19 December 2014
Who are the Hawkings?
The Theory of Everything, released 1 January, tells the love story of a unique couple. It follows an icon of our time back into his past, as he attempts to trace the very origins of our existence. It's not only the character and convictions of Stephen Hawking, played by Eddie Redmayne, that make this film so captivating, but those of the fellow Cambridge student who becomes the love of his life, Jane Wilde – Felicity Jones.
As a young man, Stephen is not just known for his genius; he is sporty, witty and charming. He is full of the hope of new love, passionate about the prospect of scientific discovery, and raring to make something of himself. But, at the age of 21, his future is apparently obliterated when he is diagnosed with a terminal illness that will rob him of his faculties. "The brain isn't affected," the doctor tells him. "Your thoughts won't change; it's just no one will know what they are."
As we reflect on identity, it's a sobering situation to imagine ourselves in. Without the chance to share our breakthroughs, to demonstrate our abilities, to confide our feelings, who are we? Now factor in the ambitions of one of the greatest thinkers of our time, and his belief that he – along with the rest of humanity – is merely an accident of cosmology, and imagine the despair.
Stephen is not alone in this battle, however.Jane is determined to stand with him, for however long he has left. "This will not be a fight, Jane," her father warns her. "This is going to be a very heavy defeat." But, love makes her tenacious: "I know what you all think: that I don't look like a terribly strong person. But I love him, and he loves me. We're going to fight this illness, together."
They marry, staring down the barrel of Stephen's prognosis. As their life together unfurls before them, Jane must summon all her inner strength to contend with the everyday reality of her role as a carer. How will their marriage evolve to meet the demands of Stephen's condition, his career and their children? What about Jane's needs? Will she receive the support necessary to keep giving sacrificially?
We see Jane go to church on more than one occasion, and there is the suggestion that her faith gives her an unshakable hope. In many ways her identity is wrapped up in her role as Stephen's wife and carer, having sacrificed so many of her own pursuits in the process. Nevertheless, the God of the Bible gives his followers an identity that does not depend on status.
Stephen's identity is impacted by his belief that the origins of existence can be explained without God, that, "spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist."1 The real Hawking says:
"We are such insignificant creatures on a minor planet of a very average star on the outer suburbs of one of a hundred thousand million galaxies. So it is difficult to believe in a God that would care about us or even notice our existence."2
When God is taken out of the equation of existence, the inherent value of people is easily lost. Our identity becomes the sum of our achievements, our image and our legacy. We must create it ourselves. When our ability to succeed in these areas is threatened, we run the risk of feeling worthless, a mere victim of chance.
Conversely, the foundation of Jane's identity is that she is made, loved and chosen by God. This is the love that she can lean on in the face of bereavement and illness, and the daily struggles that accompany each.
In the film, Stephen says: "There should be no boundary to human endeavour. However bad life may seem, while there is life, there is hope." But the Christian hope soars further than even the greatest human mind could fathom. There is no limit to God's love for us, regardless of what we have done. However bad life may seem, there will always be God, so there will always be hope.
The Theory of Everything is released in cinemas on 1 January 2015. For free official resources, see damaris.org/theoryofeverything
1 Stephen Hawking in Hawking and LeonardMlodinow, The Grand Design (Bantam, 18August 2011) p.180
2 Stephen Hawking quoted in Albert Mohler,'What Breathes Fire into the Equations?' (9 January 2012)