In writing this article, one song that keeps buzzing in my mind is Isaac Watts’ “Jesus Shall Reign Where’re the Sun.” This cannot be an earworm. Its first stanza assures of the unending nature of the kingdom of Christ thus:
Jesus shall reign where’er the Sun
Does his successive journeys run,
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more
I was reflecting on how humanity’s exploration of outer space for settlement would impact “the faith which was once delivered unto the saint,” the Gospel of Christ. This invariably emanates out of my penetrating curiosity for theoretical physics, cosmology, astronomy and mathematics. This has been there since my high school days where my distinguished grasp of physics, chemistry, and mathematics caused my classmates to give me the name “Bohr,” after the Danish physicist and Nobel laureate Niels Bohr. The name “Avogadro” was later added after I explained to a class the nitty-gritty of The Avogadro Constant.
One thing is sure; the power of the Gospel has cosmic effect which cannot be thwarted in any way whatsoever. As I was reminded of the rule of Christ the cosmos over, I began to hum this song. This was before the lyrics of stanza one dawn on me heavily. It came to my realisation, interestingly, that the words of the song speak of the reign of Christ with respect to space. The mention of “Sun” and “moons” speaks of aspect of this perplexingly vast universe in outer space. I will say that the Lord was sitting by me and sailing me through my flood of thought.
Here, I give an introductory discussion of man’s resolve to find haven on Mars, the Moon and beyond, taking into account God’s purpose for placing man on Earth and man’s special relation to Earth as revealed in the Bible. The Christian faith has been heavily defined in special terms to Earth right from the beginning to the eschaton. Albeit, the world is on the brink of great exploitation of outer space as home. What happens to the Christian Evangel here and beyond? How would we tell the Christ story elsewhere in outer space?
On the March to Settle in Outer Space
Since Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin of the then Soviet Union made it just into outer space (the expanse of the universe beyond Earth that is unoccupied) on April 12, 1961, and later, the successful landing of two men, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on the surface of the Moon in July of 1969 by America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), man continued his dare to extend his home into space. This feat by the Apollo 11 of NASA’s Apollo programme has made human space settlement no more a science fiction or a metaphysical idea. From thence and over the years, with the signing of “Space Policy Directive” by President Donald Trump and Elon Musk’s SpaceX vision to embark on a Mars mission by 2022 using the Moon has base, the propensity for the colonisation by humans has become nothing but brighter. China and Russia have also been able to successfully land spaceships on the surface of the Moon. China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) has recently launched a probe called Zhurong to Mars in its Tianwen-1 mission. NASA also has two Mars rovers on Mars currently. India, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel’s also have Mars mission in the offing. Bas Lansdorp, a Dutch entrepreneur unveiled Mars One Organization that seeks to send four people as permanent human colony to Mars by 2032. Though the organization has become redundant since 2019, it suggests how determine humanity is about space settlement. Countries are going into joint space programmes. The International Space Station and others attest to this. Governments are committing huge sums of money to space exploration.
Mars, “the red planet” and the Moon, the natural satellite of Earth, are in the lead of places in outer space that are being exploited for settlement. Among other habitability prospects, the Moon is being considered significantly because of its close proximity to Earth. Mars has a solid surface. It comes next after Earth as the most habitable planet in our solar system. It is believed that it may support life, though no life form has been found there so far, and despite its hostile environment to human life. Like other places being regarded for colonisation, man hopes to terraform Mars to make it support life adequately. Other planets within our solar system have been regarded as having extremely poorer habitability potential. As an example, it has been discovered that Venus and Mercury are too hot. The others show various unsuitable conditions. The moons of the other planets in our solar are also being thought of. Humanity even want to go interstellar (a place outside our solar system but within our Milky Way galaxy). At present, Proxima B, a planet that revolves around the star Proxima Centauri within the Alpha Centauri solar system is observed by research as having some characteristics similar to Earth hence a decision to explore that planet. Assuming travelling to these places using the most powerful space rocket in the world currently, Falcon Heavy, manufactured by SpaceX, it is projected that it would take 3 days to get to the Moon, 9 months to get to Mars and 70,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri. Nanocraft has also been proposed as spacecraft to Alpha Centauri. This technology can enable space travel on the beam of light. It is believed that such a spacecraft can get to the Alpha Centauri in about 20 years from the time of launch to explore that solar system and send back data to Earth also on the beam of light.
Various reasons are advanced as basis for space settlement. For instance, Stephen Hawking, a Professor of theoretical physics and one time most renowned scientist in the world, in his most recent book Brief Answers to the Big Questions avers that “Not to leave planet Earth would be like castaways on a desert island not trying to escape. We need to explore the solar system to find out where humans could live . . . It will completely change the future of the human race, and maybe determine whether we have any future at all.” He presented various reasons for which we must look elsewhere in outer space to settle. The reasons range from asteroids impact, pollution and its devastating effect of climate change, population explosion, depleting Earth’s resources, nuclear war, shortage of food and water, and disease. There are others. He mentioned that “The Earth is under threat from so many areas that it is difficult for me [Hawking] to be positive. The threats are too big and too numerous.” Other scholars such as J. Richard Gott of Princeton University, Freeman Dyson, “the American mathematician” and Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York argue, grossly, along the same line. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the esteemed American astrophysicist though in support of space exploration for “geopolitical” and “economic” reasons is of the view that instead of leaving Earth due to asteroids strike, it is possible to rather redirect such asteroids. He thinks that just as man faces risks on Earth, there are also life-threatening dangers in outer space including “gamma ray bursts, supernova explosions, black holes, solar storms [and] asteroid impacts.” (A black hole is a star so massive such that it collapses under its own gravity. Anything that falls in it cannot escape including even light despite its being the fastest known entity). It is noted that a number of impact events in the past has had devastating effect on Earth. A popular one is the asteroid that hit Earth some 65 million years wiping out the dinosaurs. This has been first theorised by geochemists. A number of other scientists are also not in support of space settlement. No matter the explanations given for the push for such colonisation of space, it is the view of this essay that space settlement would have striking implications on the faith and theology of Christianity. The response is along this line. It thinks that the redemptive work of Christ has cosmic effect that transcends Earth. Wherever man goes in the universe, the message of Christ goes ahead of him.
The Church and Physics
Looking to the past, the church has not been oblivious of happenings in science. Research and discoveries in science has impacted the church in a number of ways. In the area of the sciences, physics, which is the natural science pertaining to matter, its motion in space-time and how the constituents of the universe interact, has been important over the years. Physics dares to explore those magnificent things we see when we look up the sky. I think it has a special touch to it. It gives explanation to the place we mostly look to when we are ask about the dwelling place of God in the universe. Of course, not treating with condescension the great impact of other fields of the natural sciences. In the field of biology and genetics for example, why must we downplay say the evolution theory of natural selection which had seismic impression on Christian thought?
The work of scientists in the area of physics including but unrestricted to those of Ptolemy of Alexandria, Galileo Galilei, Aristarchus of Samos, Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, Georges Lemaître have had diverse responses from the church. For instance, when Copernicus, a Catholic, explored the heavens and propounded his heliocentric theory, his work invited a lot of debate in the church. The heliocentric theory primarily proposes that the Earth and the other planets (within our solar system) revolve around the Sun, with the Sun being at the centre. Compared to the widely held view at the time, the geocentric model, this was a sharp paradigm shift. The geocentric model which was greatly worked on by Ptolemy of Alexandria holds that the Earth is at the centre of the universe. The Church was in favour of the geocentric theory but seriously resisted this Copernican theory initially. It thinks that geocentrism is supported by the Bible (see Joshua 10:12-13). Galileo who became a great adherent of the heliocentric theory due to his observation of the heavens using a telescope did not fall in the good books of the church. The church judged the theory as going against sound theology. Galileo was charged to desist from promoting the theory further. The book in which Copernicus published this theory, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres was also banned. The church later became receptive of the heliocentric theory after more evidences have been put forward. Together with other interactions between science and the church, it is realised that the church is not anti-science. It is willing to reason and be rational about the universe.
The Bible and Cosmology
Humanity has been faced with the mind-boggling question of the origin of the universe, and why we are here on Earth. The Bible pointed to God as the first cause. It says that “In the beginning God.” This tells that before everything that defines the universe came into existence, including time and space, God was there. Time was not from infinity. It came into existence at some point. Hawking is of the view that since time began at some point, the universe could not have been created by God because there would be no time for God to exist in. However, God is outside time. From the narrative, God does not need the space and time within our physical space-time fabric to exist. In the beginning of everything, God was already in existence. The question of what God was doing prior to creation as in Genesis has also been asked. I find St. Augustine’s explanation along this line very plausible. In his book, City of God, he brilliantly affirms that God being the immutable creator meant that he also created time. If prior to creation there was no time, then, the question of what God was doing during the period before creation is absurd because there was no time then to make reference to. In the beginning in which time itself was created, God proceeded to create this vast universe.
Science also sought to figure out the origin of everything. To these particular scientists, religion was the initial attempt to try to understand the origin of everything. In their quest to explain out everything through empirical research, many theories have been proposed. The most popular presently is the Big Bang Theory. The term “Big Bang” was coined by Edwin Powell Hubble, an American astronomer, to mock the idea that the universe has a beginning in an explosion. He thought that such an explanation gives credence to the book of Genesis and points to a creator. Hubble actually discovered that the universe is expanding. Which means that it might have begun from an extremely small point possible and expanded to the magnificent size we observe today. This idea was first put forward by Georges Lemaître who was Catholic priest as well as a physicist and mathematician at the Catholic University. He proposed that the universe began from a “primeval atom” and expanded to the vast size we see today. Today, a magnificent tool, the Large Hadron Collider has been built to use to simulate the universe at the Big Bang to study the theory further. Other works in science including Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, Quantum Theory, Quantum Gravity and String Theory aim at understanding the universe as a self-existent entity. It has been the desire of Einstein to come out with a “Theory of Everything.” It is believed that this theory will bring together the macroscopic and microscopic aspects of the universe under one paradigm and explain out all physical characteristics or phenomena of the universe. Kaku thinks that this theory would even give explanation for some of the theological and philosophical questions regarding the origin of the universe. He asserts that it will point us to what happened before Genesis 1. Quantum Gravity and String Theory sought to combine Einstein Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory to decipher the theory of everything with just a short mathematical equation.
In Genesis 1:2a, the Bible records that, “The earth was without form, and void; darkness was on the face of the deep” (KJV). This follows the declaration that the heavens and Earth were created by God. This is a perspective approach to telling the story of the origin of the universe. God was preparing Earth for humanity to stay so a special interest was taken concerning Earth in the narrative. The “heavens” refers to the other aspects of the cosmos; the billions of other planets, solar systems and galaxies. The account that follows reveals God’s principle of preparing the Earth adequately to enable the survival of life forms. Earth was ‘terraformed’ because a planet without form, void and plunged in darkness cannot support life. Here, a simple language may be in use to explain a more sophisticated state of the Earth prior to the emergence of life on it. Importantly, this is in confluence with later scientific evidence of the existence of the Earth before life forms began to exist on it.
It is evident in the Genesis 1 story that God was transforming Earth as well as putting our entire solar system in shape simultaneously. Though the “heavens” was created already, God took an interest in part of our solar system that affect life on Earth more directly. It is recorded that God created two great lights, the Sun and the Moon, to control day and night, give light on earth and determine seasons. The stars also play these roles. God might have been defining the relationship between the Earth, Sun, and the Moon. As it were, these bodies being massive, warp space and time. This defines a geodesic in which the Earth revolves around the Sun as has been demonstrated by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. In doing this, God was making conscious the laws of physics. Hawking asked this question in his book, A Brief History of Time: “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?” I would answer that it is the Lord God. This fine-tuning of our solar system has implications for the suitability of Earth for life, undoubtedly. The defined roles of these bodies reveal the periodicity in the interaction between them. The Moon revolving around Earth as it rotates on its own axis brings about the changes that show day and night within 24 hours approximately. The revolution of the Earth around Sun shows time as well; a year being one complete revolution. The relationship between these three heavenly bodies impact on seasons among others. The cosmology of Genesis 1 shows that planet Earth has been specially fashioned as a habitation. Earth has thus earn great focus in telling the story of God.
Earth stands out as the only planet of our solar system not named after a Greco-Roman god. It is also the only known planet in which life inhabits and is preserved by Earth’s favourable conditions. The word “earth” and its translation in different languages originates from “ground” or “soil.” Though it has been used to refer to dry land and the soil on the land’s surface, the word is now used to refer to the entire planet. It has now been recommended that when referring to the planet, the word should be capitalised (Earth) and when referring to the ground or soil, it should not be capitalised (unless, of course, it is beginning a sentence).
Indeed, the universe is Brobdingnagian, immeasurable, awe-inspiring, mind-boggling and beyond words. Lawrence Krauss, prominent theoretical physicist and a hardcore atheist confessed in a lecture he delivered in June, 2015 on “A Journey to the Beginning of Time: Turning Metaphysics into Physics,” that considering the magnificence of the universe invokes in him “spiritual awe and wonder.” Possibly, Krauss’ idea of the spiritual here is the same as what he presents in his book, The Greatest Story Ever Told ⸺ So Far: Why are We Here? In that book he alleges that “. . . scientific story also encompasses both poetry and a deep spirituality. But this spirituality has the additional virtue of being tied to the real world⸺and not created in large part to appease our hopes and dreams.” The Bible well aware of the majesty of the universe forewarns about the possibility of being misled into worshipping the heavens. In Deuteronomy 4:19, it says, “And when you look up the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars – all the heavenly array – do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshipping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven” (Deuteronomy 4:19, NIV). Considering the magnificence of the universe, one would wonder whether we are relevant at all. It was this glaring fact that caused David to sing in Psalm 8:3-4 that “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (ESV). Despite the vastness of the universe, humans find themselves here on Earth and the Christian faith largely define in terms of Earth. Is it because humans find themselves here? Is there anyone out there? Does the faith foresee space settlement?
Concerning “Multiply and Subdue the Earth”
Following from the backdrop of the creation of man in his image, God blessed and charged the first people to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28, ESV). The charge to dominate God’s creation was not given in reference to any other part of the universe but Earth. Here, we may decipher the answer to a question on why human beings have today colonised or dominated the Earth. This colonisation is evidently not limited to humans, as other life forms are heavily present on Earth. Nonetheless, man has been positioned at a superior position. He/She can be described as an intelligent being compared to the other creation. Some scientists have questioned whether there are actually intelligent beings on Earth. This is in part as due to how man has been inimical to the wellbeing of Earth as a result of his activities. The “theology of man” in its attempt to define the image of God in man, recognises this intelligence of man among his/her other attributes. It discusses how this image of God in man has been marred due to sin. One aspect of theology proper (doctrine of God) is reflection on the providence of God. Louis Berkoft and Wayne Grudem have treated this in their seminal systematic theology books. This theology broadly explains how God relates to his creation in preserving it by his power. The environment on Earth has been made suitable before man came into existence. This reveals the providence of God in preserving that aspect of the universe in a fitting way to support life. In God we have our being because he chooses it to be so. He could say of himself that “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1, NIV). This theology of providence of God may need redefinition on Mars and the Moon. The environment over there is not all-ready-made suitable for life. There is the need to terraform these places in outer space. Perhaps, supporting life in outer space by using materials from Earth, may give a bit of support to the providence of God in these new homes. However, it has been suggested by the scientific community that man can harness materials from outer space; from comets and other sources. These other sources from which materials can be harnessed to make Mars and the Moon inhabitable; have they not been created by God thus provided and sustained by him? Nevertheless, insofar as man would count himself as enabling life in a place that was formerly lifeless, the perception about the providence of God would be altered and may become defunct as the colonisation of space progresses.
“To the Ends of the Earth”: On Christian Witness beyond Earth
The salvation history of God has been keenly intertwined with life on Earth. Reflection on this may give a hint on the earlier question of whether God has been concerned much about Earth due to the presence of people here. People have been created in his image and he is determined to have a special relation with, call it special providence of God. An important information that this gives is that it is only on Earth that we who are created in his image, humans, exist. With the wake of artificial intelligence and a sick play on the human genome, the scientific community must be guided not to create certain intelligent lives and send them into space and turn to uphold that as discovery of alien life, thus promoting the theory of existence of aliens. It is the belief in the existence of extraterrestrial life elsewhere in the universe that provoked The Fermi Paradox which gives some hypotheses on why humans have not yet contacted aliens. If an alien natural life whose thinking faculty is the same or even beyond that of humans be found on other planets, this would impinge on Christian theology of man. Personally, I am open to any possibility. Indeed, the ways of God are past finding out.
Earth has largely been at the receiving end of God’s plan of salvation. The witness to this plan has been shared abroad on Earth. God has work beautifully in history to champion the salvation course. When God’s agent of salvation, Jesus Christ, was born, an angelic host declared that, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14, NKJV). In this declaration that shows the realisation of the long-awaited prophecy of the coming of the Christ of God, Earth has been favoured. God’s shalom is pronounced on Earth and on its people.
In commissioning those who have encountered him and have become partakers of the mission of God, Christ charged them to utilise the power he shall graced them with to testify of him. He defined the mission field to them in this way: “. . . you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8b, NIV). The phrase “ends of the earth” has been used more than 40 times in the Bible. Bearing witness of Christ to the ends of the Earth as used here is neither a hyperbole nor a metaphorical use of the phrase. It literally carries the sense of Christian witness to the farthest point on Earth where humans exist. From this, it may seem that the Bible somewhat did not foresee humans making home in outer space. Meanwhile, Christian witness is to reach all people. Colonisation of Mars and the Moon would imply a rethinking of the field of coverage in Christian witnessing.
That the impression of space settlement on the Gospel are substantial, must be appreciated. The teachings of Christ including “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5, NIV), “. . . your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, ESV), “. . . whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18, NKJV) among others, must be considered in reflecting on the Christian faith on Mars, the Moon and beyond. Jesus’ millennial rule on Earth and the creation of a new heaven and new Earth at the eschaton must all be looked at. Thus from the doctrines of God and man, through the teachings of Christ and the church, and the doctrine of the future, reflections on the faith in man’s home in outer space must be on the go.
The Cosmic Efficacy of the Finished Work of Christ
That the Christian faith would thrive anywhere in the cosmos is essentially connected to Jesus Christ who is Lord over the cosmos. The Christ of God must not be regarded as a leader of a Jewish sect that began in Judea some 2000 and plus years ago. He must not be limited to a religious leader and teacher who fell in the bad books of the Jewish people once upon a time and therefore had to suffer under Pontius Pilate. Jesus Christ cannot be placed on the same pedestal as charismatic personalities who emerge in societies claiming power and starting movements that promise the good life. He is not merely the gentleman from Galilee. Christ holds the entire cosmos in his hands. All things; whether on earth or anywhere else in outer space.
The deity of Christ, his role in the origin of the universe, and the effectiveness of his work of redemption have marked him off as the one in whom all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17 reveals that “The Son [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (NIV). From this, the pre-incarnate existence of Christ has been pointed out as it is also seen in John 1. The Greek word prototokos used in the verse 15 of Colossians 1 is metaphorically used to refer to the role of Christ as the source of creation (and not as the first created being). All things originated from Jesus Christ and are preserved by him. This includes the laws of physics, of course. He is supreme over all.
The Bible further testifies of Christ that “it pleased the Father that in Him [Jesus Christ] all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things by Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19-20, NKJV). This shows that Jesus Christ rules over the Earth and beyond the Earth. His work of redemption reconcile everything wherever they may be in the universe. The effectiveness of his deity and his work of salvation transcends earth. This means that wherever man may be in the universe, he can be redeemed by Christ. Jesus is Lord on Mars, on the Moon and anywhere imaginable in the universe. His redemption is effective at once! When humanity makes home anywhere in outer space, the diverse implications that would have on the Christian evangel, faith and theology end in the cosmic Christ who is Lord the world over.
Humanity cannot go away from the presence of God (Psalm 139). The Psalmist confessed that “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139:7, NIV). The Christian faith has meaning even in outer space. But what would be the philosophical foundation of interstellar or interplanetary civilisations? Would it be “In the beginning God” or in the beginning physics? Considering ‘advancements’ in artificial intelligence, are the inhabitants going to be fully human? These are questions that must engage the mind of the Christian community as we continually respond to emerging issues by the word of God. We must reflect on life in outer space and prepare for the future. As we think about space settlement, it is essential to note that inherent in the nature of the Christian faith is its ability to go on pilgrimage into different contexts and verily reveal Jesus Christ as Lord. The crew of Apollo 8 of NASA, Astronauts Bill Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman, the first people to travel to the Moon, read from Genesis 1 publicly, as they orbit the Moon. I can imagine how beautiful and heartwarming that moment was as the Bible is read publicly from space for the first time on December 24, 1968. Later, Astronaut Buzz Aldrin of the Apollo 11, who was an elder of the Webster Presbyterian Church privately partook in the Lord’s Supper on the Moon after landing on its surface. He did this whilst inviting those on Earth to give thanks. Man can commune with Christ beyond Earth. The Lordship of Christ is cosmic.
Article by Elder Dr. S. Ofotsu Ofoe