Creation cannot be anthropocentric. We cannot be alone, although we can only imagine the nature of life elsewhere.
And what of Jesus of Nazareth: is the world his limit? Yes, it is – at least, in the sense of an incarnation here. It is theological sophistry to talk of the Jerusalem cross’s saving some random other advanced species on the other side of the universe, when no one there knows, or can ever know, about it.
So … I predict some silicon-based, hairy-hoofed tetrapod with inbuilt radio communication and a honeycomb of eyes to be Jesus, albeit with a different name, bursting, right now, into the poverty and religious bigotry of some other planet, becoming as one of them. Jesus brings God and them – whoever or whatever they are – together, for the much the same reasons as God incarnate here.
[The dynamism of the universe] implies a new incarnation happening somewhere, many times every day, over much of the past ten or more billion years. It means that God in Jesus is continually giving himself/herself/itself to recover swaths of lost creation. Every day is probably a new Christmas somewhere.
We each walk with a Jesus who is being born again into other societies on other planets; Jesus whose cross is yesterday, today, and tomorrow somewhere; whose body was broken before our world began, and whose body will be broken after humanity is gone.
Adrian Low, ‘Every day could be a new Christmas somewhere,’ Church Times, 2 March 2012, p. 14
In many respects, Low could be right. There could be life on other planets; and, as Low comments elsewhere in the article, whatever creatures there are could require the services of a saviour on account of their ‘freedom and opportunity for failure’. If creatures elsewhere have evolved to the point where they can be said, like humanity on our planet, to have been made in the image of God, then presumably there is the possibility of sin and the possibility of redemption. None of what Low says here especially troubles me. But perhaps this is because, unlike Low, and unlike many others, I have no problem with the idea that it is only this planet of ours that does have life. I see no reason why the universe can’t be regarded as a vast work of art, a kind of drip-art project whereby God splatters the universe into existence and watches the way each drip runs.
Where I do see a problem is in the idea of multiple incarnations. Conventionally understood, the incarnation of the eternal Son of God presupposes God’s act of covenant-making with the people of Israel, a covenant that is extended to the whole of creation through the obedience of the aforementioned incarnate Son. It’s humanity that the eternal Son assumes; the eternal Son doesn’t become a stoat or a hippopotamus or a dolphin. But arguably just as important is the fact that the eternal Son assumes flesh, matter, the stuff of created existence. So while, in some respects, the logic of Christianity suggests that where there are silicon-based, hairy-hoofed tetrapods in need of salvation, the eternal Son of God should assume silicon-based, hairy-hoofed tetrapod ‘flesh’; in other respects, the logic of Christianity also suggests that because the eternal Son of God assumes the flesh of humanity and so the stuff of created existence, there is absolutely no need for the eternal Son to assume the ‘flesh’ of silicon-based, hairy-hoofed tetrapods as well. What angle should we adopt? You can guess mine.
There are other questions, too. Can the eternal Son of God take to himself human flesh and, if they are made in the image of God, the flesh of silicon-based, hairy-hoofed tetrapods so that he is incarnate as both simultaneously? And suppose there exists on yet another planet a species of creature, also in the image of God according to the evolutionary processes of that planet, that look like our own elephants but have two tails, tusks protruding from above the single eye in the middle of the forehead, and a propensity for communicating with one another using binary? On the assumption that these creatures, too, have fallen, does the eternal Son of God don their flesh alongside the flesh of humanity as we know ourselves, and alongside the flesh of silicon-based, hairy-hoofed tetrapods? And how does all this mesh with the idea that God covenants Godself to Israel and to the whole universe through the faithfulness of the man, Jesus of Nazareth? Does Low presume that although life evolves differently on other planets from how it has on earth, the scheme of fall and redemption is pretty much identical or consistent throughout the universe? That is surely a step too far.
In many respects, it seems that Low’s picture of life on other planets, with all the potential strangeness and wonder of life that is here implied, is similar to the idea of life in the multiverse, which I’ve discussed elsewhere. But the differences calling for a newly developed Christology are, on Low’s account, manifest in one universe, rather than throughout a range of universes. Consequently, my provisional conclusion is this: On the basis of what has been revealed by the Spirit of God in and through Jesus, and on the basis of what has been attested in the biblical witness, God has deliberately entered into covenantal relations with the inhabitants of this planet – covenantal relations that, realised through Jesus, also have implications for the rest of the universe. And on the basis of our current knowledge about the universe, I don’t see why this should pose a problem for Christian belief. Jesus is Lord of all.