The Legacy of Stephen Hawking: The Man Who Searched for the Theory of Everything

Posted by Ravi Zacharias, on March 19, 2018
Topic: Blog

One of our scientists on the RZIM team will be writing an article on the accomplishments of Mr. Hawking. I write as a “layman” in that discipline.

The picture was familiar: a crouching body being wheeled along the beautiful side streets of Cambridge. It was not an uncommon sight to see the great Stephen Hawking being taken to his appointments. I had the privilege of hearing him once in a large public gathering at Lady Mitchell Hall in 1990 in the six months my family and I lived in Cambridge, England. He was speaking on “Is man determined or free?” Even in his crouching, folded up body, he was seen as a giant in his discipline, and so scholars from all over came whenever he spoke on some defining issue. How incredible that a broken frame could still hold a brilliant brain.

Stories are told of his ability to recall something he would have dictated pages before so as to make sure he had the equation right. One of his close friends, Nathan Myhrvold (co-founder of Intellectual Ventures), tells of Hawking making reference to his limitations that had some benefit: he said since he couldn’t write things down, he learned to distill complex issues to simpler postulates and memorize them. Also, he said, he was spared service by not being placed on faculty committees. One can see his humorous side. Men like him make most of humanity look average or below. Yet, his genius didn’t spare him relational heartaches and sadness.

I recall a conversation I had with one of India’s greatest tennis players, Vijay Amritraj. At one time he was ranked in the top ten in the world. He said that a press reporter once said to him, “Vijay, you’ve never won the big ones. How does that feel?”

Vijay paused and said, “My sons still call me every day.”

It took a while for the reporter to follow the logic. Not all the accolades of the world are what they appear to be. A tennis trophy has value but nowhere near the value of the love a father or mother gains from their children. I truly wonder if Hawking would have been willing to give up many ceremonial tributes to have won a deep relationship in its place. I only speculate. The closeness of a relationship in love and bonding brings the greatest joys, greater than any certificate of success. In these sunset years for me, the love of my family and friends means more to me than a certificate on a wall.

Hawking never did succeed in his quest for the theory of everything. As one opined, when we do reach that moment of knowing everything, God will come down with his ring of keys and say, “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s closing time.”

In fact, in this 21st century we still live with the fears that we can destroy everything. For the greatest scientist of our time, he may well have now encountered the one who knows everything. That conversation is now a reality. We shall all await that moment.

The truth is that as brilliant as he was, it was the love of people that got him to where he reached and that lies at the heart of all of our lives.

I recall speaking to a professional baseball team some years ago. One of the speakers speaking on “leaving a legacy” asked the players a question: “How many of you know where your grandfather is buried?” Several hands went up. He then asked, “How many of you know where your great grandfather is buried?” A smaller number of hands went up. That series went on. Then the speaker said: “You’re only a few generations away from being completely forgotten.”

There was a silence. One very famous player leaned over to me and said, “It really doesn’t matter to me whether my great-grandchildren know me or not, and what records I broke, as long as they know who Jesus Christ is.”

What a powerful reminder of our fleeting fame—and a beautiful reminder of our eternal message.

The world will be in debt for Hawking’s incredible steps in science. A genius of rare intellectual capacity, he showed us so much about the outer world.

I have a three-year-old grandson named Nico. He’s a sweet little boy. I have nicknamed him Einstein because he focuses on everything with the penetrating gaze of an analyst. When he gets a gift, he says: “Wow! Oh wow! A box! For me?”

We let him know it’s for him but that he needs to open it. The world is like a box (as Albert Einstein himself described it). And we need to know the one who made it is the only one who knows everything: God himself who sent his Son so that we might know why we exist and why He made us. He opens you up to your inner world. Therein lies the real understanding of life. That gives us both a brief history of time… and of eternity.