Q: What do space aliens, Jesus, black holes, The Garden of Eden and Rick Santorum all have in common?
A: This post.
Interested? Keep reading. This is going to be a fun one!
By this point, I hope that you’ve seen some references in the news to the Kepler Space Telescope. It’s a relatively cheap, but incredibly awesome observatory that is orbiting the Sun with its eyes constantly open for signs of planets in other solar systems. It watches distant stars within the Milky Way for the tell-tale shadow of a planet crossing in front of it. Scientists can then determine the planet’s size and relative distance from the star. Kepler’s main mission is to find planets that exist within the “Goldilocks” zone where it’s not too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist. Since all life on Earth needs water to live, we are considering that the baseline for life as we know it, and searching for other planets that might have the same building blocks for life that we do. Sure, life might exist without water. We might find life so exotic that we don’t even realize that it is life. That’s possible, but we’re going with our best guess here.
Remember that name because it will undoubtedly be in some trivia game in 15 years. That was the first planet that we have ever found outside of our solar system that has the conditions for liquid water. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they have a Taco Bell there, but space tacos are not completely impossible! Mars is within the habitable zone, but there is no liquid water there now, let alone any remains of fast food tacos. At one point, it had huge oceans, but Mars’ atmosphere no longer retains the heat that it needs to melt the ice-caps and refill the empty basins. Maybe Kepler-22-b is a wasteland like Mars, maybe it is a lush oasis like Earth, or maybe it’s something completely different. God only knows what Kepler-22-b looks like, but it brings up some really interesting ideas.
In my last post, I talked about the staggering size of our universe. 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars with any number of planets. The odds that we are the only species that have developed intelligence is so infinitesimally small, that I can say pretty confidently that there are other beings out there asking some very similar questions right now. That being said, chances are good that none of us will ever have a conversation with one of them. All matters of linguistic issues aside, if you did meet up with a being from Kepler-22-b, what would you talk about? For me, that’s a no-brainer. I want to ask him if he believes in God.
Can you imagine what it would be like to be a space-missionary? Where do you even begin? Jesus became a human and died for us. Does Jesus’ sacrifice even matter for an alien? Would they need their own space-Jesus? How far does Christ’s sacrifice reach? Does it only affect humans or has Jesus redeemed the entire Earth? Do butterflies need redeeming? How about the Moon? Has the Sun been transformed?
Environmentally minded Christians often talk about Jesus redeeming all of creation in a sort of “return to Eden” type of scenario, but I’m not sure that was the point at all. Genesis teaches us that humanity’s primary purpose is to hang out with God. If it makes you feel more comfortable to use lofty, holy language like “to praise and glorify the almighty”, then go for it, but I’m sticking with my interpretation. Before people screwed it up, their main job was to hang out with God. God likes us, and God really wants to just hang out and become better friends. God gave Adam and Eve one simple rule, and because they could not see how that rule benefited them, they broke it. They didn’t break some lofty, foundational law of the universe that threw everything off-balance. They did what we do every day. They betrayed their relationship with God. The story of Eden is not a story that happened on a particular day, month, and year in history. It’s a story that happens every single day.
What hubris it is to assume that eating a piece of fruit could condemn the entire created order! As if the moment that Eve took her first bite, black holes started swallowing planets, lions started eating antelopes, and Adam’s back started hurting. Humans are pretty important to God, but don’t kid yourself; we are not THAT important. A massive asteroid crashed into Earth and killed millions of animals before humans even came onto the scene. In fact, about 99% of all species that ever lived on this planet are extinct right now. The Earth was either “fallen” by the time that humans came onto the scene or the Earth is not the one with the problem.
I would argue that God’s relationship with the Earth is hunky dory. Jesus told the religious leaders in Luke 19:40 that if the people stopped shouting his praises that the rocks themselves would cry out. In Mark 4, Jesus calmed a stormy sea with two very grumpy words. The Earth seems like it still responds when God speaks. Meanwhile, God came to us as one of us, and we killed him. Humans are the ones with the problem, not creation. I keep reading quotes from Rick Santorum talking about how it’s our God-given duty to subdue the Earth as if it is some kind of wild stallion that lacks order. Sorry Rick but I think it is we who have lost the way. Jesus’ death and resurrection was to reconcile his relationship with humanity, and not with the entire cosmos. God wanted to hang out with us so much that God actually became 1/3 human, taking on all of our hangups and flaws into the swirling mass of love that is the Trinity and now invites us to join the party regardless of our baggage. That’s wonderful news! That’s also a paraphrase of John 3:16 that you are not likely to see in a Bible anytime soon.
So how about my friend the alien from Kepler-22-b? What if he tells me that he has never heard of Jesus? What if they walk around Kepler-22-b and commune with the planet through some Avatar-esque connectivity? What if his people never broke their communion with God and have no concept of war and oppression? For him, Jesus’ sacrifice would be a great story, but somewhat meaningless. Perhaps his people did stray away from God, and God managed to redeem them as well. Maybe God became incarnate as one of them in order to bring them back into the fold, or perhaps God chose an entirely different but no less meaningful way to bring them back. God’s strategies are not limited by anything or anyone. God only knows the amazing and awe-inspiring array of ways that countless fallen beings could have possibly been reconciled.
That being said, if we ever have the opportunity to visit other planets full of intelligent beings, let’s leave our evangelists at home. Just because we screwed up our relationship with God doesn’t mean that everyone else did too.
If you are interested in a wonderfully creative and insightful look into interactions with un-fallen creatures and the implications of our sin and redemption, please read Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra by C.S. Lewis. They are some of my favorite books and have changed the way I see the world in many ways.