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David Block: “Quantum Leap”

David Block: “Quantum Leap”

An astronomer discovers the Messiah

Few teenagers would hope to be elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. But at the age of 19, on the strength of his detailed work on relativity and black holes, David Block was invited to join the prestigious society once led by Sir Fred Hoyle and Sir Bernard Lovell.

South African David, who was born into an orthodox Jewish home, holds a Ph.D. in astronomy and is a member of the American Astronomical association as well as the American Scientific Affiliation. In 1988 he published Starwatch, an “exploration of the universe and its meaning”.

At present David is a professor of Astronomy and applied Mathematics at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. He has been a guest astronomer at the University of Hawaii and at the European Southern Observatory. Patrick Moore has described him as, “one of the world’s leading astronomers of the younger school”.

I vividly recall, as a high school student, listening keenly to the rabbi expounding the Hebrew Scriptures at the Sabbath synagogue services. But I found it perplexing that over the centuries God seemed to have changed. From the rabbi’s sermons, I understood that the God of Moses was personal – directing Moses’ steps and telling him where to go next – but my God was a distant deity.

In 1970, radio stations were carrying reports of the appearance of the famous Bennett comet, discovered by South African astronomer jack Bennett. It was at this time that my father bought me a small telescope and one morning at 4 a.m. I beheld the spectacle of a lifetime – one of the great comets of this century, with its tail blazing above the eastern horizon. My interest in astronomy was ignited.

One unforgettable evening I set my telescope on the planet Saturn. I carefully carried the reflecting telescope outdoors, put my eye to the lens and there they were in their majesty and splendour – the rings of Saturn! Looking up, I said to myself, “There must be a God!” I was looking for a personal, loving, creator God. My search for Him had only just begun.

Each year on the Day of Atonement I would fast and pray. I would leave synagogue hoping my sins were forgiven but never certain. One of the prayers for the day was the plea, “Lord inscribe my name in your book for another year”. It was a prayer that God would forgive sin and write my name in his Book of Life, but I had no assurance that my sins were forgiven. Where was the personal God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? How could one have an intimate relationship with him?

In 1972, as my interest in astronomy grew, I entered the Witwatersrand University, one of the largest universities in South Africa, to study for a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science. A thorough applied mathematical foundation is fundamental to any serious study of astronomy. During my time as a student I began to regularly meet a dear family friend, Lewis Hurst, a professor of Genetics and Medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand, who asked me to give him some informal private lessons in astronomy. We discussed the universe and its constituent material – planets, stars, and galaxies — as well as cosmology, at great length.

The universe I knew was so large, so immense. It is commonly believed, for example, that light from the most distant galaxy travels for some 16,000 million years to reach our eyes, journeying at 186,000 miles per second. Did God design the universe as a home for man, or was man just an accident?

Professor Hurst graciously listened to my probing questions and one day he introduced me to a close friend, John Spyker, an Anglican minister. In the course of our conversation John read to me from the New Testament book of Romans, explaining how Jesus was a stumbling block to the Jews but that those who believe in Him will never be ashamed. Would I accept the fact that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, or would I reject Him?

I knew then that Jesus was who He said He was — the Messiah and Son of God — and I prayed for my sins to be forgiven. The peace of God and His joy and grace flooded my being. It was October 1976 and Jesus was my personal Saviour!

It might seem strange that a scientist should come to faith in Jesus. Scientists deal with facts. But faith in Jesus is not blind faith. Faith is based on evidence; I saw the evidence and I believed. Albert Einstein in an interview once said: “Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrase-mongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot… No one can read the gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”

God is no longer simply the God of history to me. He is personal. He lives in my heart. He cares for me and directs my steps. He loves me so much that he died for me. I am Jewish and when I met the greatest Teacher who ever lived, face-to-face, I knew where I had come from, my life had meaning and purpose and I now know where I am going.

 

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