Editor’s note: This article first ran in Oct. 2016. In light of yesterday’s news about the Pentagon secretly investigating UFOs, we are running it again today.
With the popularity of the hit Netflix show Stranger Things and the possibility that humans will inhabit space very soon, aliens have become a popular new subject in culture.
The possibility of life beyond earth is one of my favorite subjects to discuss. Maybe it’s because I watched Unsolved Mysteries with my mom every weeknight growing up or perhaps because my family’s favorite Sunday night show was The X-Files. It could be a result of watching UFO Files videos at my grandmother’s house whenever I slept over, or maybe it’s because I grew up in a rural area where looking at the night sky was actually considered an activity. Whatever the reason, I have always been interested in extraterrestrials.
As a Christian (and especially as a pastor), this can be a weird topic to talk about. We Christians just don’t discuss aliens. But with the public’s interest in aliens making a comeback, the alien question is one worth discussing.
Before we go any further, I want to ask you to do something. I want you to forget any pre-conceived images of aliens that you may have. I want you to forget what you’ve seen on TV shows, movies or YouTube. I want you to forget about flying saucers. Forget about little green or grey, bug-eyed men.
The present conversation has nothing to do with any of these things.
Now I’d like you to think about extraterrestrial life in the context of these questions:
Is it possible that bacteria life could exist somewhere other than Earth? (There’s evidence that scientists have already discovered some.)
Is it possible that plant life could exist somewhere other than Earth?
Is it possible that animal life could exist somewhere other than Earth?
Maybe you’ve answered, “yes” to one or all of these questions. Or maybe these questions make you uncomfortable. If you are a Christian, perhaps you’re thinking, “This doesn’t sound very biblical.” I understand your concerns, and they are valid.
However, I have yet to find any convincing biblical or theological reason to conclude that the belief in the possibility of extraterrestrial life forms precludes an adherence to orthodox Christian doctrine. I sincerely invite any questions or challenges to this assertion.
What if there are aliens?
The Church has had an historic pattern of seeing new scientific discoveries as a threat. Our reaction to new discoveries has often been one of fear, anger and denial. And sadly, by the time we come to terms with our mistakes we are too far behind to effectively engage in the conversation.
We need to be a people who confidently engage our culture. But doing so would require us to preemptively evaluate our theology as we see new discoveries on the horizon. I’m not saying that we change the Bible to accommodate the world. But I am saying that we need to have conversations regarding what the Bible really says about certain topics so that we don’t become irrelevant (or irreverent) if things don’t turn out the way we’ve anticipated.
With that said, let’s talk about aliens.
The summer before starting seminary I was sitting on my parents’ roof reading The World’s Last Night, a random collection of short essays by C.S. Lewis. As my sweat-covered hands turned to the second-to-last entry, I began reading the 10-page essay titled “Religion and Rocketry.” In that essay our beloved Chronicles of Narnia author gave serious thought to the predicament we Christians would find ourselves in if we ever came into contact with extraterrestrials.
I was blown away. Here was one of the most respected Christian voices in the Western world asking (and answering) the question: What should Christians do if we meet aliens?
Lewis knew that the discovery of extraterrestrials would present special challenges to Christians. He imagined that our main issue would be dealing with the doctrine of the incarnation (God becoming man and coming to Earth). How would we explain the incarnation if there were other life-filled planets?
If these beings are spiritual and are fallen, and if Christ did not incarnate himself on their planet, we are left with this question: Is Christ’s incarnation on Earth truly part of a cosmic redemption? If we believe that to be true, then it would be our duty to preach the gospel to them.
Lewis concluded something that both astonished me and made me laugh:
“Our loyalty is due not to our species but to God. Those who are, or can become, His sons, are our real brothers even if they have shells or tusks.”
Lewis also spoke to our fear of “alien invasions.” He implies that we should not be so much afraid of extraterrestrials, but they should fear us:[lborder]
We know what our race does to strangers. Man destroys or enslaves every species he can. Civilized man murders, enslaves, cheats, and corrupts savage man. … There are individuals who don’t. But they are not the sort who are likely to be our pioneers in space.
After speculating about the exploitation that would occur on this foreign planet, Lewis imagines what it would look like for missionaries to be sent there:[lborder]
But can even missionaries be trusted? ‘Gun and gospel’ have been horribly combined in the past. The missionary’s holy desire to save souls has not always been kept quite distinct from the arrogant desire to…‘civilize’ the ‘natives.’
The topic of extraterrestrials isn’t going away. This conversation will continue to come up, even if it only takes place in your own thoughts. If you’re a Christian, I hope you can walk away with a few new ideas today:
Maybe there are extraterrestrials. That’s OK. If they are out there, it should not be seen as a threat to Christianity. God is really big, and He tends to only tell us things on a need to know basis.
Maybe there are extraterrestrials that are redeemed or even unfallen. There may be a world out there full of creatures that live in a place of love and innocence that we lost in the garden. To further explore what it might look like to come into contact with such creatures, I highly recommend reading Space Trilogy, also written by C.S. Lewis.
Maybe we’ve got it all wrong. Maybe we are the alien invaders that the rest of the universe should fear. Maybe there are alien children sitting up at night afraid that Earthlings might invade their planet. C.S. Lewis did say, “Let’s pray that the human race never escapes from Earth to spread its iniquity elsewhere.”