A Stone in a Wheelchair

Stephen Hawking in Wheelchair.

Stephen Hawking's Life Can Teach Us Something

by Eric Elkin

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
— Psalm 118:22

On Wednesday, March 14, famed Cambridge University physicist and author, Stephen Hawking died. The New York Times, perhaps, summed up his life the best when they wrote, “He roamed the universe in a wheel-chair.” He also roamed the imaginations of millions of people around the world. Confined to a wheelchair, he carried us to the beginning of creation and into distant black holes.

Hawking’s journey through life was extraordinary even for the healthiest of human beings. But the odds of him living to the age of 76 were equally as improbable as the list of his accomplishments.

At the age of 21, the simplest of tasks became difficult for Hawking. He easily lost balance and struggled with motor skills. Soon his speech began to slur, and his family became concerned. After getting examined by specialists, doctors determined he had motor neuron disease, also known as ALS.  Doctors gave him two years to live.

Despite his declining health, Hawking struggled to accept help. He was fiercely independent and hated being reliant upon anyone other than himself. Even as he worked to make Cambridge University more handicap accessible, he rejected the role of a disability rights advocate. He wanted to distance himself from his illness and its challenges.

One could argue, Stephen Hawking was a stone that the builders rejected but became a chief cornerstone in life. What I find remarkable, though, the one who rejected Hawking was himself. The force which most sought to compromise his abilities was his own body. Despite having a fantastic mind, he rejected those who desired most to help him. The world might never have known his full brilliance had he been more physically capable of working on his own.

As journalists and colleagues detailed the intricacies of Hawking’s accomplishments and his impact on culture, one story remains hidden. The hidden story of how much grace and compassion from friends and strangers helped Hawking be a force in the world.

Hawking was an atheist. He believed scientific laws, not a God, governed the universe. I don’t want to hijack him into the realm of faith in his death. However, by the laws of science, he should have died. It was grace which helped a rejected stone in a wheelchair roam the universe. His life, no matter how you feel spiritually, is a witness to the power of grace to sustain life.

Click to read: Psalm 118: 14-24

Reflection Question:

  • When have you felt like a rejected stone?
  • When have you been the one rejecting your own self?
  • Where has grace helped you find life?
  • Where can you share grace to give life?

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