Christian theology teaches that all of creation is fallen and in need of redemption. This includes not only human beings but also the entire universe. Therefore, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is understood to have cosmic significance and to be applicable to all of creation. Let me first provide some information about the universe.
Look at this picture of the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter from the night sky:
This picture can be very deceiving in terms of distance, but here are the facts. The moon is 238,900 miles from Earth. Venus is 121,500,000 miles from Earth. The distance from Venus to Jupiter is about 416,000,000 miles. A trip from Earth to Jupiter is around 544,000,000 miles. In terms of time, it would take several years to travel from Earth to Jupiter. How far is it from one end of our small solar system to the other end? That distance is a whopping 5.9 billion miles (5,900,000,000 miles). If we traveled at a speed of 37,000 miles per hour, it would take 19 years to travel across The Milky Way solar system.
Look at the following picture of the Milky Way and locate the Sun. It’s a small spec! That small spec is our entire solar system. It’s home! That’s the solar system where we live; but, the picture of the Milky Way below has billions of solar systems! Look at the picture again. Our little solar system is just one of billions of solar systems in this one galaxy we call The Milky Way. If we were able to travel at a speed of 671 million miles per hour, it would take us about 100,000 years to travel across the distance in the picture below.
The Milky Way galaxy is only one of many galaxies in the entire universe. Some scientists estimate that there are over 2 trillion galaxies in the universe (that is 2,000,000,000,000). The farthest galaxy that scientists currently know is GN-z11. How far away is it? If we traveled at the speed of light (i.e., 300,000,000 miles per hour), it would take us 13.4 billion light-years to get there from Earth. Just to put that into perspective, the universe is 13.7 billion years old.
What does the universe look like? Was there a beginning? That discussion goes beyond the scope of this post; however, I encourage my readers to read the following:
Wolchover, N. (2019). Physicists debate Hawking’s idea that the universe had no beginning. Quanta Magazine. https://www.quantamagazine.org/physicists-debate-hawkings-idea-that-the-universe-had-no-beginning-20190606/
- Can religious fundamentalism continue to perpetuate its systems of oppression knowing that its theologies simply do not make sense any longer?
- What is the nature of God’s relationship to ALL life and not just human life? Because the probability of life elsewhere in the universe is increasingly more evident, does this change theological understandings of God’s relationship to humanity and all else that exists in the universe?
- What does the existence of life in other solar systems or galaxies mean for our understanding of the uniqueness of human beings? Since life most probably exists elsewhere, does this diminish the importance of human beings?
- Do current theological understandings of human-god relationships point to an unhealthy narcissism?
- How might the discovery of extraterrestrial life impact current theological understanding of creation?
- Theologians talk about creation having a purpose. What does that mean in light of our growing understandings of a more complex universe that most certainly includes many forms of life?
- If life exists elsewhere, how does this change the theological understandings of the universe as created for human beings?
- How might theological understandings of salvation and redemption be impacted by the existence of extraterrestrial life? That the probability of intelligent life existing in multiple places in our own galaxy, other galaxies, and in the universe itself, doesn’t this change theologians’ understandings of the need for salvation and redemption, or does it raise new questions about how their god interacts with different forms of life?