Earlier this week, an article came out that a former Israeli space security chief said that aliens exist and that President Trump knows about it. The article was so bizarre that the internet reacted the best way it knows how: with memes. Though perhaps a few wondered if there was any truth to the statement. And perhaps even fewer wondered what that would mean for their belief in God?
Believe it or not, the thought that alien life might exist is actually very old. In the 4th-3rd century B.C., the Greek philosopher Epicurus taught that “we must believe that in all worlds there are living creatures and plants and other things we see in this world.” The debate began to rage when Aristotle rose against this teaching around the same time, with most early Christian scholars following his lead.
It wasn’t until over a thousand years later that a handful of Christian scholars pressed the conversation further. While all of these scholars rejected the notion of life on other planets, they at least wished to converse about the topic more seriously. That wish finally came true in the year 1277 when Bishop Etienne Tempier condemned the Aristotelian belief that there could not be other worlds, because such a teaching could be construed to say that God wasn’t truly omnipotent. Because of this statement, theologians could now more openly converse about the possibility of extraterrestrials. But as is often the case, the Church moves slowly—as evidenced by the possibility that some Christians might perceive this article as controversial in scientific age of 2020.
But if we zoom out from Earth, we are forced to wonder if alien life might exist, for the universe is truly gigantic, possibly holding up to at least two trillion galaxies according to some estimates! This should certainly teach us some humility. Sure, we might be the kings and queens of this planet, but we truly don’t amount to much once we leave our atmosphere. God’s full creation is much bigger than we ever could have imagined and there is more going on in the universe than our one little planet.
And this wider perspective of the universe begs us to ask a question: “Why did God bother to make two trillion galaxies?” I think theology, science and logic press us to consider extraterrestrials as a possible answer to that question, and I see no real reason for that possibility to be heretical.
Some would push back and say that our planet is the only planet perfectly situated for life, but even within our planet there are variations of life. If we go scuba diving in the ocean, we will find creatures that can live in salt water. If we go swimming in a lake, we will find fish that can live in fresh water. If we survey the land, we will find animals that are capable of breathing air but would die if we forced them underwater for more than a minute. If we go to the arctic, we will find animals able to survive the cold.
And if we really want to test our understanding of life, we can look at the tardigrade—a microscopic creature that can survive complete dehydration, boiling water, radiation, and even the vacuum of space itself. It can also survive freezing, as proven when one was successfully revived after being frozen for three decades.
We have to admit that even within our own planet, life is diverse and complicated (and that’s without considering unearthly life like angels). But at the same time, we also have to recognize that we only know for sure that life can exist in a planet just like ours. And that’s why scientists scan the skies for planets that look similar to us, or Goldilocks planets, as we call them—where the conditions are not too this or too that, but just right.
And perhaps as Christians we might think of alien life in a Goldilocks kind of way when it comes to God’s mission. That is to say that just as humanity is to image God throughout Earth until all of creation is colonized with his presence and glory and treated as God Himself would treat it, so would extraterrestrials be tasked with doing the same on their own planet. The long game then would be to create a whole universe that is slowly being conformed to God’s image and overflowing with life and love. All of this, of course, assumes that God has put at least one form of life on another planet that has been created and tasked for such a purpose.
Should this spiritual Goldilocks scenario end up to be true, we can then join C.S. Lewis in imagining the spiritual variations in which such alien life might come.
We might, for example, find a race which was, like us, rational but, unlike us, innocent— no wars nor any other wickedness among them; all peace and good fellowship. I don’t think any Christian would be puzzled to find that they knew no story of an Incarnation or Redemption, and might even find our story hard to understand or accept if we told it to them. There would have been no Redemption in such a world because it would not have needed redeeming. ‘They that are whole need not the physician.’ The sheep that has never strayed need not be sought for. We should have much to learn from such people and nothing to teach them.
While I personally have no theological problem with believing in aliens, I have not been persuaded that they have visited us for two main reasons. For one, the universe is gigantic and it would take far too much time for any advanced race to traverse it—even at the speed of light; and for two, there are far too many striking parallels between modern abduction stories and the occult—not to mention that today’s UFO cults are born out of spiritual techniques rather than science. For the rare Christian that has no problem being both scientifically and spiritually open-minded, it is quite easy to see the spiritual warfare correlations found in many modern stories of encounters with aliens.
But at the same time, if humanity were to ever discover even an iota of evidence that life can exist on another planet—be it even something as small as a bacteria—we should have no theological reason to fret. Such a discovery does not make God not real or the story of humanity any lesser. Instead, such a discovery would simply show us what we already know: That God is much bigger than our tiny pale blue dot on the larger map of the cosmos.
Jamin Bradley is the lead pastor of 1208 Greenwood Church in Jackson, MI. He has authored 7 books, including, Alien Theology: The God of Two Trillion Galaxies, which this article was based off of. You can learn more about his books, audiobooks, music, and podcasts at jaminbradley.com.