by John Dickson
So how does the Christian faith cope with the idea of extra-terrestrial life? Imagine we do discover rational life out there, or imagine if it first discovers us. What could my faith say to that? Well, that sort of depends on who it is we meet and what they’re like. Imagine they’re a race of intelligent beings that’s weaker than we are. If our own experience is anything to go on, it doesn’t bode well for them.
Human history is a sad story of the strong oppressing the weak. Babylon or Rome crushing other nations into pretended peace. Vikings, raping and pillaging throughout France and England. Guys, we have to do a show on the Vikings and their conversion to Christianity. It’s something I’ve been reading about. I love it. Or think of our modern privileged West, sourcing our luxuries at the expense of the poor.
So, here’s the thing. Would it be any different if we discovered vulnerable life on some far-flung planet? My Bible tells me, and experience tells me, probably not. Light years aren’t enough to separate us from our own human nature.
Light years aren’t enough to separate us from our own human nature.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “We are not fit yet to visit other worlds. We have filled our own with massacre, torture, syphilis famine, dust bowls and with all that is hideous to ear or eye. Must we go on to infect new realms?” All right, but what if we meet an alien race that was actually stronger than we are and what if they did a quick survey of human history and decided that we don’t deserve to belong to the United Federation of Planets? Thanks to director Mark for the Star Trek reference, yet again. They decide to leave us banished in the universe and destroy any of us who attempt to go near them.
Then I suppose we’ll get our just desserts. We will have faced the just judgment of God in space. But there are more possibilities and I think Christianity can cope with them. too. What if we meet a race that has no moral faults and therefore has no need of the salvation Christians cherish. Personally, I think that would be fabulous. I would quote the teaching of Jesus. It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Assuming we didn’t infect them, we’d have heaps to learn from them. How do we resolve conflicts? How do we love others as ourselves? These aliens would be a living Sermon on the Mount and we’d be better for it. Alternatively, we might meet a race that was every bit as mixed as we are. An inscrutable combination of selfish and altruistic.
In that case, while some might see aliens, Christians would see brothers and sisters, fellow members of the league of the guilty. They may, on the one hand, already have their own history of God’s intervention and redemption, but if not, the church would have work to do.
Again, C.S. Lewis thought about this and wrote, “We might meet a species which, like us, needed redemption but had not been given it. But would this fundamentally be more of a difficulty than any Christians first meeting with a new tribe of indigenous people? It would be our duty to preach the gospel to them for if they are rational, capable of both sin and repentance, they are our brethren, whatever they look like.”
And I’m sure the theologians would be quick to chime in that the New Testament does, in fact, speak of Christ redeeming the cosmos, not just humanity. In Colossians 1 we read, “For God was pleased to have his fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.”
5 Minute Jesus: Redeeming the Cosmos