By Alan Ludwig
According to a recent article in The Guardian, the discovery of life on other planets is just around the corner. The author asks how institutional religion – specifically, Christianity – will be able to cope with this. He answers that religion will deal with scientific discovery as it always has: It will adapt itself for its own evil gain.
The article is open to criticism on several grounds. It assumes that evolutionary theory is true, and that with the ongoing discovery of planets potentially friendly to life, life will certainly have evolved somewhere out there. From this it makes the questionable leap to the existence of intelligent life. It also displays a deep lack of understanding of the Scriptures.
The imminent discovery of extraterrestrial life is not nearly as certain as the article claims. Yet in itself such a find would not prove troubling to Christians. The Bible is certainly geocentric (earth-centered) in its perspective. The creation of the stars, which we now know to be countless galaxies, receives only a passing mention in Gen. 1:16. From the standpoint of science, the earth seems to be only a speck in a vast universe. Yet, just as God chose to save the world by a humble cross, so He chose the place of redemption to be the humble ball we call planet earth. Thus, by God’s design, the bit of cosmic dust we all live on is indeed the center of the universe. In Scripture He has revealed to us only what we need to know for our salvation, not all His creating and preserving wonders in the entire universe. When science discovers anything out there the Bible doesn’t speak of, this is to the glory of God, and it in no way compromises our faith.
The events recorded in Scripture are actually of cosmic significance. They have deep consequences for the whole of creation, no matter how large the universe proves to be. Adam’s fall into sin corrupted not only himself and his descendants, but the entire planet and the entire cosmos. Human sin is so deep and destructive that it has set God’s great universe on a course of decay. By the transgression of our first parents the whole creation is subject to futility and waits in travail and groaning (Rom. 8:19–22).
Scripture also teaches that by the cross God has reconciled the whole creation to Himself, and when the sons of God are revealed, the creation too will be set free from bondage (Rom. 8:21; Col. 1:20). When Christ returns, the heavens and earth will melt away and be renewed; there will be a new heavens and a new earth (Is. 66:22; 2 Peter 3:5–13).
Are there green and purple extraterrestrials out there? Likely not. Whatever life may exist in outer space, this we can say for certain: It too somehow suffered from Adam’s fall. It too somehow shares in the redemption of Christ on earth.
Aliens or no, we are certainly not alone. Besides created life on earth, we have the Triune God and His myriads of angels. There is the Church Triumphant in heaven with Him, together with whom we already praise and worship our Savior for what He has done for us. When He returns, we will see with our eyes what we know to be true by faith: the horror of the corruption of sin, and even more the vastness of Christ’s redemption of what God has created.
The Rev. Dr. Alan Ludwig is a theological educator serving with the LCMS Office of International Mission in Novosibirsk, Russia.