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What Aliens Teach Us About God, part 2: ‘Alien’ Aliens

If we think of God as somehow “alien,” does this help us understand his transcendent nature?

Sometimes science fiction has attempted to deliver aliens that are not based on human beings at all. The “attempted to deliver” has to be added because these efforts are usually incomplete. If a fictional alien is intelligent at all, its at least a little like a human being.

But some of these efforts are worth noting. A recent example is from the movie, Arrival. The key feature of the aliens portrayed in the film is they have a language in which an entire sentence is said at one moment, no one word preceding any other in time. So therefore, the aliens have no concept of beginning or end like humans do. Which in in the story was supposed to give them the power of being outside of time as we know it–since, apparently, living one moment at a time in order is a function of how humans process language, one word after another in order, no matter in which language of all human languages.

An alien language depicted. (From Arrival, 2016.)

Of course the story does not focus on the fact the aliens issue their entire-sentence-in-a-circle-without-beginning-or-end statements one at a time. These come in an order from the first time they met the humans, when they were strangers to our race, to including more familiarity with individual humans over, ahem, time. 

Still, even if the ideas about time don’t quite work, the fictional language in which a sentence has no beginning or ending is something that makes the aliens in Arrival distinctly separate from every human being who has ever existed. These aliens, unlike Klingons, are not projections of human beings–they are truly alien, that is, unlike any human being who has ever lived.

By the way, fiction aliens who are entirely “alien” is not the same as writing non-human (or “inhuman”) aliens. The Alien film franchise created space monsters with very little in common with human beings–but they do have quite a lot in common with some insect forms of life, with a queen mother (like ants or bees), laying eggs in hosts (like some wasps and may other parasites), with a rapacious desire to kill and devour like some insect predators, and with rapid and dramatic metamorphic changes in body form (like caterpillars to moths).

When I say “alien” aliens, I mean beings that have completely different motives than humans. Or have aspects of an intelligence that is more foreign to the entire human race than individual human ethic groups are foreign to one another. After all, all humans smile when we are happy and cry in distress and share other features that transcend all human cultures. “Alien” aliens manage to be different from every one of us.

Most science fiction aliens are not that alien, but some have been. And these “alien” aliens can help us understand that like them, the Creator God of the Bible is in fact very different from human beings in important ways.

Isaiah 55:8 records the Lord proclaiming: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” In theology God is called omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, omnisapient, and in short, transcendent. No human being shares these characteristics with God.

God is also devoid of sin, incapable of sin, incapable of lying. That means human beings share a feature (sin) that is completely separate from God. So in some important ways God is like an alien being to us–unlike all humans who ever lived.

In future installments here we’ll look at how this fact of God being “alien” can be compatible with the human race being made in the image of God, how this has nothing to do with “ancient alien” theories, how it does have to do with the longing some people feel to meet aliens, and how the UFO phenomenon in some ways shows an alternate or substitute for communion with God. But in the meantime, what are your thoughts on the basic idea here?

Do you agree that sometimes science fiction shows aliens who are in no way human? Do you think that God, like these particular science fiction aliens, is in some ways completely different from any human who has ever lived? Is thinking of God as “alien” a useful concept?

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Parker J. Cole
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I loved the movie Arrival. However, the writer of the short story the movie is based off utilizes an Eastern mindset about time. Time, in some forms of Eastern thought, is a circle. It does not start at a single point and goes forward from there. It is a unifying element of everything. Therefore, when the Aliens from Arrival observe they will need humans in X number of years, they are stating time is constant loop.

Also, there is a deterministic view of events in Arrival. That life is inescapable and the choices we make are pre-determined. It was a great movie. I loved the language aspect of it as well.

As to your points about how ‘alien elements’ can be consumed by human thought as it relates to our understanding of God, you make a good point. The Christian fringe community would ascertain the aliens are spiritual beings made of the same ‘stuff’ (for lack of a better) of God. Whether or not that’s true, is up for grabs. But perhaps that’s the point.

Good post!