How a NASA astronaut found Jesus: 'Christ completely turned my life upside down'
Jeff Williams' fascination with science began at a young age growing up in Winter, Wisconsin, where he avidly consumed books on the subject.
Encouraged by a teacher, he pursued his passion. Little did he know that it would lead him to a remarkable career in the military, and he would eventually break a record by spending 534 days in space as an astronaut with NASA.
In an interview with The Christian Post, the 65-year-old revealed how his lifelong love of science and his faith in Christ intersect. Although he didn't spend much time in church during his childhood, he detailed how he and his wife came to Christ during a tumultuous time in their marriage.
Growing up, Williams said he "was always pretty good at school" and especially enjoyed studying "math and science and engineering."
"And eventually, [those were] areas in which I decided I wanted to study and grow into, and that's what ended up happening once I got to the [U.S.] Military Academy," Williams shared.
"I did well in school. It was a very small school. There were only 34 people in my graduating class, but I graduated high school as the valedictorian class president and as president of the student council."
While in eighth grade, Williams explored what faith in God should look like. His family considered themselves Christian, but they never attended church.
"On my own, I went and joined a confirmation class with a local Lutheran pastor. At that phase in my life, I had a lot of questions about faith and the Bible. And I remember that was a very profound year for me," Williams said.
"Joining the confirmation class was something I did on my own. It was not in the context of my family. And following the class, my faith kind of went on pause once I got into high school. So I always had very little participation in a church, even in that year I did the confirmation class."
Williams graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1980, and six months later, he married his wife, Anna-Marie, who was raised as a non-religious Catholic. According to Williams, they did not become active in their faith until about seven years later when they faced "some pretty significant difficulties" in their marriage.
During this time, Williams said, "God put Christians around us." The couple moved to Texas because of his military status. It was in Texas that his wife came "to faith after hearing the Gospel."
"And then, I spent the next several months trying to understand what happened to her by studying the scriptures. I studied the Gospel of John and the letter to the Romans, primarily," said Williams.
Following their move to Texas, Williams was stationed in Alabama, where he continued to read the Bible to better understand his wife's newfound faith.
"One day, I asked her to come to Alabama for a long weekend in January of 1988. And I asked her to help me pray to commit my life to Christ on that weekend," Williams detailed.
"And that's when we began to rebuild our marriage and how we raised our children and how we approached life altogether."
From there, Williams said, he and his family started attending church together whenever he was home.
"Christ completely turned my life upside down," he shared.
"Instead of living for myself and without a greater purpose, now I had a purpose for myself and my family," Williams said.
"I became aware through a growing awareness and understanding of calling in life that we've been created for a purpose, and that purpose is to serve God and our fellow man. So that was a profound change in my approach to life."
After graduating from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School class 103 in 1993, Williams was selected as an astronaut in 1996.
By then, he already had a firmly established belief in Jesus and believed science and Christianity were not in conflict.
"By the time I was selected to be an astronaut, I knew that questions would come up a lot," said Williams. "So, I spent a lot of time and effort studying the material to address those questions and, for example, the apparent conflict between the theory of evolution and all of the associated philosophies."
"Since the early '90s, I've been studying this area because of the questions I knew I would get, the questions that I continue to get, and the requests that I get to come speak on the topic."
In 2016, Williams broke the record for most cumulative days spent in space, which was later broken by Peggy Whitson. During his career, he was the commander of Expedition 47/48 in 2016, a flight engineer and lead spacewalker for STS-101 in 2000, a flight engineer for Expedition 13 in 2005, a flight engineer for Expedition 21 in 2009, and commander of Expedition 22 in 2009.
In 2010, after returning from Expedition 21, Williams released his book The Work of His Hands: A View Of God's Creation From Space, which recounts his observations as he orbited the Earth more than 2,800 times and took more photographs of the Earth than any astronaut in history. Every shot contains lessons about God's creation, according to the book's description.
Williams said the often-promoted idea that "science is the reason we progress" while "the Bible draws us back and regresses us" is false.
"Even the term of the so-called 'dark ages,' which were, in fact, not so dark, is a derogatory term that supports that thesis that 'religion, in general, Christianity specifically, is regressive. It wants to take us back. It wants to draw us back,'" said Williams. "So that's the biggest challenge."
According to Williams, failing to engage with the Bible and understand how science and Christianity can coexist poses a significant risk.
"I regard the ultimate authority to be the Word of God. The Word of God is true. It is the Word of God, the Creator of all things, and the One who we know is our Redeemer. So it is authoritative," Williams said.
"I just have to do the work to understand it, to draw the truth out of it, and to apply that truth to the world around us. If you don't regard the Bible as authoritative, then you're going to replace it with something else."
The Williamses have two adults sons and four grandchildren. They reside in Battle Ground, Washington, where they serve at Word of Grace Bible Church. In addition to his degrees in aeronautical engineering and national security, Williams has a doctor of ministry from The Master’s Seminary.
Nicole Alcindor is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.