Seven Lessons for Christians Inspired by Felix Baumgartner’s Heroic Accomplishment
I believe in God, and I truly think there is a plan that He has for everybody. And I also think He has a plan for me; it looks like I’m becoming an Astronaut. Locking myself in a pressure capsule and going up to 130,000 feet . . . and I’m going to slide the door open, bail out, and I’m going to be the first human person, in free-fall, breaking the speed of sound. That’s His plan, and that’s probably my last goal to accomplish. —Felix Baumgartner
This week, the world stopped to watch a man fall from the sky. Exactly sixty-five years to the day after Chuck Yeager’s inspirational, record-setting flight breaking the sound barrier, Felix Baumgartner would break multiple records with his jump out of his helium-filled balloon at 128,100 feet. After his literal “leap of faith” into the unknown, the Austrian reached a speed of 833 mph through the near vacuum of the stratosphere before being slowed by the atmosphere later during his 4 minute and 20 second-long free-fall. At the age of forty-three, Baumgartner also broke the records for highest free-fall and highest manned balloon flight in history. This privately-funded experiment tested the boundaries of technology and skill, and inspired millions that there are great adventures yet to be had.
This week’s jump by Felix Baumgartner is an important opportunity to reflect on the significance of exploration and adventure, as well as on the reasons why those who sacrifice much to accomplish much are so inspirational.
From the outset of this article, let me be clear that I do not know the heart or the faith of Felix Baumgartner, but I am impressed by several important lessons for Christians as we consider his heroic and record-breaking fall to earth.
Felix in Free-Fall
1. The Age of Discovery, Exploration, and Adventure is Not Over: Christians Must Reengage
The whole earth is watching now. . . . I’m going home now. —Felix Baumgartner
Through his breathtaking and historic jump from the edge of space this week, Felix Baumgartner reminded us that there are still important records to be broken, and boundaries to be tested. Part of Baumgartner’s lesson to the world is that the frontiers of exploration and discovery are seemingly boundless, and opportunity awaits those who are willing to think big and make great personal sacrifice in pursuit of a worthy cause. Twenty-first century Christians take note: Historically, significant Western advances in science and global exploration involved Christian men who believed that their work was for the glory of God and the advance of His kingdom. The late 18th century introduced a wave of rationalism which gave birth to the skepticism of the 19th and the full-blown evolutionary religious scientism of the 20th.
The result was that Christians retreated to the sidelines, handing these areas over to secularists. As Christ’s ambassadors and those entrusted with the duty to proclaim His kingship over the nations (Psalm 2; 22:8; 47:2) and His lordship over all creation (Psalm 24:1; Matthew 28:18), we should not be satisfied being the tail when it comes to exploration, discovery, and purpose-filled adventure.
2. The Biblical Basis for Space Jumps
O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! Who hast set thy glory above the heavens. . . . When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet. —Psalm 8:1, 3-6
The theological foundation for exploration, discovery, and human accomplishment is not the glory of man or even the “advance of science.” It is man’s calling to take dominion over the earth — which includes its atmosphere. This calling involves the “glory” of searching out matters which God has revealed (Proverbs 25:2) so that we can be better stewards and take every thought captive, recognizing that Christ is Lord over all of creation.
Sunrise from the International Space Station
The mission of the Christian in space is not the search for E.T. or for answers to the fundamental questions of origins, since the former does not exist and the latter is given in the Bible. But it is to know God better, to understand the cosmos in the context of sound science that proceeds from the presuppositions of a biblical cosmology (Colossians 1:16-17; 1 Timothy 6:20-21), and to better exercise dominion over “the works of [His] hands” (Psalm 102:25).
3. Thrill-seeking Is Not Enough; There Must Be a Greater Purpose
Well I think it’s all about preparation, do your homework you know. . . . I hate if someone calls me a thrill seeker or adrenaline junkie, because I’m not. I like the whole planning, this is what [excites] me. I like the adventure, but the whole preparation before to get the team together, this is pretty much what I really wanted to do. So having a plan, you know, it starts with thought. It’s going in one direction, it’s vision, you know? And finally it becomes reality! —Felix Baumgartner
The present drive for “extreme” sports and “extreme” experiences is often little more than man’s desire to satisfy an emptiness with activity. Baumgartner has wisely distinguished himself from many in his work by rejecting the adrenaline junkie mentality. Pushing the boundaries can be meaningful and carry great significance, but thrill-seeking is not enough. The Bible teaches that our actions must be filled with purpose for the glory of God so that we take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) and desire the glory of God in all things (1 Timothy 1:17; Revelation 4:11). Without such purpose, exploration, adventure, and landmark accomplishments do not have eternal significance.
4. The Role of Mentorship
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. —Luke 6:40
As Felix Baumgartner was pummeling at more than 700 mph through the sky, he was listening to the voice of Joe Kittinger, the only man in the history of the world who could experientially understand his historic leap of faith. Fifty years before, Kittinger jumped from 102,800 feet, establishing a longstanding record for the highest, farthest, and longest free-fall when he leapt from a helium envelope in 1960. But for the last year, he has been working with Baumgartner as an integral part of his team, including great encouragement when the younger man doubted his ability to complete the mission.
USAF Col. Joe Kittinger Monitors Felix in a Screen at Mission Control
Men need mentors. Even the great Felix Baumgartner understands this. His working relationship with and reliance on the wisdom and help of the man who went before him demonstrated humility, honor, and the important role that mentors can play in shaping the great efforts of the next generation of men.
5. The Power of Focus
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might. —Ecclesiastes 9:10
There is a tremendous power in wholehearted focus in pursuit of a goal. Great accomplishments are reserved for the few and the focused. And this passion for focus often begins in childhood.
Baumgartner explained that “I think I’m one of these guys who always wanted to be the first one on a place where no one has ever been before. And I love to be in the air. When I was a little kid, I spent a lot of time in the airport just watching skydivers jump out of airplanes, and I decided by myself, I want to do the same thing. . . .” His mentor Kittinger added that “Felix is a very determined man. Felix has a goal he’s been working on from early childhood, and he’ll do a great job.”
USAF Col. Joe Kittinger on the Day of His World Record-Setting Jump from 102,800 ft.
God actually commands Christians to have a type of focus in which are actions are wholehearted such that whatever we do, we do with all of our might, and we do it unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23). If more of us could keep our focus, we might, by God’s grace, see greater advances in our work here on this earth.
6. God Has Designed Mature Men to Continue to Fight Hard
Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight. —Psalm 144:1
Felix Baumgartner was a remarkably fit forty-three when he became an astronaut and completed his jump this week. In a culture that glorifies youth and witnesses so many men who sink into the abyss of a sedentary and passive existence, it is helpful to be reminded that men can not only remain fit well into their ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and beyond, but that they can discipline themselves for ongoing physical accomplishments of note.
USAF Col. Joe Kittinger Reviews Altitude Testing with Felix
Wise fathers will remember that God made us to stay spiritually sharp, mentally strong, and physically fit so that we can fight hard and hold fast to our calling, be more effective for our families, and do the work of the Lord with energy and vigor.
At the age of eighty-five, Caleb declared: “As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even so is my strength now, for war, both to go out, and to come in” (Joshua 14:11).
7. The Future is Privatization
Felix Baumgartner and his sponsoring team with Red Bull have reminded us that great things can be accomplished when private individuals are willing to take enormous risks at their own expense by subsidizing their dreams in the hope of significant accomplishments. This is a welcome response to the statism of our present generation and a reminder of the principles that De Tocqueville spoke of when he described America as a nation of problem-solvers through private associations.
The historic basis of this came from our Founding Fathers who envisioned a highly-limited federal government and enshrined these limitations in our Constitution. This allowed the United States to more closely model the biblical ideal for the civil magistrate as revealed in Scripture which is that of a limited power with duties to enforce the moral law of God and keep the peace, rather then assuming responsibilities left for the family, the church, and the private sector. While an argument could be made that the federal government has a justifiable role in space on the grounds of national defense, the simple truth is that, over the last three decades, NASA’s vision as communicated to the public has sadly been driven more by presuppositions of evolutionary scientism then a legitimate state purpose.
Felix Lands Safely after Completing the Final Manned Flight
Space exploration is a legitimate dominion activity that can provide man with thrilling opportunities to glorify God and understand and magnify the works of the Creator, and to develop technologies that will assist man in his efforts back on earth. We can thank Felix and his team for reminding us that the future of exploration — whether it is under the sea or high above the earth — is privatization.
When I was a little boy, my father served as a ranking official in the Nixon Administration at the height of the NASA space program. One day I travelled with my father to Cape Canaveral to visit the Launch Control Center on behalf of the President. I remember the excitement of meeting scientists and directors who were overseeing the next manned mission to the moon. But nothing compared to the opportunity they gave me to actually look inside the Apollo space capsule prior to its launch into the heavens. I was hooked. I began to stare at the stars and dream.
Twenty-five years later, I started telling my own family about the dream of Christians going into space through privatized travel as a platform to experience and explain the glory of God in the cosmos. A hundred times my children have heard me say, “If the Lord opens the door for privatized space travel, I want to go and take some of you with me.”
In 2012, I approached the staff of Vision Forum Ministries with a dream — a dream to produce the first feature-length documentary tracing the story of a business man, a space scientist, a young lady, and a team leader. All of the team members would be Christians and creationists who have dreamed of breaking the earth’s atmosphere in the hope of sharing an unforgettable adventure that challenges the evolutionary view of the earth, and communicates a story of the wisdom and majesty of the Creator in a way that audiences have never experienced before. That is my own vision, and we are presently working toward this goal.
Today I am encouraged and blessed by the efforts of Felix Baumgartner, even as I am reminded that God has given us a world of opportunity if we will dream big and noble dreams for the Lord and then diligently work to see them become realities.
May God make it so.