Feeding my love for astronomy recently, I read the following: “Comet Halley,” writes Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan (Discovery, Nov. 1985), “sews the generations together, stitching back through history and forward into epochs to come—binding the human species.”

Halley’s Comet, the authors remind us, will return; we shall see it in 2061—if we survive. But, they contend, “there is a real question of how many humans will be left the next time Comet Halley comes by the earth.” Alas, we humans have the means of our own self-destruction, and there is considerable likelihood that we shall use it. “If we survive until then, our passage to the next apparition of Comet Halley should be easy.” But that “if” looms very large on the human horizon.

Sagan and his co-author conclude their article with a prayer: “We live on a fragile planet, whose thoughtful preservation is essential if our children are to have a future. We are only custodians for a moment of a world that is itself no more than a moment of dust in a universe incomprehensibly vast and old. May we therefore learn to act, before all else, for the species and the planet.”

The prayer of an atheist and secular humanist like Carl Sagan reminded me of the old adage “There are no atheists in foxholes.” But it is only fair to interpret his prayer as poetic license to express the heartfelt yearnings of a soul facing the awful catastrophe hovering over the human race.

Not long ago I listened to a Christian offering a biblical perspective on the likelihood of such a catastrophe. The believer, he argued, need not fear nuclear destruction because the world will not end that way. God is in control, he said, and the Bible predicts that humankind will work its bitter way through the gathering darkness. In the end, God will destroy the wicked and usher in a beautiful world of perfect peace and righteousness.

The implication of his message seemed abundantly clear: We Christians need not worry, and it would be sheer folly to try to do anything about the threat of nuclear holocaust. God has it all planned, and for Christians it is all going to turn out right.

Now I confess there is significant truth in what this fellow said. But the ethical consequences he drew seemed wholly antibiblical. To a person like Carl Sagan, such “logic” sounds like fatalistic optimism. Don’t worry, don’t do anything, simply trust in “pie in the sky by and by.”

And yet Christians are not fatalists. The Bible never permits Christians to rest on their laurels and do nothing about the evils of the world. It commands us to strive for finite earthly and human values, and teaches that God will hold us accountable to be faithful in working to achieve these goals. A cup of cold water is not heaven. But to a man dying of thirst it is crucial.

The Christian guided by biblical revelation knows, of course, that some values are more important than human life. Among these is liberty, especially religious liberty—the right to worship God freely and to instruct our children in the faith.

That is why most Christians cannot espouse an unqualified pacifism or opt for unilateral disarmament. Hence, the Christian must walk in a narrow path that threads its way through dangerous terrain. He is guided by ultimate values that dictate a course seldom easy and often misunderstood.

We repudiate the pessimistic fatalism that destroys any motivation to act. The Christian must battle for peace as strenuously as Sagan, who feels the whole weight of the world on his feeble human shoulders. At the same time, physical survival on planet Earth is not the ultimate value to which Christians give their allegiance.

Faith in Jesus Christ relieves us of no earthly responsibility. Rather, it motivates us to love and serve our fellow humans, while sustaining us by the promises of God.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.