will not break down or wear out. Revelation 21:23 tells us there will be no sun or moon, because God himself will provide the light (interestingly, physicists like Hawking theorize that the Big Bang will eventually become the Big Crunch as the universe stops expanding and collapses in on itself, becoming only a tiny point – hence, no moon, stars or planets).
Simply put, I believe in an afterlife because Jesus spoke of it and the Bible describes it. Some will dismiss these scriptural descriptions as pure fancy. But consider that Hawking postulated time-travel into the future, wormholes that could provide instantaneous passages through space and time, and infinite multiple universes. Now heaven doesn’t seem that far out of the realm of reality, does it?