Planetary Defenders and Good News People!
This week I joined Esther Higham on her Inspirational Breakfast show on Premier Radio for the ‘news review’ segment. As first time contributor, I was asked to select three news stories, ideally ones that aren’t in the headlines and including one to end on that is more good news than bad. I had no trouble choosing my first two stories. There were plenty of troubling stories, even avoiding the obvious ones about the economy and events in Ukraine. But I could not see on the news outlets I trawled – the BBC and various newspapers – any ‘good news’ stories other(debatably) than the odd piece about the latest TV drama or celebrity gossip.
The tendency for media to report bad news in preference to good news is well recognised. Bad news makes headlines; headlines catch attention; attention makes sales, ratings or rankings. But the negative impact of a constant diet of bad news is also well attested. Feelings of powerlessness in the face of problems we cannot solve weigh on our minds. Anxiety levels rise, sleep is disturbed and depression may set in. The risks are exacerbated by technologies that enable global news to interrupt us at any moment with an immediacy and constancy that was unknown to past generations. I have blogged before about the fear that seems to dominate the headlines. This exercise in news reviewing convinced me all the more of the problem.
Desperate to fulfil Premier’s brief, I searched for ‘good news’ and stumbled upon the Good News Network. Founded in 1997, this site declares itself to be an “antidote to the barrage of negativity experienced in the mainstream media”. My time to choose my stories limited, I skimmed a few stories and it seemed to be legitimate, with high journalistic standards (I hope this is right!) I looked at their headlines and spotted one that said, “NASA Celebrates World First: Smashing a Spacecraft into an Asteroid to Practice Saving Humanity”. This was not completely news to me. I had heard on BBC Radio 4 a few days earlier about this mission, but I had not heard or seen on mainstream media any report of its outcome. That story was displaced by more urgent stories (and more negative ones!)
Reading the article about this NASA mission, I was in awe. NASA is at pains to say that this mission was not one to save the earth. The asteroid they hit and the larger one it orbits are, they tell us, no risk to our existence. This was a practice run to see how much they could cause an asteroid to deviate from its course. The hope is that in future, if they do detect an asteroid heading for us, they can use what they have learned to deflect it enough to avoid a collision.
The science behind this mission is astounding. Human scientists managed to send a spacecraft 7 million miles into space and guide it at 14,000 miles per hour precisely into an asteroid that is only 180 metres in diameter (that’s less than two football pitches length) and the whole event up until near impact being beamed back to earth. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction. I am in awe of this ingenuity. It is testimony to two great facts – the ingenuity of the human brain that allows us to plan and predict things we have not done before and the orderliness of the universe – both of which attest to God’s good design. As I marvel at the science, I worship the Creator whose thoughts we are thinking after Him (to borrow words attributed to Johannes Kepler).
The wider NASA project that these tests fall within is called the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. Imagine being asked your job and being able to reply “I am a Planetary Defence Coordination Officer”! The USA government gives around $150 billion per year to this Office. I do not know if I think that is money well spent when there are so many other needs on this planet, but I suppose I am thankful that people are seriously working to defend the planet from collision risks. It is a little disappointing to know that they are only thinking of deviating the course of asteroids – part of me hoped it would be like that antique arcade game called ‘Asteroids’ in which the player shoots at rocks, fragmenting them into smaller pieces which in turn must be shot until the smallest pieces are harmless. I remember being quite good at that, but I don’t think that would suit me for a job in the PDCO! I will leave that to the scientists.
Still, as I read this story, I could not help but take a step back. This is just one of the many ways in which humankind are trying to save ourselves. We could think of our fight against the threat of climate change or attempts to forge a just worldwide economic system or to eliminate threats of war. All of these are good and noble, but none of them deal with the ultimate problem we face. My headline said that NASA was practising saving humanity. Their project talks of planetary defence. NASA is best placed to save us from collisions and defend us against asteroids. But even the mighty resources of this space agency cannot save us from ourselves and defend against our ultimate destruction. Death will come for each of us. Sin has spoiled every one of us. But we have a great Saviour and Defender, the Lord Jesus Christ. This planet – the whole cosmos – is secure under His rule and those who trust in Him are safe in His embrace, both now and eternally.
In the final analysis, this is the true good news – the ‘gospel’ (to use the biblical word whose root meaning is ‘good news’) of Jesus Christ. It is the great and true story of where we came from, where we are going and how we can find life in between. Confident in the good news, we can handle all the bad news and be thankful for all the lesser good news stories. Inspired by the gospel and empowered by the Lord whose story it is, we can find strength to engage with the world’s problems as bearers of help and hope.
We may not be able to (or want to) call ourselves planetary defenders, but can be people of hope. Not pessimists, always doubting, always grumbling, always critiquing, but people of realistic positivity. That does not mean unrealistic idealism, endless positive thinking, or burying our heads in the sand. We can be real about the problems we see. But it does mean living with assurance of God’s faithfulness to His promises and holding fast to Christ through every storm. Because the gospel is God’s good news for those who trust in Christ, we can be good news people.