It was a feat like no other ever achieved in the history of the world.
Only once had it even been attempted – in 1960.
Felix Baumgartner, a 43-year old former paratrooper from Austria, decided that he would travel above the earth in a capsule, under a balloon. Wearing a special suit, Baumgartner would jump out of the capsule and fall back to earth.
He would jump from 24 miles up. It would be the highest manned balloon flight ever.
Why would anyone do this?
Baumgartner wanted to see if he could break the sound barrier. It would just be him, alone, falling through the sky. NASA, anxious to make improvements on its “space-wear”, also wanted to see how his suit held up. So on a Sunday, up went Felix. Eight million people worldwide tuned in via the internet (by way of cameras mounted on the capsule) to see him jump.
When the capsule reached an altitude of 128,100 feet, Felix went to the doorway, gave a thumbs-up, and jumped into the inky blackness of the stratosphere. Baumgartner reached a speed of 833.9 miles an hour on his way down. He broke the sound barrier, becoming the first human to reach supersonic speed without the added benefit of a jet or spacecraft.
Amazingly, Felix Baumgartner, parachuting in, landed on his feet in the dessert near Roswell, New Mexico. After falling to his knees and lifting his arms in victory, Baumgartner spoke of his extraordinary experience.
“When I was standing there on top of the world,” he said, “you become so humble, you do not think about breaking records anymore, you do not think about gaining scientific data. The only thing you want is to come back alive.”
Perspective helps us focus on the important things in life.
Then Felix smiled and told the reporters:
“Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are.”
Perspective also gives us a new attitude – a new way of seeing ourselves and the world around us.
I’m guessing that Felix Baumgartner saw what we saw through the camera when he stepped to the open doorway of that capsule in space. It was the earth, round, blue and beautiful; and, yes, incredibly, awesomely majestic.
Getting a glimpse of the cosmos, we suddenly realize how insignificant we truly are.
Yes, altitude changes attitude.
The universe has that effect.
Appreciating its surreal vastness reminds us of our mortal limitations. It reminds us, too, of the infinite greatness of our Creator. To see what Felix Baumgartner saw that Sunday is to see our world and to see ourselves as God sees us.
It is to capture – for an imperfect instant – something of the divine perspective. It is to step back and see ourselves, not for what and who we think we are in all our foolish strivings and vain ambitions – but rather to see ourselves for what God knows us to be in the truth of his sovereign reality.
“For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.” (Psalm 103: 14, NLT).
Few things are as healthy as getting in touch with our own mortality and the fragile fallibilities of our nature.
God watches the people of the earth scurrying about as ants seeking dominance on a small mound of dirt and he smiles the omnipotent smile of a beneficent Maker. From where God sits – from the heavenly throne on which he rules – “all the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket. They are nothing more than dust on the scales. He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand.” (Isaiah 40: 15, NLT).
This is the way God sees us. This is the divine perspective.
“How small we are … you become so humble.”
In a few days, many will wring their hands over the outcome of a national election that didn’t go their way. We’ll forget for a moment that to the Lord God of the universe, “all nations before him are as nothing; they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.” (Isaiah 40: 17, KJV).
The psalmist knew.
“When I consider thy heaven, the work of thy fingers, the moon and stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3-4, KJV).
Only a God of unconquerable mercy and grace could display so great a love upon so infinitesimal a creature as man. We may be eternally grateful that something more than God’s glory ascends to the heavens. God “does not deal harshly with us as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.” (Psalm 103: 10, 11, NLT).
Few of us will ever see the earth from 24 miles up. Yet we should still seek a perspective of God and ourselves that reflects a true appreciation of both.
“Put them in fear, O Lord; that the nations may know themselves to be but men.” (Psalm 9: 20, KJV).
God help us to “see how small we are.”