On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong immortalized the words of our title. As he set the first human foot on the surface of the moon, he announced that it was “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Anyone then living can recall that moment, remembering precisely where they were at the time.
In retrospect, was Armstrong correct? Was the landing of people on the moon truly a giant leap for mankind? A generation has now passed, sufficient time to make an assessment.
Space technology certainly had taken a giant leap forward. Just eight years earlier President Kennedy proposed landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade. That our nation was able to accomplish that in so few years is amazing. There have continued to be advances, but there have also been setbacks. Two of NASA’s space shuttles met with disastrous ends. The future of space exploration is not as certain as it once was.
In medicine, some illness have been virtually eradicated but new ones have appeared. No one knew about AIDS or the bird flu in 1969. In politics, all marveled as the once-mighty Soviet Union disintegrated on the world stage. But other crises have arisen that were beyond imagination 40 years ago. In many areas man has taken a giant leap forward. In many other areas, the movement has been backward.
Nearly 3,000 years ago, a wise man observed this: “That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NKJV). Some might dismiss Solomon’s statement if they look only at technology. In terms of human nature and the central issues of life, he hit the nail squarely on the head.
Jesus spoke a parable about a successful farmer who forgot his spiritual needs. Today we might substitute for that farmer a rocket scientist, a brain surgeon or a Wall Street financier. Though the scenes change, the central issue does not: “This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” (Luke 12:20)
In the 1960’s, our aim was upward, thinking that winning the race to the moon would lead to answers in other troubled arenas. Today we should still aim upward, but with an adjustment. Isaiah spoke of “the mountain of the Lord’s house [that] shall be exalted above the hills”. Like the people envisioned by the prophet, we should approach that mountain for one purpose: “He will teach us his ways, and we shall walk in his paths” (Isaiah 2:2,3). When we reach that destination, we’ll find answers for the real problems of humanity.
Aim for the moon? No, aim for the one who knows how to keep the moon in its orbit.
Despite technological advances, man’s greatest need has not changed.