Wednesday, December 9, 2009

E.T. Jesus ?

I heard a fascinating news story last week. Yes, it was on the Colbert Report--that's where I get all my news.

Back in November the Vatican (headquarters of the Catholic Church) sponsored a week-long special meeting where scientists, philosophers, and theologians met to discuss the current research regarding intelligent life on other planets. One conclusion of that meeting was that it is entirely possible that there is intelligent life somewhere else in the universe, and that to insist that God would not have created life elsewhere puts creative limits on God. One scientist said that either scenario (that there is or is not life on other planets) is “staggering.” If the universe is “abundant in life,” he said, then we should not be afraid of that truth. But if space exploration turns up nothing, then we will be reminded that “this planet is rather special.”

One main question that came up in the many discussions at this meeting was whether or not intelligent creatures on another planet would require a separate savior. Would Jesus have to become an Martian to save the Martians? (I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ 1938-1945 space trilogy, in which he imagines another planet where temptation was resisted by an Eve-like character.) I don’t expect the Vatican to find an answer to the question of life on other planets, or to resolve their speculation in our lifetime, but their discussion does remind me that the Christmas story features a curious notion about what was required from a savior for those of us who reside on planet Earth.

There are a number of Bible verses that remind us that Jesus became human in order to rescue humanity from the judgment that was required as punishment for our sin (John 1:14; Hebrews 2:17-18; Galatians 4:4; Philippians 2:5-8, to name a few). But as powerful as those verses are, none are as meaningful as the fact that Jesus chose to be born in the same way that all humans are. He was conceived in the womb of a woman and entered into this world just as all babies do. He grew physically and mentally, just as all young people do (see Luke 2:52). He was tempted by sin just as we all are (see Hebrews 4:15). In order for God to save us, He became like one of us.

As I picture the scene of Jesus’ birth in my mind (Luke 2:1-19), I see a humble home for animals with rough walls and hay all around. I see two humans tucked in a corner—one the mother of the Son of God, the other his protector. I see them crowded around a small feeding trough, stuffed with hay. And in that feeding trough is a baby, with soft hair, brown eyes, and olive-colored skin, wrapped in thin blankets; he’s rooting around for something to eat and blinking his eyes. This baby knows so much about humanity, but he has yet to experience it firsthand.

The beauty of the Christmas story—the story about God becoming one of us—is that God sought to empathize with his creation. He did not insist, as some religions encourage us to do, that we become gods, like him, in order to overcome our mistakes. No, as the Bible tells it, He became one of us, so that He could overcome our mistakes. That was his plan.

So, I suppose that if there were other intelligent creatures across the universe who needed to be rescued from their own mistakes, God could become like one of them too. But who am I to put limits on God’s creative freedom; he could have chosen a different plan. What I do know is that when God considered his lost sheep, He did not expect us to find Him on our own (Luke 15:3-6). Instead, He went looking for us on planet Earth, and I think that makes us pretty special already.


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