When I read in the newspaper yesterday that Armstrong had died after surgery it saddened me. He has always seemed to me to be a genuinely humble hero who had accomplished a mission that was both risky and inspiring, and he did it before the watching eyes of the entire human race. Afterward he was more than willing to quietly live his life out of the limelight.
What Neil Armstrong did, what the NASA organization accomplished so long ago, truly was amazing and great. Yet in some ways today it almost seems that perhaps it was a leap sideways. It was a phenomenal achievement, but today there are no colonies on the moon. We have not advanced further out into space by sending people to land on other planets. Our space travel technology is not massively advanced beyond the Apollo days. In short, though it was marvelous and inspiring, it would be hard to see how that was a giant leap forward for the human race.
I have been reflecting on the question of what really is great and heroic. The boyhood tendency is to define it as something that will be noticed, admired and applauded by other people. By that definition the Apollo 11 mission most certainly qualified. But are greatness and heroism measured by the size and acclaim of the audience? Everyone knows that’s not true. We all know that there have always been people who were heroic without anyone ever seeing. Greatness surely cannot be measured by audience.
The phrase “giant leap for mankind” has been echoing in my brain. The Apollo missions remind us that we don’t always know what really will be a leap forward. It is clear to me that whatever a “giant leap” entails, I am not personally going to be or do something that will bring about such a leap forward for the entire race. But what if I can do something that will help some people make a small step forward? Wouldn’t that be great? And I find that’s something I can do. I can help people find God’s grace. I can help them find hope and peace. I can help them draw closer to God, and all these things would be great steps forward for them. Such things will require some heroic efforts, because I will have to stand for the truth and will have to sacrifice to some extent, and that’s not always easy. So though I likely will not be noticed by many people and whatever effect I have may be humble indeed, I find that God has indeed called me to greatness. He’s called all of us to it, because he wants to use all of us to help others make leaps forward in his grace.