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Will NASA’s falling satellite hit you?

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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This conceptual image shows the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, launched on Sept. 15, 1991, by the space shuttle Discovery. Originally designed for a three-year mission, UARS measured chemical compounds found in the ozone layer, wind and temperature in the stratosphere, as well as the energy input from the sun (Credit: NASA)

Unless you live with the penguins in Antarctica, it might.  NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) is falling to Earth at this moment.  Pieces could land anywhere but Antarctica, any time from this morning through Saturday.  The satellite weighs more than 6.5 tons.  Around 1,200 pounds are expected to survive re-entry and land in more than 100 pieces.  The biggest will weigh around 300 pounds.

What’s it like to get hit by space junk?  Let’s ask Lottie Williams, the only person in history known to have the experience.  In January 1997, she and two friends were walking through a park in Tulsa, Oklahoma around 3:30 A.M. when they saw a huge fireball streaking from the skies.  It turned out to be a Delta II rocket re-entering the atmosphere.  A piece the size of a soda can struck her on the shoulder.  She wasn’t injured, but the event was a bit unnerving.

What are the odds that you’ll get hit?  There’s a one in 3,200 chance that someone will be struck by a piece of the satellite.  The odds that it will be you are one in several trillion.

You’re probably not worried about space junk this morning, but something else about the future has your attention.  A decision to be made, a problem to be addressed, a fear to be faced.  This week i found help in a text I’d never noticed before.

I was reading Exodus 13, after Pharaoh let the Jewish people go: “God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.  For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’  So God led the people around the desert road toward the Red Sea” (vs. 17-18).  Here’s the new thought for me: the Jewish people had no idea who the Philistines were.  They had been enslaved in Egypt for more than four centuries.  God’s leadership must have made no sense to them–they were abandoning the quickest way out of Egypt for the longest, and were marching straight for the Red Sea.  How could this possibly be the right way to the Promised Land?

But our Father knew what they did not–that the Philistines would become their mortal enemies, but the Red Sea would soon be parted by his miraculous power.  He took them where they had no idea they needed to go.

So it is with my fears about the future.  My Father knows the enemies I don’t even know exist, and has a plan for the ones I do.  If I’ll follow his Spirit as he leads me by Scripture, prayer, and circumstances, he’ll direct me to a destination more glorious than I can imagine.  As C. S. Lewis observed, sometimes “the longest way round is the shortest way home.”