Two men with bright minds, one known as Stephen and another as Steven, have ALS.
The Stephen with ALS is none other than Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist and Director of the Centre of Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge.
The Steven with ALS is Steve Miller, a pastor and missionary who served in both the Orthodox Presbyterian and Reformed Presbyterian Churches.
A brief study of their lives is one of remarkable similarities and contrasts.
Stephen Hawking has one of the rare cases of ALS. He was diagnosed early in his life with this disease, at the age of 21 in 1963. The doctors at the time only gave him two years to live. Yet he has lived with it for over five decades and, incredibly, is still alive at the age of 75. Though severely crippled for much of that time, spending it in his signature wheelchair, he has been amazingly productive in lecturing and writing books. Today he can only communicate and write by twitching a cheek muscle that controls a computer specially wired to capture his movements. Hawking had a movie, The Theory of Everything, made about his remarkable life.
Steve Miller enjoyed an active life until he was diagnosed with ALS just a few years ago. He served as a missionary for a time in the African nation of Eritrea, was pastor of several congregations in Pennsylvania, and taught on missions as an adjunct professor at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh for seventeen years. He lived on a farm and enjoyed raising animals and chopping wood. Yet his ALS has moved quickly, and it caused him to retire from pastoral ministry. Now, like Stephen, he has lost much of the use of his arms and legs.
Both men married a woman named Jane. Stephen Hawking married Jane Wilde whom he met while a graduate student at Cambridge and they married in 1965. The movie depicts the romance they shared: Jane’s fierce commitment to Stephen to help him through his medical trials (Though not depicted in the movie, Jane’s professing Christian testimony strengthened her for these things even as it became more of a source of conflict between the two.); the happy years of having three children together; and seeing Stephen’s academic career and popularity skyrocket. Yet it also reveals that Stephen’s growing renown, coupled with his increasing limitations from his disease, put too much strain on their relationship. Stephen began an affair with a nurse and divorced Jane in 1995. His second marriage failed and he again divorced. In these latter years, Stephen and Jane (who has remarried) maintain a pleasant friendship together.
Steven Miller married his Jane forty-seven years ago. From the mission field to all the pastorates to teaching at the seminary to his condition today, Jane has never left his side. And Steve’s love for his wife has only deepened. They also have three children, as well as many grandchildren, and live now with their oldest son and his family. Just as Steve and Jane took care of his aging parents in this home many years ago, so now Steve is being cared for by his family and especially Jane. He and others often remark of her sacrificial love and care for her husband during these difficult days.
When his most widely read book, A Brief History of Time, came out in 1988, Hawking’s popularity soared as the book sold more than ten million copies over the next two decades. Written with a minimum amount of technical jargon yet still explaining concepts such as black holes, quarks, and singularities, Hawking reveals to his readers his understanding of both the universe’s origin and end. He explains his version of the Big Bang Theory, and postulates that trying to speak of what happened before the beginning of the universe is a meaningless question, much like trying to move further south from the South Pole. He leaves room for there being other universes beyond our own. Hawking has also written a great number of other books and articles, though not quite as numerous as the stars he loves to gaze upon. His views of the universe had him recently issuing a warning that humanity will need to leave Earth in the next century in order to survive its inevitable downfall.
Steve Miller was too busy much of his life to write a great deal, pouring himself out for the souls of people in the hard work of shepherding and caring for others. Yet in these recent days, as health allows, he has been taking his notes from all those years of instructing students on missions and pounding out a book on this subject. Steve believes that God made this universe and there is one planet in all of the universe’s vastness upon which God has set his full attention. His book focuses on how God sent his Son to redeem the peoples from all the nations of the earth, and how Christ as Lord now reigns over these nations to bring this to fruition. Because Christ reigns over the earth, rather than fearing for Earth’s destiny Steve trusts that Christ will one day restore it to an eternal glory which can never be destroyed.
Through the years Stephen Hawking’s views of God have become more clear. His first wife Jane gave a glimpse into his thinking back in those earlier days:
Stephen made quite a point of keeping me guessing as to whether he was Agnostic or Atheist, but I liked to trip him up,” she says with a mischievous smile. “I remember once asking him how he knew which theory to work on, to which he replied: ‘Well you have to take a leap of faith in choosing the one that you think is going to be most productive.’
Even in A Brief History of Time, Hawking did not necessarily rule out that God could exist. But in recent years, Hawking has become increasingly clear that he does not truly believe in God. Declaring himself an atheist, he believes science is to be trusted rather than religion. Though he has stated that “we are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star,” he still hopes for immortality for the human species. But he believes if immortality arrives for mankind, it will come through time travel, not through help from God.
Steven Miller believes there is only one hope for mankind in its mortality, and that is in the redemption offered by Jesus Christ through his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Even as Steve sees his body outwardly decaying and acknowledges his time on earth will draw to a close, his inner man is being renewed more and more in the hope the gospel gives. As he says of Jesus based on Romans 14:7-9 on his blog Thoughts About God:
He is Lord of the dead. This is not a macabre expression, rather, as we live with direct reference with all that we do to Jesus as our Lord, so we go into death and serve the Lord in our dying. In it we seek to die in a manner pleasing to the Lord. And as we recognize we will soon no longer be serving the Lord in this life, we offer ourselves to Him as the Lord who will keep us beyond our dying and when we are dead. This gives us the comfort that we need in order to go into death confident that we may entrust ourselves to the Lord who kept us in life and who will also keep us in death as Lord of the dead.
Stephen Hawking’s longevity is amazing. Yet ultimately it is not a testimony to the human spirit or modern technology. Rather, the God who made the universe that Hawking so admires has been patient with him, waiting for him to repent. Though he has the world’s recognition and earthly riches, he is in danger of losing his soul for not honoring God’s Son. God wants Stephen Hawking to repent and believe in his Son, and that is my prayer even as I type these words. I recently met with an older saint who has a prayer list of leading, influential atheists that he is asking God to convert, which in part inspire this post. Please join me in praying for this singular event as well, for conversion is a greater demonstration of God’s grace and power than the creation of the stars.
Steven Miller’s spirit is amazing. Even when his body was not cooperating, he sought to preach and teach the gospel for as long as he could. He hopes to be able to finish writing his book on missions. Clearly the Lord loves this man, as I regularly hear people praying for and thanking God for him, and he is surrounded by those he loves. The future of his soul is secure in Christ. Yet I do know he and Jane still have a need to provide for his earthly care, as his daughter’s gofundme page reveals. Please consider helping if you are able.