Of Angels and Aliens

Religion / Science

I’ve posted here before my own musings about the theological implications we would face should we encounter extra-terrestrial beings. Mostly my thinking has been about whether or not other beings would participate in the Fall or not – mechanism aside. There’s a brief post over the weekend from David Opderbeck of “Jesus Creed” that’s motivated in part by his own belief that it’s very likely that we will discover extra-terrestrial life during his lifetime.

“Such discoveries have the potential to upset Christian theology.  We assume that the Biblical picture places humanity at the pinnacle of creation.  Psalm 8, for example, affirms the exalted place of human beings in the order of creation.  Notice, however, that even in Psalm 8, there are ‘heavenly beings’ that occupy an order higher than humanity.

These, of course, are angelic beings, and not extraterrestrial life (no, I am NOT suggesting Psalm 8 speaks about aliens!) [but see footnote below].  Have you ever stopped to wonder about this realm of heavenly beings?  What is their story?  In what way are they morally accountable?   Why – apparently – did the Logos not take on the ontology of an angelic being in order to redeem that order of creation?

Scripture tells us almost nothing about the ‘heavenly beings,’ which perhaps should inform whatever theology we might eventually develop concerning extraterrestrial life.  It seems that there is much, much more to the story of the creation and to the teleology of the entire universe than presently has been revealed to us as human beings, either through scripture or general revelation.  I think this should lead us towards a greater sense of wonder and humility before the God of the universe.  Whatever is out there, it belongs to God.”

Read the full article here.

That’s actually an interesting take and not one that I’ve seen anyone take before. My standard Michaelmas sermon starts by reminding the congregation that the Feast of the Angels directs us to the realization that God creation is much vaster than we might think or expect. God created an entire continuum of creatures ranging from the humble viruses that are little more than snippets of genetic code to the mighty Seraphim and Cherubim.

Maybe as Opderbeck seems to indicate, there’s a profitable line of thinking to be found by wandering down the angelology path as a way of thinking through the implications of life in outer space. At one level, just as Opderbeck writes, thinking of beings from worlds beyond automatically pushes us into an attitude of humility. But I think secondarily, and for me more interestingly, it gives us a way to think about the question that I’ve always found fascinating: Do aliens need a savior?

I don’t know that there’s a well developed consensus in Christian Theology about whether or not the Angels need one or not, but certainly there have been theologians who’ve written on the limits or the extent of soteriological action. Origen speculated about whether or not the Archangel Lucifer who rebelled against God could be ultimately forgiven and restored. Other theologians have thought about whether the Incarnation had the effect of redeeming all of Creation which would include the Angels, though there’s no consensus about whether or not the fallen angels status would change because of the Incarnation. Angels are often thought to have no free-will in the way that our Anthropological doctrine understands humanity to have. Yet there’s a stream of Christian thought that sees no need or role for free-will in the act of Salvation, so that might not be a problem in terms of angelic salvation.

I’m thinking, at least initially that this sort of line of thought could also apply to the Alien races, should they exist, and should we encounter them. Of course this is all highly speculative and mostly just a theological lark at this point. But, should we come across another sentient race, then things will get very interesting very quickly won’t they?

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

1 Comment

  1. An online friend – you know him, but I’ll let him speak for himself if he sees this, because I’m speaking from memory and maybe I’m getting him wrong – believes that there is and was just one incarnation and one means of salvation, and that we are to preach the Gospel to all of creation. (i.e. Mark 16:15: “Go ye into all the world[s], and preach the gospel to every creature.”
    And then, from the lovely Philippians 2:

    “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
    who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
    but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
    And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.
    Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
    so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. ”

    “In heaven and on earth and under the earth”! Aliens must be included in this, I’d think. And then I just noticed how “taking the form of a slave” would have to apply as well – since all creation is in need of redemption, we are all slaves across the wide universe. Yes?
    I’m about convinced of this, I think. One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism….
    (Otherwise, wouldn’t there have to be infinite incarnations? And that does seem to defeat the whole idea, doesn’t it?)

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