Mankind has long looked up into the heavens and wondered, “What is out there?” We have pondered the vast depth of space, asking “Are there other forms of life out there, amongst the stars?” People have been moved by this mystery to create beautiful works of fiction, chronicling what may take place when we make first contact. Men and women of science, moved by the works of fiction, continually attempt to reach out in peace and meet what we would call extraterrestrials, or aliens.
While the creative types will continue to wonder about an initial meeting with the likes of E.T., and while scientists send out broadcasts “Across the Universe”, it occurred to me that we have not considered this from a different angle. People often think about things like what it would mean for scientific breakthroughs to meet an alien species. Perhaps they can travel faster than light, or have ways of communicating telepathically. I must admit, as a fan of science fiction and lover of space, these ideas are intriguing. But what I am more interested in is this:
How does the existence of aliens impact our spiritual life?
What does it mean for us Christians, should E.T. and his family come back to Earth?
Does their existence change the truths in the Bible, or effect what Jesus did on the Cross?
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT ALIENS?
Depending on what translation of the Bible you read from, the word “alien” may very well appear. Although it isn’t used often, when it is used, UFO enthusiasts will be disappointed to find that this word is being used with a different meaning. Rather than green skinned and glowing fingered visitors, when the Bible does us the word “alien” it’s actually referring to an outsider. Someone that is not from the nation of Israel, or born into one of the twelve tribes of Israel, would be considered an “alien”. If your Bible doesn’t use that word anywhere, then chances are they use the word “foreigner” instead. At the core, they mean the same thing.
But before we close the book on this issue, we should mention that the Bible does include some mentions of extraterrestrial beings. They didn’t call them aliens, but their descriptions are out of this world.
I looked, and I saw beside the cherubim four wheels, one beside each of the cherubim; the wheels sparkled like topaz. As for their appearance, the four of them looked alike; each was like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the cherubim faced; the wheels did not turn about as the cherubim went. The cherubim went in whatever direction the head faced, without turning as they went. Their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes, as were their four wheels. I heard the wheels being called “the whirling wheels.” Each of the cherubim had four faces: One face was that of a cherub, the second the face of a human being, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.
Ezekiel 10.9-14 NIV
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
Now, I don’t want to start a discussion about angels here, but I do want to point out something important. The God of the Bible is an extremely creative Being. One kind of angel has six wings, and four of them aren’t even used for flying. What is under those four wings? I have no idea. Another kind of angel or heavenly being has four faces. FOUR FACES. That isn’t even bringing up the issues of moving wheels and how it only moves forward. These are examples of extremely unique creatures. Things that are beyond our wildest imaginations. Things that we can not fully understand or explain.
It is not outside of the realm of possibilities that this Creative God can also make little green men, with their giant eyes and love for Reese’s Pieces. That is not too difficult for the God of the Bible. You may ask yourself why God would do something like that, and that is a fair question. I don’t know what purpose aliens would serve. But it seems that whatever God creates, He does so out of that creative force. And He does fill these creations with purpose. The angels, both cherubim and seraphim, were created to worship God. When you look at human beings, a strange mash up of flesh and bones, we were created to “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind (Ecclesiastes 12.13).”
It would make sense to me, that if aliens do exist, they exist with the created purpose to honour God, as all created things are to do.
WOULD WE BECOME A LOWER LIFE FORM?
Since H.G. Wells wrote his beloved sci-fi classic, War of the Worlds, it has been adapted to the silver screen numerous times. But in literary form or in the movies, the story remains the same: aliens are coming to take over the world. That premise wasn’t original to Wells, and has since been used numerous times. District 9, Independence Day, and the upcoming film Pixels show alien races, of all shapes and kinds, coming to destroy or take over the Earth.
Why? Aliens are a military species, and want war. They need our natural resources to survive. They are the superior race, and have come to dominate us. More often than not, that last idea is the most prevalent. Aliens are a superior race of beings, meaning that humanity is not so special.
While we cannot know that for sure, until we actually and definitively meet an alien species, the Bible does have some things to say about our place in the hierarchy of created beings.
“what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet”
Psalm 8.4-5, Hebrews 2.6-8
The writer of the Psalm stood in amazement that this God of the Bible, this God of such creative force, would even think about humanity. For what is humanity but the gathering of dust on the Earth (Genesis 2.7, 3.19)?
But while mankind is nothing but dirt, God knew that they were so much more than that. Something so special and so unique that they were going to be given glory and honour — glory and honour that the angels did not have, that they did not receive. It was only on humanity that God bestowed this blessing.
It was only humanity that God made in His image. In the Creation account, the author records this.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
In 1999, director and super-nerd Kevin Smith directed a movie called Dogma. It was a film attacking the Catholic church and their ideas-hence the title-through some irreverent humour. While I do not encourage others to watch it, there is one scene that was absolutely breathtaking.
There were two fallen angels, played by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and they get into an argument about who is worthy of God’s grace and love. Affleck’s character is angry and doesn’t think that humanity deserves it, while Damon’s character opposes that view. In frustrated retort, Affleck says,
“The humans have besmirched everything bestowed on them. They were given Paradise, they threw it away. They were given this planet, they destroyed it. They were favored best among all His endeavors, and some of them don’t even believe He exists. And in spite of it all, He’s shown them infinite [expletive] patience at every turn. What about us?”
As the movie portrays it, these two fallen angels are stuck wondering why God has no grace for them. And whether that is actually the truth or not, what Affleck’s character said struck me as completely true. Of all God’s creations, we are His favorite. Of all the things that God has made, He chose us to show His infinite love and grace to. Though we despise Him, we reject Him at every turn, God still picks us as His sons and daughters.
Now, if aliens do exist, if they are something that does live on some other planet or are currently flying just outside of our satellite range, does that change how God feels about us? No.
We may not have faster than light travel capabilities. We may not be able to communicate telepathically. We may not be able to do anything that aliens are said to be able to do. They may have things that we do not have, but that doesn’t change that only we are made in the likeness of God. The proof, if we find anything definitive, that aliens are real will not take away the fact that we are pinnacle of God’s creation.
Right now on the earth there are billions of life forms. Some are bugs. Some are fish. Some are mammals that walk on four legs. Some have no spines or bones. Others have transparent skin. There are those that could kill you if you touched them. There are others that would die if you touched them. Some have wings to fly. Others have skin flaps to float. I could keep going. The list of unique creatures on this planet is continually growing. On average, we find 200+ new species on the Earth every year.
Still we are unique amongst them. Still we are the preferred creation. We are the creation that bears the image of God, and that is something that no other creature can boast. We are a marvel, above all the other wonders of creation. If you add aliens to the list of creatures on the Earth, or if you say what life forms are there in the universe, not just on our planet, it wouldn’t change anything. How God feels about us doesn’t change. The fact that we alone were made in His image is not altered by the presence of aliens.
When we look to the Bible, though it doesn’t speak about alien life forms, it does say that humanity is the most special, most unique creation that there is. The Scriptures tell us that God holds us in the highest regard, especially because we alone are His image bearers. We are not a lower life form than an alien race. Rather, we are above them.
SO, DOES THE EXISTENCE OF ALIENS CHANGE ANYTHING?
We wondered what the Bible said about aliens, and while it doesn’t mention them directly, we do see that the God of the Bible is not one to shy away from marvelous and mysterious creations. With a God like this, creating the cosmos in all their beauty, it is possible that He has made other life forms on other planets.
We’ve talked about what it would mean to our spiritual life if aliens do live out there, somewhere in the vastness of space. While the existence of aliens may prove that we aren’t the most technologically advanced species in the universe, that doesn’t change what God has said about us. God has still created mankind in His own image, a unique creation among all His creations. No other creature can boast about this, not the various angels in heaven, not the animals on the earth, nor the aliens in the space between.
When I tried to explain to my wife why I wanted to write this, I used a phrase in our conversation that, once I said it, excited my spirit in a way. I said that the existence of aliens, should they actually be something that is real, would not take away from the Gospel. It wouldn’t detract from he the work that Jesus accomplished on the Cross. In a strange way, it would “heighten” it.
This is what I meant when I said “heighten” it.
For God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son. That is how John 3.16 goes. God loved US, on the earth, so He sent Jesus.
That idea isn’t wrong. It was mankind’s sin, the willful disobedience of men and women that ruined the relationship with God. The death and resurrection of Jesus was the way that God was going to repair that broken relationship. That by Him, we would know God as He intended in the Garden of Eden.
But Scripture as a whole presents a bigger picture. God does love humankind so much that He sent His son. However, this is not the limit of His love. The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” – Romans 8.18-21
While this could be an article all by itself, I will make this one point: our sin, our disobedience to God effects us. It drives a wedge between us and God, and between us and other people. That is often the limit that we put on our sin. That is how bad it is. That is how destructive it is. But Paul believes that it is more than that. He speaks of an earth that is suffering, under a bondage that it did not want. The earth is hurting because of our spiritual sickness. Because of our sin, the Earth is broken. Because of our disobedience to God, the world is literally falling apart.
So, when the Bible says that “For God so loved the WORLD…” if can be fairly understood that it doesn’t just mean humanity. This verse holds within it a bigger meaning, a meaning that is heightened if you broaden your understanding of “world”.
For God so loved the people of the earth, and the earth itself, He sent Jesus.
And we don’t have to stop there, we could talk about how God feels about the animals that He created as well. They could be included in this “world” that God so loved that He sent His son. Read the end of Jonah 4 where God is worried about the salvation of Nineveh, and their animals. But as I said before, another blog, another time.
But if we broaden our understanding of the word “world”, the Gospel, the work done on the Cross by Jesus gets so much bigger. It isn’t just about you and me. It is about the planet, and the redemption and restoration of everything on it. But it gets bigger.
The word used in John 3.16 is the Greek word” kosmos”. That is where we get the word cosmos or cosmic. The space beyond ourselves, the animals and our planet is the cosmos. Where aliens are flying around in saucer space ships and there are planets inhabited by strange little creatures-that is the cosmos. This isn’t just a modern understanding of the word. In ancient times people understood the cosmos to mean this same thing. Whether they believed in aliens is another matter, but they realized that there was more out there. They knew that this little blue marble wasn’t all there was in the universe.
If we think about the “world” from John 3.16 as the cosmos, that God so loved the earth, and all its inhabitants, the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the other planets, and all their inhabitants, what happens? Does what Jesus did on the Cross become less important? No. Does the vastness of space and the possibility of other life forms change the love that God has for everything in the vastness of space? No.
In fact, it heightens it. The great love that God has for all of His creation is so great, that He saw no other way to redeem and restore it to the good state that He originally set for it, but to send Jesus to Earth. This great love for the animals that creep on the ground, or fill the sea, or are honking their horns at you in rush hour traffic, or hit you in the ankle with their shopping carts at the grocery store, or are flying around the stars in their space ships, is so unfathomable and so unchanging.
For God so loved the cosmos, and everything that lived within it, that He sent His son Jesus to die for their redemption and restoration.
That is a big thought, and one that takes a while to digest. And please, do not misunderstand me. I’m not saying that Jesus died to save the animals or aliens from their sin. What I am trying to say is that if aliens do exist, their existence doesn’t change the Gospel, but actually works into the powerful narrative already in Scripture.
Over and over again, God seeks to renew and restore that which is broken. In some cases, the biblical authors are talking about our spiritual condition. But other times, they are speaking about the very physical world that we inhabit. Even the ground we walk on is not as good as God originally intended it to be. Even the stars and planets are effected by our violent rejection of our Creator God. And despite our rebellion against God, He wants to see things brought back together, the way things were supposed to be. Whether that would include aliens or not.
So, do aliens exist? I do not know.
Does their possible existence change anything for a Christian? Does an alien life form matter to our faith?
No and yes. Our faith does not change. The fact that we are made uniquely in God’s image is not changed. So in those ways, no. But yes, in that it would serve as a reminder of how great and creative our God really is. Yes, because it opens us up to seeing how vast and deep and wide the love of God is for us.
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