NASA has just discovered 7 exoplanets similar to Earth in a solar system roughly 40 lightyears away. By the universe’s standards, this is close. The system is called Trappist-1, and it holds promise for the search for extraterrestrial life.
This finding raises a host of questions. The obvious one, regarding spirituality, is whether discovering intelligent alien life would affect the world’s respective faiths. This discovery would most likely affect theism, probably Christianity more than most because Christianity is founded on the single-solution work of Jesus Christ. What I mean by that is that if there are aliens, and if they are spiritually-fallen beings, then who has redeemed them? We hold that Jesus died for the sins of humanity, but are aliens excluded from redemption?
When I say, “single-solution work,” I mean just that. Aliens don’t need their own “Jesus.” Aliens, if in need of redemption, are within the realm of the redemption already available.
C.S. Lewis said this regarding alien life:
“Redemption, starting with us, is to work from us and through us [to the aliens]. Those who are, or can become His sons, are our real brothers even if they have shells or tusks. It is spiritual, not biological, kinship that counts.”
But wait, even if alien life is proven, we must determine if these beings are intelligent first. If they are, could they even travel over the vastness of space to get here? If they can, (or if they could merely communicate with us) are they spiritual beings, created by God? Most likely. If they are spiritual, are they fallen? Assuming they are, what do we make of their salvation, or lack thereof?
Just because alien lifeforms may not have had the Gospel for thousands (or millions?) of years, this doesn’t prove an injustice on God’s part. In other words, they weren’t “left in their sins with no hope.” Indeed, they may have interacted with God already (see Acts 17:27).
It is likely that aliens, like many cultures around the world, underwent generations without knowledge of Christ, who we believe to be the only way to God (John 14:6). Does this lack of knowledge condemn them? This is the classic, “What about those who have never heard?” argument. If aliens have souls, then it’s not faulty logic to say that God interacts with them the same way he interacted with humanity before Christ (see Acts 17:26-27, Rom. 3:21-26 and 1 Pet. 3:18-20). God is just, and he assesses everyone according to their deeds (Rom. 2:6-11), as well as their knowledge. For instance, note the contrast between Zechariah and Mary in Luke 1:18-20 and 1:34-35, respectively, when they both ask God “how?” One is simply ignorant, but the other, a priest, should have known that God is capable of giving life to a barren womb. Therefore, God could judge aliens according to their deeds and knowledge.
As for the scope of salvation, the Bible is clear about it being universal:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
The Jew first, the Greek second, and possibly “the alien” third?
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world” (Acts 17:30).
Everyone (aliens included) everywhere (the universe) must repent.
It doesn’t matter if aliens were ignorant of God in the past (see Rom. 3:21-26). What matters is whether we, when the time is right, proclaim the Gospel to them (10:14-15); for the Gospel is universal.
The Bible features a motif of lesser-to-greater that applies directly to the E.T. phenomenon. The Jewish people were meant to be God’s ministering presence to the whole world (Gen. 12:3; Ex. 19:5-6). The twelve disciples were the small group that founded the global Church (Matt. 28:19-20). God selects a few to influence the masses with his message of salvation. If alien life not only exists but is reachable, it is logical that Earth become the new “lesser” to proclaim the Good News to the “greater” of the universe.
Again, if there is alien life at all. Regardless, it is doctrinally non-consequential. It just becomes a new mission field. One that is certainly more difficult and frightening than any we’ve encountered before with massive barriers in language, culture and space. Yet such hurdles are part of the Good News after all, are they not? For what is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:27). God is fully capable of doing what is required.
Discovering intelligent life on other planets is not a detriment to Christianity, but a testament of how our God is a God of life, and how his creativity will never stop surprising us.
Alex Aili is a story-dweller who tends to wander off the trail in search of the right word…and the better view. In addition to writing at A Clear Lens, he writes fiction and offers his musings about God’s hand in the world at Covert God: Redemption in Shadows. Strong coffee, good pipe tobacco and longs walks in the woods make him happy. He resides in northern MN with his wife and two sons. See what he’s up to on Twitter.