“Is our place amongst the stars?”
Matthew McConaughey possess this philosophical and theological question in Interstellar—a question that is worthy of pondering. But if you don’t stop to chew on those words, you will be quickly caught up in the spectacle and fantasy of the sci-fi film. And rightfully so, I think. Interstellar is a fantastic film.
Is our place amongst the stars?
As our natural resources start to deplete, as we do long-lasting damage to the earth thru pollution—the question, or the quest, for a new home is lingering in the air. The population of humanity is reaching unbelievable numbers, and climbing every second. Where will we put all these people? Is there room here on the Earth, or should we put them up some place amongst the stars?
For the Christian, it is vital that we wrestle with these questions about how we are treating the Earth and what we should be doing with the booming population. But when we starting thinking about leaving the Earth, whether seriously or not, we tend to shift the conversation from how will we build rockets to propel us that far out to finding our spiritual home. We move from talking about the physical to the spiritual.
As I watched Matthew McConaughey wrestle with an earth-trapped humanity in this movie, I wondered why Christians so often acted the same way. We are here now, on the earth for this life time, but then we will get out of here. After we die, we will go to Heaven and be with God.
Is this a right thinking? Is this idea something that the Bible actually teaches? Where does it say “And one day you will be removed from this temporary living place and dwell in the place you were destined for”? Or does the Bible point to something else?
It was the world renowned evangelist and pastor of America, Reverend Billy Graham that famously said,
“This is not my home. I’m merely passing through.”
I think that sums up most Christians’ attitude and belief about the Earth and their place; where they belong. They seem to think that the Earth is a hotel—a vacation spot—and they are simply waiting until they can go home. I’ve heard pastors and other church leaders make comments that lend to this kind of thinking.
“It’s like we are on vacation while our true home is being renovated.” They would point to Scripture like John 14.2 as the proof that this planet is not our home, not our permanent residence.
Other verses from John’s gospel talk about Jesus coming back to us, John 13.36 and 14.28, implying that at the Glorious Return of Jesus, He will take us away from this mud hole, to our rightful place in Heaven. What the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4.17 is seen as a conformation that we will be caught up with Jesus.
“After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”
I am not trying to dispute the reality of Heaven. I am not trying to dispute the return of Jesus Christ. I believe these things. I affirm these things. What I am wondering is, is Heaven our home where we are supposed to be, as Christians often say? Are we just passing through?
Is this planet where we are supposed to be? Is Earth our home? Does this rock floating in space have some kind of significance to it or not?
I believe that the Bible teaches that the Earth is our home, not a temporary living space.
Every Christian knows how the Bible starts. Everyone knows that the first verse of the Scriptures are.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” – Genesis 1.1
Heaven and earth, two distinct and separate entities were created, but were connected on a deep level. Both were crafted by the will of Almighty God—heaven and earth.
The Genesis account goes on to talk about what else God created. He created the sky, the oceans, the dry ground. He polluted them with stars, planets, birds and fish, and beasts of the field. God created all these things and each one lived in the place He placed them. The birds did not live in the space where the Sun and moon were. The fish in the sea didn’t make their homes on the dry ground. Nor did the beasts of the field try to levitate or fly and fill the sky. To think that they tried, or that they thought that they were not in the right space, is to assume the ridiculous.
You do not need to tell a bird that it should fly. When a baby chick falls out of the nest, it’s instinct, it’s nature is to try to fly because it knows that it was created for the sky. When you go fishing and you reel in a trout or a bass, it will fight you. It can sense that you are taking it out of its home, its designed and designated place. It doesn’t want to leave where God put it. To pull a star or a planet out of its orbit is a ridiculous idea, but when you think about the devastating effects moving our moon would have on the Earth, one is quick to realize and believe that it is best that it stays in the place that it is. Our tide, the ocean’s ecosystems, how some people tell time, all these and more would be completely shattered. When God placed His creations where He did, He wasn’t simply throwing them in a space and hoping that they lived or their existence there would work out. No. Rather, God purposefully designed and meticulously placed the stars and planets, fish and birds and beasts of the field where He wanted. Because that was where they were meant to be.
After creating all these things, do the Scriptures say, “Then God said, Let Us make someone that can watch over all that We have created for a time, until they are gathered unto Us.”?
Does a different translation say, “Then God said, We need someone to take care of all this. Let’s make a creature that can do this, but only for a while. They have other places to be.”?
No. That is not what Scripture says at all. Not even close. The Bible says this, after God had created everything else.
“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.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number;fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”” – Genesis 1.26-28
“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created,when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. ” – Genesis 2.4, 7-8, 15
We were placed in the Garden of Eden. The archetypes of humanity, a man and a woman were created and made to dwell, not in heaven, but on the Earth. Our home was amongst the dirt and green grass. Our dwelling was with the trees and the animals. Our place in the universe was on a rock covered in water, teeming with life. We were created for life on Earth, not in Heaven.
Now, if we were supposed to live in Heaven, if this planet was not our home, and we are but passing through, why didn’t God create us and put us in Heaven?
This isn’t a ridiculous question, though some may think it is. They may remark that we could not live in Heaven with God because we were and are sinful creatures. They would say that sin cannot dwell in the presence of God, so we cannot go and be where He is, thus we live on the Earth for now.
I would agree that sin cannot dwell in the presence of God, just as John states in his Gospel.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1.5
Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. – John 3.19
But humanity’s sinful nature wasn’t something that God created in us. Adam wasn’t made a sinner. Eve wasn’t crafted out of Adam’s rib already guilty of sin. When God creates them it is before Genesis 3. It happens before The Fall.
This is significant. That means that God, when He created humanity, we were still without sin and were intended to live here. God meant for us to live on the Earth. This was where we were to dwell. This was the place that He purposefully picked for us as a creation, us as a species, to live.
If He wanted us to live in Heaven, while we were sinless, He could have made us there and had us dwell with Him. He could have forgone the idea of a blue marble filled with life, and simply had everything there with Him from the beginning. But that wasn’t what God did. Why God decided to create the Earth and humanity on it is a discussion that we will not speak of now. What will be said now is that God placed humanity on Earth, and it pleased Him to do this.
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.” – Genesis 1.31
God thought that this Earth and having humanity live on it was such a good idea, that He often came to visit. He walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. He liked to be there. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t have come and spent time with our forefathers. God affirms the Earth and its significance other times in Scripture, specifically in Jesus and what He taught. When Jesus is having his secret conversation with the Pharisee called Nicodemus, he coins one of the most common Bible verses the world has ever known.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3.16-17
While verse 17 may not be as popular as verse 16, both are important to the argument. There are different ways that the word “world” could be used by the author of John’s Gospel. For instance, it could be translated as cosmos. For God so loved all of the cosmos, all of space and everything in it, that He sent Jesus. That would be a valid interpretation of the original language, and consistent with the teaching of Jesus and Paul. Most often we understand the world in these verses as all the people of the world, whether they were alive at the time these words were spoken or they were yet to be born. Jesus came to the Earth because God so loved all of humanity, past, present and future.
Again, this is a fair interpretation of the text, and biblically consistent. However, consider this third understanding of the word. What if it meant the world?
“For God so loved the planet Earth, the blue and green mud ball in space…”
We do not tend to think about this verse this way. Most often we remove the Earth from the equation all together. Why would we worry about the planet? Why would God worry about the planet? It is just a marble in the vast ocean of the cosmos. And surely, God could do better than this beat up thing, right? Yes, we may be a marble in the vast ocean of the cosmos. And yes, the Earth has taken quite the beating. But that doesn’t stop God from wanting to see the Earth restored and renewed.
My wife had this profound thought when she read this, one that I thought was worth sharing. “What gives us the right to condemn this place as being anything but worthy? God created Earth..it is not He that destroyed it or filled it with sin. That was our doing. He placed us on earth to rule it, to have dominion in and over it. It was our job to protect it and we failed it. That is not God that failed it. That was us. Who are we to say this place is not worthy of us or that we belong in heaven with God? That’s very presumptuous of us to feel that we belong there and not here.” Definitely words worth pondering.
Back in Genesis, as part of the Fall narrative, Eve and Adam are told how things will change now that sin has entered the world. The serpent is cursed, and life gets a lot more difficult for Adam and Eve. Included in that is the curse on the earth:
“To Adam [God] said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat of it”, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”” – Genesis 3.17-19
After the actions of our fore-parents, the Earth suffered. Not because of what it had done, but because of us, the ones left in charge. The ones that were created and designed to be the caretakers of the blue and green planet, brought about its slow destruction.
But that is not the end of the story. If that was it, then the case for God waning to pull us from the Earth would be made stronger. But that is not it. The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church in Rome:
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons 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 glorious freedom of the children of God.” – Romans 8.19-21
All of creation is waiting to be liberated. They are waiting to be freed from the bondage of our sinful actions. Why? If the Earth and everything in it was just going to be thrown away, why would they be waiting to be freed? Why not be waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus and the spiritual exodus of all the believers to Heaven? Why would they be waiting for freedom?
They are going to enjoy the freedom here. They will experience the liberty on this planet. The planet will know what it is to be released from this burden we placed upon it. Imagine with me for a moment, so I may better explain this.
Consider a man in prison. He is sitting in his cell, waiting out a sentence for a crime that he did not commit. He was an innocent passerby to a crime, and he has been subject to the same punishment as those that were guilty. One day, this prisoner is told that the day is coming in which he will be released. He will no longer be held behind steel bars, he will experience the freedom that has been just out of reach for so long. He counts down the days, the hours, the minutes, until finally the prison door opens wide.
Then the prison guard steps in front of him and shoots the prisoner in the chest.
Unexpected twist at the end caught you off guard, didn’t it? Because the idea of a jailed man being freed, only to be completely destroyed seems unthinkable. That isn’t how the story should end. He is supposed to go free. He should walk out of the prison with his head held high, looking up into the blue sky, as the radiant sun shines down with opportunity and hope. So, why do we think that God will shoot the Earth when it comes time to free it?
God wouldn’t shoot, back stab, or turn his back on his creation. No artist, no musician, no person that has ever birthed something that they thought was ‘good’ has turned around and deliberately killed it. Because every creature loves the thing that they created. And if something goes wrong with the painting, the song, whatever creative piece they are working on, they will work to redeem it, to save it, not destroy it.
This is the Gospel message for humanity. That Jesus came and died to redeem, to rescue a broken people. And with that comes the saving of Earth. Not the destruction of it, not the rejection of it. Why would you include the saving and restoration of this planet if it wasn’t important? By God’s inclusion of the Earth in our collective salvation, even the mentioning of the planet longing for redemption is proof for the idea that this blue marble in space is not meaningless. The Earth is important. The Earth was created good and purposeful by God. That has not changed.
When Billy Graham said, “This Earth is not my home; I’m merely passing through”, he could have been speaking about something else entirely. He could have been getting at the idea that humanity was not created to live in the sin infested hole that we have dug for ourselves. We were created to live in relationship with a Holy and Loving God. In that light, this place with its death and decay is not our permanent residence, I would agree. We are passing through, moving towards the place where God resides, to dwell in the thick of His Presence.
But if he meant that this Earth is meaningless, a waste of creation, as I know some Christians believe, I would have to say I strongly disagree. When I read through the Bible at how God and His followers speak about the Earth, how they interact with it, the planet never seems to be something that is disposable. The Earth is of great value. It is important, just as those that live upon it are important.