Originally posted July 5, 2011, at sinibaldo.wordpress.com. Republished with permission of the author.
On April 12, 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to orbit Earth from space. He was quoted as saying, “No god up here.”
It is a quote that shook the West, and shook the church community worldwide. Gagarin died in a flight crash in 1968.
In an article written in 2006, Gagarin’s friend, Col. Valentine Petrov, associate professor of the Gagarin Air Force Academy stated that his quote is not something that Gagarin, a Christian, would have said — but was a fabrication by the Soviet regime under Nikita Khrushchev.
Petrov went on to discuss a trip where they had visited St. Sergius Church in Lavra and Danilov Monastery and viewed a model of the Cathedral in Moscow, destroyed in 1931 by orders of Josef Stalin. Petrov remembered:
“Quite unexpectedly Yuri said, ‘Valentine, just think over the words — who art in heaven.’ I stared at him wide-eyed. ‘Yuri, do you know that prayer?’ He replied, ‘Do you think you are the only one who knows it? Well, you also know how to keep quiet.’ This was 1964, the year that Khrushchev publicly promised to show us ‘the last priest.’”
‘No God down here either’
Our understanding of the universe has changed enormously over the centuries. The Bible speaks of the heavens and the Earth in Genesis 1.
For centuries we understood a three-tiered universe with heaven above and hell below.
Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Einstein and countless others explored through scientific discoveries of a much wider and expansive universe than we could have imagined.
For many people this has led to a “God of the gaps” understanding that God can only dwell within the places we have yet to uncover or explain — with the fear that one day the gaps will one day grow too narrow to maintain.
For many the possibility of God in heaven seems too antiquated, too trite and too cute to be something any reasonable 21st century person could possibly believe.
“No God up here” gets translated to everyday life as “No God down here either.” How could we possibly talk about faith with such a barrier to overcome?
Expanding our view as we pray
We don’t need a new version of a controlled three-tiered universe — with God above us, and hell below. What would help us is a wider perspective on the heavens and the Earth God so beautifully creates.
Jesus promises that he is with us until the end of the age, and that where two or three are gathered he is present (Matthew 28:20; 18:18). We are drawn into closer proximity to God in the revelation of Christ — not pushed further away, even with new understanding and discovery. Prayer calls us into that discovery.
We sing in the Marty Haugen hymn, “Gather Us In” (“Evangelical Lutheran Worship” #532), “Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven light years away — here in this place the new light is shining, now is the kingdom and now is the day.”
When we pray to “Our Father in heaven” we are being drawn into the wonder, the sense of excitement, the awe, the mystery, the discovery, the view of the horizon of a spinning orb called Earth against the amazing backdrop of a universe designed and called into being through God’s word, and it is by the power of a word we are given to enter into God’s presence.
Gagarin knew it — he saw it with his own eyes. Petrov saw it in the eyes of his friend. We see it in the eyes of one another. We hear it in the prayer Jesus gives, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”
Find a link to Geoff Sinibaldo’s entry at sinibaldo.workpress.com at Lutheran Blogs.