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Will Christians Colonize The Cosmos?

Does the Bible allow for lunar colonies and Mars missions before Jesus returns?
| Feb 23, 2017 | 6 comments |

Wow! How about that “first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star”? They already have official government fan art and everything. But seriously, that news is exciting. Could we see them someday? Maybe even travel there or colonize them?

But if people colonize the moon, Mars, or these planets, what happens when Jesus returns?

I first pondered this eschatological riddle during my teen years. But now that I’m older and have read many books about doctrine and the end times1, and can put away childish questions about such immature and fantastical notions, this challenge still baffles me.

Whatever your end-times view, all Christians believe Jesus will physically return to Earth. The problem is, these biblical texts are entirely Earth-focused. For example, John writes:

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.2

This concept already causes some difficulties when you consider time zones. The final3 Left Behind novel, Glorious Appearing, tried to solve this by hinting that believers on the other side of the world (opposite Israel, naturally) somehow saw a vision of Jesus returning over there.

But it causes even more difficulties to hypothetical residents of spheres that are not earth.

Can Jesus return in a sci-fi future?

NASA still existed in the Left Behind series novels, but only so someone could report the killer asteroids were coming.

Imagine it’s the year 2250 A.D. Several private space corporations working with Earth’s governments have founded a lunar colony. It’s primarily to support multiple consortiums active among relatively nearby asteroids. Meanwhile, a few human scientists populate a small research base on the planet Mars. And on Earth we get wars, rumors of wars, perhaps a creepy Devil-run Roman dictator sort, or whatever floats your end-times boat.4

Soon it’s a literal Battle of Armageddon, if that’s your thing. Everyone is fighting everyone else. Suddenly, krakoom. Heaven opens, “and behold, a white horse! … [Its Rider’s] eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. … From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.”5

As prophecy foretold, “every eye will see him … and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him”6 What about the tribes not on Earth?

It sure sounds like a binary: you anticipate Jesus’ return, or you anticipate space colonies.

That’s a bit harsh on Christians who want to anticipate both, while putting first things first.

Isn’t SCIENCE AMAZING? Yeah, kinda

For my part, I want to love Jesus more than science or science fiction. Jesus is the Creator not only of Earth but of the entire universe.7 He also commands humans to steward the Earth,8 which led to the human invention of science.

Many early scientists professed Christianity. So did former German scientist Wernher von Braun, founder of modern rocketry.9 Even in years since, when other religions, such as progressivism and secularism, have dominated science, people may still struggle to keep their atheism when staring in awe at the stars.

(Perhaps this is why many astronomy articles and memes pull out all the worshipful adjectives: Isn’t SCIENCE great? Behold the wonder of SCIENCE! Rather, behold how stupid this verbal evasion! At least say behold creation, which is slightly closer to the real truth.)

But if you, like me, want science to succeed so we can observe and maybe even physically explore this marvelous universe, you’ve had an awful/beautiful week just based on these:

Then along comes some snoozer to say, for example, calm down about those “Earth-like planets.” No one took any photos. It’s all math, telescopes, and illustrations. And no one’s going to the Moon. And no one is going to Mars. Even though we could have done this years ago using today’s technology. Every big space news fizzles out these days. (Remember the Jan. 14, 2004 call by President George W. Bush for clearer space exploration goals? He called for human missions back to the moon by at least 2020. How’s that working out?)

And of course, then along comes some Christian, like me, to remind us all of a spiritual truth: that Jesus’s return doesn’t seem to jive well with space colonies.

Or does it?

Heaven, Randy Alcorn

The best extra-biblical book on Heaven (really more about the New Heavens and New Earth) you’d ever read.

Space travel in the New Earth

I checked. Even if my little argument is true—that Jesus can’t return if some people aren’t on Earth for the event—I read nothing against space travel after Jesus returns.

Jesus’s adopted daughters and sons are destined to rule under Him on New Heavens and New Earth. This is a physical paradise for physical, super-embodied (but embodied) people to live. New Earth is this planet, fire-purged of all sin, not replaced with some other existence mode, but renewed almost like our resurrected bodies will be renewed.10 And New Heavens will surely be this selfsame universe, melted down and made like new.

Why then wouldn’t we explore New Heavens for the glory of their Creator and Savior?

Why wouldn’t we use science and technology, good tools humans managed to create per God’s command in Genesis 1:28, to build better and faster ships and depart this Earth (only temporarily!) on journeys of wonder and discovery? Why not settle on the Moon? On Mars? Maybe even on other planets we could not survive on before?

And even assuming we get no “cheat codes” from the Creator of physical laws themselves, why couldn’t we also develop something like warp drive to reach those seven planets? Even without such technology, we would have eternity to wait for slow ships to reach them.

Either way, I’m sure the best space missions await in eternity. But I’d love to see more now, if for no other reason than to ensure we don’t forget the awesomeness of God’s creation.

  1. Including the Left Behind series, which still remains kind of awesome.
  2. Revelation 1:7.
  3. Yes, it’s final to me, though the first prequel was actually rather chilling.
  4. Here is another problem: if the literal-seven-year tribulation idea is correct, any resident of Mars or the Moon can easily escape all the plagues, such as demon locusts and ocean curses.
  5. Revelation 19: 11-12, 15.
  6. Revelation 1:7.
  7. “—and the stars,” Genesis 1:16 almost glibly notes as an afterthought about this astounding act of creation.
  8. Genesis 1:28.
  9. Wernher Von Braun (1912–1977): Champion of Space Exploration,” Ann Lamont, Creation 16, no 2 (March 1994): 26-30.
  10. Isaiah 65-66 explicitly promise New Heavens and New Earth, using language about creation. Romans 8 states “the creation itself,” this world, groans, awaiting a time of future freedom from sin, just as we do—and if our hope isn’t in vain, why would creation’s be? And texts such as 2 Peter 3:10, though often presumed to be about Earth being annihilated, speak of Earth being refined by fire that “lays bare” the planet rather than destroying it completely.

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6 Comments on "Will Christians Colonize The Cosmos?"

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alexanderpres20
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I’ve never viewed Jesus’s return and human space colonies as an incompatible conundrum. For starters, God is not bound by space and time in the same sense we are (it would be strange if He was as they are His own creations). As weird as it sounds on an intuitive level, even the science of quantum mechanics tells us that subatomic particles are in multiple places at once. Why would we then assume some obstacle to Jesus appearing in multiple places at once upon his return? Even if the return were to take place exclusively on earth, you yourself pointed out that the Bible’s description of “every eye shall see how him” almost demands He appear in multiple places.

Also, I believe the Bible’s use of “earth” can carry both a literal and a symbolic meaning. Primarily, it does, in fact, refer to the actual planet earth, but in a larger sense it also refers to the physical creation – some scholars believe that the very first passage of Genesis describes the creation of space (heaven), earth (matter) and energy (light). As it is subsequently used through the rest of the Bible, I believe that it’s literal and symbolic sense can be interchangeable – it represents the sum total of all places with a human presence, which for the vast majority of human history have all been found on earth.
I believe that anyplace with human habitation would be considered part of “earth” in this sense.

Regarding the events of Revelation, I won’t delve too deeply except to say this: why do we assume humans outside the earth would escape their effects? Many Creationist scholars have pointed out that the Flood of Genesis, while primarily manifesting on the planet earth, also had associated phenomena occurring throughout the solar system, with both flooding and meteor strikes taking place on extraterrestrial bodies like the moon and Mars. Basically, God’s judgment at the time brought a wave of destruction over all of Creation. Even if we assume the “tribes of the earth” reference isn’t expansive enough to encompass them (incidentally, I believe it is), who is to say that humans in offworld colonies at the Last Judgment wouldn’t experience their own associated plagues/disasters?

Also, I don’t necessarily hold to the idea that the Bible’s silence on something means that it does not exist or will not occur. Are we to assume that North America, South America and Australia do not exist and should not have been settled because those places are not mentioned in Scripture? My own view is that the Bible focuses on the planet Earth because it is the site of Man’s original creation and therefore carries a highly spiritual significance – I would characterize it as a sort of “base of operations” from which the larger universe is meant to be observed (for a more detailed examination of this idea, I would highly recommend “The Privileged Planet”) and, yes, even settled. The judgment of Revelation, concerned with both the “beginning and the end” of the Salvation story, would necessarily emphasize the original birthplace of humanity as opposed to some other place in the universe with human settlers – again, I believe that it would still encompass them.

With all that being said, I want to be clear that I am not advocating the kind of theological liberalism that interprets much of the Bible’s teachings out of existence. Something like the perspective I just outlined has been held by many past generations of biblical thinkers. Consider this letter from Johannes Kepler to his contemporary Galileo Galilei on the latter’s observations of the Jovian moons:

“As soon as somebody demonstrates the art of flying, settlers from our species of man will not be lacking [on the Moon and Jupiter]… Who would have believed that a huge ocean could be crossed more peacefully and safely than the narrow expanse of the Adriatic, the Baltic Sea or the English Channel? Provide ship or sails adapted to the heavenly breezes, and there will be some who will not fear even that void [of space]… So, for those who will come shortly to attempt this journey, let us establish the astronomy: Galileo, you of Jupiter, I of the Moon.”

These two figures (both men of deep faith as well as science) lived in a period of history when they would have had far more reason than we do to regard space colonization as both a physical and biblical impossibility. It’s telling to me that they were still able to optimistically consider such a wildly speculative idea. Why so many Christians of today assume the opposite as that same idea is brought so much closer within reach?

RogerSpendlove
Guest

Chris Walley, in his “Lamb Among the Stars” trilogy imagined exactly the scenario you propose — humanity spreads out among the stars only ~after~ Christ’s return (a.k.a. His 2nd Coming). With the Lamb truly reigning in every person’s heart and mind, humanity enjoys a literal paradise as we explore, terraform and colonize the universe for 12,000 years (the Millennial Kingdom).

Of course any story requires conflict, so the Enemy escapes imprisonment and makes one last attempt to spoil the Lord’s people.

I loved these books, and was especially impressed by how Walley portrayed the sinless culture of the millennial kingdom; it really felt like “this could really work!” I also admire how he showed the slow, gradual, seemingly invisible return of sin into people’s lives and thoughts after the Enemy returns.

The Lamb Among the Stars series is out of print, I think, but you can still get copies from various used-book sources; plus I believe Amazon has a Kindle edition.

Tony Breeden
Member
Zack Russell
Member

I recently discovered this site, as well as Tony Breeden’s blog (Hi Tony), and I gotta say…you are My People. That “government fan art” is already hanging on my wall, and an app on my phone alerts me to each new exoplanet found. I think all discovery and exploration of our universe is a good thing. More than that, a holy endeavor. Johann Kepler exemplified this with his line about astronomy being an exercise in “thinking God’s thoughts after Him,” that would point us ultimately to God’s glory.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Zack, welcome aboard!

And I also enjoyed Tony’s post. Believe me, I’m eager to find a “cheat code” around my above quandary.

Christy
Guest

Love your take on God’s plan versus space colonization. I find space exploration fascinating, but wonder about Elon Musk’s plan to send a team to Mars in 2024 and how that fits in with the events of Revelation. I’m not saying they are mutually exclusive, but I’m curious to see how it plays out.

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