Out of this World
I’ve got to tell you, I am completely nutty about outer space. From Close Encounters… at the movies, to Mary Doria Russell’s incredible book The Sparrow, to star-gazing on the beach at night, I am enthralled by the sheer majesty and scope of the universe.
In the heyday of NASA, I followed each manned space flight eagerly. I remember watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. It was July, 1969, and we were staying in a TV-less cottage in Normandy Beach, NJ. Our next door neighbor, Dave MacDonald (age 95), had a television set and invited us over. He had been in the Spanish-American War, among other amazing life events, and I wondered how he would react to this most momentous occasion. As it turned out, he fell asleep just before “one small step for man,” and his guests were left to marvel as Old MacDonald snored in his recliner.
More recently, I was fascinated by the discovery of a planet much like ours, in another solar system. Gleise 581 g, dubbed the Goldilocks Planet by scientists (“not too hot, not too cold, just right” for life), could indeed harbor, or have harbored, life similar to ours. Looking ahead hundreds, if not thousands of years, wouldn’t it be cool to pop by and visit this place and (possibly) this people?
In fact, in 2008 a digital time capsule was launched, containing snippets of our Earth culture, from messages from world leaders and average citizens, to the music of Beethoven, Bach and Chuck Berry. It passed Mars in 4 minutes. This boggles my mind—a communication that reaches another planet quicker than my kids respond to a call to wash the dishes!
One week our adult ed class at church wrestled with the question: where is God on maybe multiple sentient being-sustaining planets? What does this do to our comprehension of the Bible? Is the God of Israel the be-all and end-all, or the God of a people limited by their understanding? It was an interesting conversation to say the least.
I believe that when we are threatened by the possibility of extraterrestrial life, we put our human limits on a limitless God. Why is it impossible that God who we believe created everything that is, cares for life forms elsewhere? Could God send a Jesus to them, to enter into their pain and offer them life eternal? Why not?
Father Francis Delano, Many Worlds, One God: "Any person possessing a religious faith that conveys an adequate idea of the greatness of God's creative ability, of humanity's humble position in the universe, and of the limitless love and care God has for all His intelligent creatures, should not be afraid to look at the evidence....that indicates that we humans are not the only ones in the universe having intellects and wills capable of knowing and loving God."
And from the movie Contact: “I guess I'd say if it is just us...it seems like an awful waste of space.”