What the Heavens Declared to a Young Astronomer


How I learned that the same God who numbered the stars knew and loved me personally.

I grew up a Jewish boy in a South African gold-mining town known as Krugersdorp. I remember sitting in shul (synagogue), enthralled as our learned rabbi expounded how God was a personal God—he would speak to Moses, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to many others. Growing up, I often pondered how I fit into all this.

By the time I entered the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, I was deeply concerned that I had no assurance that God was indeed a personal God. I was confident that he was a historical God who had delivered our people from the hands of Pharaoh. But he seemed so far removed from the particulars of my life in Krugersdorp. Where was the personality and the vibrancy of a God who truly could speak to me?

Someone was missing

As a student, I began working toward a degree in applied mathematics and computer science. Over the course of my studies, I became friendly with Lewis Hurst, then a professor of psychiatry and genetics. He had a great interest in astronomy, and we would discuss the complexities of the cosmos for hours at a time. Whenever we met, I would delight in explaining basic features of astronomy, such as black holes and quasars.

Intellectually, these were greatly satisfying years. Over time, I became fascinated with the elegance of the mathematical formulation of general relativity, and at age 19 I submitted my first research paper on that theme to the Royal Astronomical Society of London. When it was published one year later, I started receiving requests from observatories and universities for reprints or printed copies (on the mistaken belief that I was already a senior academic!).

But spiritually, this period was rather dry. I remember attending a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society graced …

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