As Apollo 8 orbited the moon on December 24, 1968, one of its occupants, U.S. astronaut William Anders, was captivated by the beauty of the earth as it rose over the moon. He quickly called for color film to photograph the scene. The result was one of the most stunning and iconic pictures ever taken. In the foreground, is the brown, barren surface of the moon. In the background, almost 240,000 miles in the distance, is the lustrous orb of the Earth.

Before signing off from their transmissions that day, the three crew members took turns with a very moving reading of the first ten verses of Genesis chapter one, ending with the greeting, “…God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

“Earthrise,” as the famous photograph came to be known, brings different thoughts to the minds of its viewers. Perhaps the most prominent impression it has created is that of the fragility of the Earth and, therefore, of humankind’s need to take care of it. Thus, “Earthrise” has been called “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken,” and another said that it was “the beginning of the environmental movement.”

Exactly fifty years to the day after taking the photograph, December 24, 2018, William Anders himself said, “We set out to explore the moon and instead discovered the Earth.” However, the impression which is common to all who view the photograph is that of the uniqueness of Earth. This is seen in the stark contrast between it and the moon. In the photograph, the dead and dusty surface of the moon, utterly devoid of any sign of life, fills the foreground. Nothing interrupts the black background of infinite space behind the moon, except the cheering image of the shining Earth, its radiant blue, white, and green colors suggestive of the life which teems on it.

The viewer can hardly help but be struck by the drastic difference between the two bodies. The Earth lies alone, in all its living glory and beauty, in the dark, deep ocean of empty space. This not only suggests the distinctiveness of the Earth as the only place in the universe known to support life but also raises the question, “Why is that so?”

The answer lies in Genesis chapter one, from which the astronauts themselves read as they circled the moon that same day. God left His own indelible impression on the universe for all humankind to see — one represented in this famous photograph — by making for them a home which only He could make.

No, God did not create the Earth so humans could take care of it; rather, God created the Earth to take care of humans. Whether humans take care of Earth or not, life on it will end, but life on Earth is no end in itself. Earth will not be humanity’s home forever. It is but a “home away from home.” It is their home only until life ends for each of them and God brings those who love Him to their real and eternal home in heaven. Jesus said, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (Juan 14:3). God prepared the first home for people, and they should live in it so as to live in the next. This is the true message of “Earthrise.”

–Gary Eubanks