A global audience had been captivated, three American astronauts, two hundred thousand miles from earth, were hurtling toward lunar orbit in a crippled spacecraft. In an instant, the explosive rupture of an oxygen cylinder had altered the Apollo 13 mission from an intended lunar landing in Frau Mauro Hills to an intensely focused effort for survival.
The problem, with its chilling possibilities, had been quickly assessed: only minutes of electrical power remained in the Command Module (CM) batteries, precious minutes needed to sustain reentry into earth's atmosphere. There were no options. The CM must immediately be "powered down" and vacated until that critical moment and the attached Lunar Module (LM) assume the unrehearsed role of transporting the CM back to earth orbit. But what if ... ?
Three living astronauts wandering aimlessly in space! A thought too harrowing to entertain. The most pressing dilemma was the need to tune the LM guidance system with that of the CM before vacating it; accurate corrections to the trajectory still had to be made or the returning space craft would miss earth completely But what if the alignment drained that vital life link of residual CM power? Possibly the LM Alignment Optical Telescope could be used instead? But what if the gaseous cloud and debris now surrounding the LM prevented that7 Could Mission Control improvise a computer program using just earth, sun and moon sightings for navigation? What if it couldn't? Space, to three people, was no longer a void but a minefield of explosive "what if's," each needing to be defused.
And we, too, are human voyagers traversing that same minefield. Since you started reading this article, your position in the universe has changed considerably, somewhat in excess of ten thousand miles, And, yes, while you've been reading, the guidance system of this six thousand million million million ton spacecraft has functioned flawlessly .. thanks for your concern. But what if ... ? What if there weren't a complex balance between gravitational and centrifugal forces in our solar system? Or, for that matter, between our solar system and the myriads of celestial bodies and poorly understood "dark matter" in our Milky Way Galaxy? Could earth or our solar system exceed the critical "escape velocity" to become lone wanderers in the universe? Yes. Could earth spiral into the sun or our solar system into the black hole assumed to be lurking in the center of our galaxy? Yes. What if one of these "what if's" happened? All life would be destroyed.
Which is what would have happened to the Apollo 13 crew without a phalanx of scientists, engineers and astronauts to neutralize that minefield of "what if's." Thirty engineers at MIT worked through the night with Mission Control to develop a new navigation program; phone lines were kept open to a facility in Long Island staffed with seventy LM experts; CM specialists in California ran emergency programs. Three men were doomed without that battery of experts.
Clearly, life in space could not be sustained without external intelligent design and control. Nor can life on earth be sustained without The Intelligent Designer, the Son of God, by whom "all things were created" and who "upholds all things by the spoken word of His power." The near disaster which met the Apollo 13 mission brought into sharp focus all those essentials required to sustain life, essentials which bred crises in space, but are taken for granted here on planet earth because of, as Job expressed, "the wondrous works of Him which is perfect in knowledge."
But before considering planet earth's minefield of "what if's" to help us appreciate the uniqueness and marvel of His design, may we pause to observe that the expression "what if" in this context is more an accommodation to our limited intellects than it is correct? The God who "works all things after the counsel of His own will" to accomplish eternal purpose really doesn't traffic in "what if's." A planet exquisitely suited to support life is vital to God's master plan through the ages; what is could not have been otherwise.
The Spirit of God defines that master plan as "the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." As frail and mortal man, we view only faintly that vista of "eternal times" which, before those ages, witnessed an eternal will and purpose not defined in time. Veiled as the "mystery of His will hid in God who created all things by Jesus Christ", the disclosure of that mystery awaited "the preaching of Jesus Christ" in the gospel of the grace of God "according to the commandment of the everlasting God" (2 Tim 1:9-10).
But where and to whom was divine purpose and the display of divine attributes in that gospel to be revealed? In all of God's universe, it is through a unique spiritual body, in a unique creation, on a unique celestial body; the church of God on planet earth. Eternal counsel predestined, in view of Calvary, love and sovereign grace, "sons of disobedience" to "sonship through Jesus Christ to Himself." As "partakers of His promise in Christ... builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit," those born of God were to comprise that spiritual body, His church. Now, universally, that church displays "the manifold wisdom of God": eternal purpose has been and shall be brought to fruition through Christ.
Do we more clearly understand then, in light of eternal purpose, that neither "what if" nor a scientific theory that resorts to probabilities and chance to explain the natural world can be compatible with the Word of God? Upon returning to earth and hopefully a keener perception of "what if," a flood of issues vie for limited space; we'll briefly touch on a few.
What if, as Venus's, earth's atmosphere were essentially carbon dioxide'? Although that planet is thirty one million miles further from the sun than Mercury, its surface temperature is 1400 F higher (8000 F). That's a full blown "green house effect", and it would produce lethal temperatures on planet earth. But the Soviets encountered another hostile effect early in the seventies when the initial Venus probes were crushed by an atmospheric pressure ninety times greater than earth's. And, we all know an atmosphere depleted of oxygen would rapidly destroy life. But what if there weren't some (0.03%) carbon dioxide? A micro-miniaturized technological marvel, the chloroplast, wouldn't have raw material to produce that vital oxygen. Temperature, pressure, atmospheric composition are only three of an array of variables, many interrelated, that must be perfectly tuned to support life.
Our planet rotates on its axis about 250 fifty times more rapidly than Venus. That rapid rotation of earth's molten nickel iron core generates a magnetic field with an axis close to that of earth's. What if there were no magnetic field so oriented? Our first line of defense from charged cosmic particles would be missing. And speaking of axes, what if earth's axis were not tilted twenty three degrees? Polar areas would become so cold and equatorial areas so hot, living space would be vastly reduced.
How about some simple questions? What if our earth were appreciably smaller? The weakened gravitational field would lose our oceans and atmosphere, meteorites would repeatedly blast in from space, earth's temperatures would plummet and life would cease. And returning to temperature, we've noted Venus's temperature; Mars, the next planet to us has a mean temperature of -670 F. The known universe is thought to contain less than one atomic particle per cubic yard and that cubic yard is -454, F. Visible stars exist at fusion temperatures greater than ten million degrees. Yet earth has a mean temperature of 600 F!
So why does earth's temperature maintain itself in such a narrow, temperate range? Distance from the sun is certainly critical, as is also earth's atmosphere and rotation. But what if there were no ocean? Life would likely come to a halt because that vast body of water serves as a heat sink to moderate earth's temperatures and in large measure control precipitation and weather patterns. And what if there were no lunar driven tides or solar driven thermal currents? Earth's oceans would stagnate and breed death.
Earth is unique. Faced with the possibility of never returning to this planet, Apollo 13 Astronaut, James Lovell, described the blue hued sphere, hung "upon nothing" before him, as "that grand oasis in the vastness of space." We understand, "He formed it to be inhabited."
Why? The mandate of eternal purpose? Yes. To display attributes of the invisible God? Yes. But, "God is love"; eternal purpose required that love to be displayed at the cross. The gospel, in which "was manifested the love of God," is then the "gospel of the glory of Christ." Eternal purpose, manifesting Divine attributes in Christ here on planet earth, has visibly displayed the Glory of God.
What if? No. God has decreed, earth shall yet witness the "glory of the Lord" when, in the march of eternal purpose, the enthroned "Sun of Righteousness" shall display Divine attributes as sovereign in a redeemed creation. On this "terrestrial ball" all shall own our Lord as "the blessed and only Potentate, King of kings and Lord of lords."