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The first atomic bomb was detonated on this day: The brilliance of Robert Oppenheimer and God’s call to every Christian

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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The first atomic bomb was detonated on this day: The brilliance of Robert Oppenheimer and God's call to every Christian
This photo made by a U.S. Army automatic newsreel camera, shows the test explosion of the world's first atomic bomb at Alamagordo, N.M., on July 16, 1945. The test, known as Trinity, of the plutonium bomb capped a $2 billion effort, unprecedented in those times.

On July 16, 1945, at 5:29 am, the world changed.

That was the moment when the Manhattan Project exploded the first atom bomb. The test took place in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Scientists and a few dignitaries removed themselves ten thousand yards away to observe as the first mushroom cloud stretched forty thousand feet into the air. The bomb generated the destructive power of fifteen to twenty thousand tons of TNT. The tower on which it sat when it was detonated was vaporized.

The original $6,000 budget for the Manhattan Project grew to a total cost of $2 billion.

The brilliance of Robert Oppenheimer

In his book, Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World, Chris Wallace describes the project’s director, Robert Oppenheimer: “He was fluent in six languages and well versed in classical literature and Eastern philosophy. He learned Sanskrit just so he could read the ‘Bhagavad Gita,’ a Hindu devotional poem, in its original language.”

Oppenheimer graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University in three years. At the age of twenty-two, he was awarded a PhD in physics from the University of Gottingen in Germany. He led a team comprised of some of the greatest physicists in the world, including six Nobel Prize winners.

As he witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, a sentence from the Bhagavad Gita ran through Oppenheimer’s mind: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” According to Wallace, Oppenheimer was proud of their achievement, believing that the bomb would shorten the war.

A Hindu scholar explains that the phrase meant to Oppenheimer, “In the larger scheme of things, presumably The Bomb represented the path of the battle against the forces of evil, which were epitomized by the forces of fascism”.

Robert Oppenheimer led a project that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people but may have saved as many as ten million lives. Whatever your views of the atomic bomb and war, know this: as a Christian, you have been called to do what only you can do to make a difference for Christ that only you can make.

God’s call to every Christian

You may not graduate from Harvard in three years or lead a team of six Nobel Prize winners, but the Lord has entrusted you with gifts and capacities he intends to use for his kingdom purposes. His word states: “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7).

David Vryhof of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston writes: “We have been chosen … to work with God and on behalf of God for the healing and reconciliation of our broken world, and for this work God has equipped us with gifts which enable us to carry out our task. There is not a single Christian who is not a minister of the Gospel of Christ. There is not a single Christian who has not been called to this work.”

What is your “work” today?