‘We have a problem!’
Hurried jottings are usually worthless. But, in December 2011, a little notebook fetched nearly £250,000 in an auction in Dallas.
Jim Lovell, now aged 84, is famous enough in his own way, but that was not the reason for the exorbitant price. It was where he was when he scribbled down a jumble of numbers that explains it. He was two days up into space!
Back in 1970, the Apollo 13 mission had what its astronauts described in a crackled call to Houston, in famously understated terms, ‘a problem’.
It was in fact a catastrophe of the highest order. An explosion had crippled the command module and the only way home was to adapt the module and head back to earth. In a superb example of composure under extreme stress, Jim Lovell worked out where they were and what had to be done to get home.
Houston confirmed the calculations and they were on their way. As we all know, the Apollo 13 mission turned what might have been a tragic disaster into a wonderful triumph. Lovell, his trusted notebook and the two other astronauts arrived safely back on earth. The events were later made into a film, with Tom Hanks playing the lead part of Lovell.
Although the booklet is of immense historical interest, it can never be of any practical use to anyone. Nobody will ever need the calculations, because no one will be in the same position as the Apollo 13 astronauts on that fateful day.
Those jottings could only save those three men in that precise location, on that particular date. It was a one-off.
But let’s look at this in another way. Instead of calculations about getting from the heavens back to earth, let’s think about getting from earth to heaven. Instead of formulae and numbers hurriedly recorded, let’s think about words carefully chosen and communicated by God to man over a long period of time.
Instead of the outcome of the venture hanging upon a bit of maths and a huge amount of hope, let’s think about a map which scripts the journey into the kingdom of heaven, with simplicity and infallibility.
Instead of notes which helped three men once upon a time, let’s think of a living book which continues to be a guide for all people for all time. And instead of heading back into a world of turmoil and misery, what about the prospect of heading into an eternal kingdom of joy?
If Jim Lovell’s notebook was worth £¼m to someone, what price should we put on God’s Word, to desperately sinful and needy people who need to find their way home?
Were we to study Lovell’s notes, we almost certainly wouldn’t make any sense of his figures. Yet the Bible points us unmistakeably to heaven and in the plainest terms directs us to the Lord Jesus Christ, our only hope of salvation.
Despite the differences between the two journeys, there is too this point of similarity. The first step on the journey to heaven begins with the same humbling admission, ‘Lord, I have a problem’!