Fifty years ago today a small spacecraft took off from the USSR, left earth’s atmosphere and went into the unknown. It was the first time that a person had left earth and entered space. The Spacecraft, Vostok 1, was piloted by 27 year old Yuri Gagarin and made the first manned earth orbit before re-entering the atmosphere and landing safely.
1961 was of course the height of the Cold War where east and west faced one another and prepared for a war that thankfully never came. The east consisted of communist regimes where Christians were persecuted and sometimes martyred, so in this context, it must have been frightening to see this great communist power, the USSR, display their edge in technology. This was after all a military operation.
It was reported widely that Gagarin had said from space ‘I don’t see any god up here’. It has since become clear that Gagarin said no such thing since he was a Russian Orthodox believer and had his daughter christened not long before the flight. It is believed that the words came from the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, who was a strong opponent of any sort of religious faith. It is impossible to know but Gagarin is reported to have said, “Someone who never met God on Earth would never meet Him in space.”
It has been a good opportunity to look back on these events with of course the benefit of hindsight. Khrushchev was forcibly removed in 1964, when the Central Committee voted to accept his ‘voluntary’ retirement; he died in obscurity in 1971. Gagarin died in 1968 in a plane crash; I hope that he was a believer in the truest sense. The USSR, the mighty empire that terrified the world struggled on until 1991 when it fragmented into many nations.
As for God, well he hasn’t changed at all, he is immutable after all.
“Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31)