An Amazing Story of Discovery and Faith in Christ: Colonel Jeffrey Williams’ Voyages in Space
On Monday February 15, Colonel Jeffrey Williams will be featured on CBS Evening News as part of the Everyone in the World Has a Story series from journalist Steve Hartman. Over the past months as part of the series, Williams and other astronauts at the International Space Station have spun an inflatable globe to help select the locations where Hartman travels to find his stories. Monday’s feature focuses more specifically on Williams. Jeff has spent more time in space than any other person. Jeff is a committed Christian, and his forthcoming book The Work of His Hands: A View of God’s Creation from Space is a powerful and beautiful story of the joy of discovery, the intense challenges of living and working in space, and a profound confession of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. You are really going to love this book. It is filled with photographs, most of which were taken by Jeff himself while on board the International Space Station. The photos and views of our planet in this book are simply stunning. But what most impressed me about Jeff’s story are his comments about what all these adventures have mean to him and how it has impacted his faith. Read his remarks for yourself:
“The whole of creation is manifest with beauty and wonder, and with evidence of the Creator. But the creation provides but a glimpse—that “small whisper” described in Job 26—of God, who is the Creator. When people see Earth from the perspective of orbit, whether firsthand or through the descriptions of those who have been there, their thoughts often turn to God, or at least the question of God. I often get asked questions such as: “Do you feel closer to God up there?” or “Has the experience changed your faith or belief in God?” It may come as a surprise that I answer the questions no—with a caveat. Anna-Marie and I have a strong Christian faith that had its beginning in the late 1980s, and we labor to live accordingly. Over the years of studying the Bible, I have grown both in awe of it and in complete trust in it as the source of the truth of reality, wisdom, and all things necessary for life. I have also come to realize we can only know about God by viewing creation, irrespective of our vantage point. It is only through the revelation of God in the Scriptures that we can actually become close to Him in relationship and actually know Him. This is God’s most profound gracious provision to us.
“No, my experiences as an astronaut did not bring me closer to God or change my beliefs about His existence. My relationship with God does not hinge on my looking at Earth from orbit and experiencing that “small whisper” that is so evident in creation. True, life-transforming faith in God and relationship with Him is based not on a whisper, but a shout—the shout of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in His work on the cross as revealed in the supernatural revelation of the Bible. So my closeness to God in relationship with Him is through faith in the person and work of Christ. With that said, the experience did have an impact. My faith was already established through the objective means of His written Word and its Gospel message. The experience of being on the Space Station only intensified the content of the Word and my response to it as I viewed the work of His fingers (Psalm Eight) through the lens of the Bible in a special way. That response occurred in ways I will attempt to explain.
“I was able to reflect on God as Creator in a fresh way. The wonder and awe of viewing all of the elements of Earth from orbit was overpowering. Some have heard me speak of the beauty of the blue planet, of the vastness of the oceans and varied landforms, the magnificent cloud formations and water currents, the wonder of lightning storms stretching over a thousand miles, and the dazzling light display of the aurora over the poles. The relative thinness of the atmosphere that provides for life, the day-night cycles, and the beauty of the atmosphere during sunrises or sunsets are also vivid memories. Viewing all of those things intensified for me the meaning of passages such as Job 26:7, 10: “He stretches out the north over the void and hangs the earth on nothing. . . . He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness.” Psalm 8:3–4 speaks of the humility that comes when one considers creation: “When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers . . . .” The view from orbit was humbling in ways well beyond previous experience. And Psalm 19 is among my favorites because it speaks of how creation reveals God’s existence but how He is only fully revealed in His Word. The experience on the Space Station also intensified my faith by helping me consider God’s providence and governing of His creation—that is, God as the Sustainer and Provider.
“Providence is a term not used much in modern times, but I love the richness of it. The reality of God’s providence transcended the entire experience of Expedition 13. Psalm 139 speaks to providence and the manifestation of God’s ever-present care, and verses 9–10 took on special meaning: “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.” In Colossians 1:16–17, Christ is acknowledged as the Creator and also the one who sustains—that is upholds and governs—His creation. While in orbit for six months, I grew in appreciation of being sustained and upheld day by day. Of course, the special revelation found in the Scriptures climaxes in the redemption of sinners—that is, God as Redeemer. And that redeeming work is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ—the good news of the Gospel. That reality of God as Redeemer also became more vivid from the spaceflight experience as a direct result of the deepened perspectives of God as Creator, Sustainer, and Provider.
“In hindsight, I have come to realize anew that viewing and living out life through that lens intensifies the trust, confidence, and sense of contentment that come in living out our faith in even the most challenging times. That perspective also invokes an intense humility and grows gratitude. It causes one to slow a bit and contemplate life issues in a new way. Additionally, it magnifies the sense of responsibility and stewardship that comes with getting such an experience. I have an obligation to share the experience and bring it back to those on Earth. With all of that in mind, among my favorite portions of the Earth to observe was the Middle East. The significance of redemptive history recorded in the Bible was brought to mind when I could see, in a single panorama, the entire area in which it took place. All of that history—from Abraham to Moses to David, the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the subsequent journeys and work of the apostles in the spreading of the Gospel—was, in a sense, made visible in a fresh, tangible way when the biblical lands were in view out the window. I know I will never look at the maps in the back of my Bible the same way.”
— Colonel Jeffrey N. Williams, The Work of His Hands, p. 149-153.