von Braun’s Surrender

Wernher_von_Braun_smallHere’s an interesting story from WWII. Wernher von Braun developed the V2 rocket program for the Nazis, surrendered to the Americans, and played a primary role in developing the Saturn V rocket that enabled us to land a man on the moon. But why did he surrender to the Americans?

On May 2, 1945, upon finding an American private from the U.S. 44th Infantry Division, von Braun’s brother and fellow rocket engineer, Magnus, approached the soldier on a bicycle, calling out in broken English: “My name is Magnus von Braun. My brother invented the V-2. We want to surrender.” After the surrender, von Braun spoke to the press:

“We knew that we had created a new means of warfare, and the question as to what nation, to what victorious nation we were willing to entrust this brainchild of ours was a moral decision more than anything else. We wanted to see the world spared another conflict such as Germany had just been through, and we felt that only by surrendering such a weapon to people who are guided by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured.”

Let that sink in for a minute. One regarded as the greatest rocket scientist of all time chose who would get his powerful knowledge – knowledge that could be used for incredible good or evil –¬†based on the idea that only a people guided by the Bible could be trusted with that knowledge. Why is that? What is it about the Bible that would offer him any hope that the US would not abuse this advantage¬†once they had it?

First, the Bible sets the standard of right and wrong outside of man’s control. No king or president or prime minister (or even popular majority) can redefine what is right or wrong. Right is what is consistent with God’s unchanging character, while wrong is whatever is contrary to that, no matter who does it or how many do it. Thus, no one is above God’s law.

Second, the Bible establishes a standard binding not simply our outward actions, but our innermost thoughts as well. Not murdering someone isn’t good enough, for God sees the motives of our hearts and says we are not even to hate our brother, even if we never act on it. Similarly, stealing, lying, and every other unethical behavior all start with a thought, and Jesus addresses the problem (the action) at the source (the thought) as no other religion or worldview does.

Third, the Christian concept of grace flies in the face of any other world religion when it cleaves merit from salvation. The Bible tells us that there is no amount of good deeds that can earn our salvation. Rather, it is a freely and lovingly offered gift from God for us to either gratefully accept, or reject at our own peril. This then removes the motive of self-interest from the good deeds we do for others. We then help others not to “score points” with God, but to express our gratitude for all He’s done for us and pass on our blessings to others – “Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).

So in the end, a people guided by the Bible would perform good actions generated from right thoughts and pure motives. Will a whole nation of people all do that? No. Will any of us consistently do that 100% of the time? Not in our own strength. Only God’s transformative renewal in us can accomplish that. But von Braun correctly saw that the people with that as their aim would be a better safehouse for power than the nation without such a standard.

Would someone with incredibly destructive knowledge entrust it to our country now, knowing the world would be a safer place because of our integrity and our adherence to an unwavering divine standard of right conduct? Sadly, I think it would be questionable.

“Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent, and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” – Revelation 2:5, Jesus speaking to the church of Ephesus and just maybe to us as well.