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UFOs: Do You Want to Believe?

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“C’mon Man. I get the UFO question?” Blunt-talking presidential candidate Chris Christie seemed momentarily at a loss for words when he was asked about UFOs at a recent debate. The question seemed to come out of left field. Or perhaps, from out of this world. Although people laughed at the question, Americans should take it at least somewhat seriously.

Public opinion polls indicate that at least 40% of Americans believe that UFOs are extraterrestrial in origin. A recent congressional hearing on the subject featured controversial testimony from former military officials who believe the government is engaged in an elaborate cover-up. One even claimed that “non-human biologics” had been recovered from UFO crash sites.

What are Christians to make of such claims of close encounters? Personally, I don’t believe that alien life exists, on earth or anywhere. But, since the Bible doesn’t rule it out, an alien ship landing on the White House lawn wouldn’t shake my faith. Instead of theorizing about extraterrestrial life, I’m more interested in the human heart. Specifically, I want answers to these questions: What does our collective belief in extraterrestrials say about us, as people? Is it significant that (to borrow a phrase from the X-Files) so many Americans want to believe?

To help me grapple with these questions I picked up a book entitled How UFOs Conquered the World: The History of a Modern Myth. I learned that, although humans have long dreamt of aliens, the surge in UFO reports began in 1947. That timing seems significant.

In the aftermath of World War II, humanity teetered on the brink. Millions of soldiers and civilians lay dead. The Holocaust had decimated the Jewish people. Atomic bombs had unleashed unthinkable devastation on Japan. With a cold war underway between the United States and the Soviet Union, the entire planet seemed poised for a nuclear Armageddon. And through it all, God had seemed distant, even absent.

The planetary horrors had reignited the problem of evil. If God exists, and, if he is both good and powerful, then why didn’t he intervene? Some people could respond to this dilemma by arguing that God did not exist. Indeed, secularism was on the rise in the United States in the twentieth century. But in the face of extinction-level threats, maybe we have to believe…in something. Enter the Little Green Men.

Perhaps aliens scratch our itch for the transcendent. Could they be a gut-level response to the human need to react to both the wonder and the chaos of the world?

Perhaps aliens scratch our itch for the transcendent. Could they be a gut-level response to the human need to react to both the wonder and the chaos of the world? We simply need to believe. If we think that modern science has canceled God or that he’s somehow disqualified for inaction during World War II, then perhaps we can find a substitute.

As humans, we look at the marvels of creation and feel a sense of wonder. Breathtaking vistas continue to inspire awe and still beckon us to contemplate the meaning of life. We also look with sorrow at the chaos around us: wildfires out of control in Hawaii, a hurricane in California, and an unjust war grinding on in Ukraine.

Humans instinctively know that they need salvation. But in the modern world, this salvation has been secularized. We still look to the heavens, but not because we think we’ll find God. Instead, we look to the stars expecting extraterrestrials to rescue us from ourselves. We’ve embraced a Martian mysticism because we aren’t convinced that God exists.

As a Christian, I believe that the Bible tells a better story which fulfills our desire for flying saucers and little green men. I believe that the Creator has formed the cosmos for his glory (Genesis 1:1, Colossians 1:16). As J. H. Bavinck once wrote, “God has spoken. Everything else is just a response.” But in our response to God’s self-revelation, we oftentimes distort the truth.

Our fascination with UFOs must be filtered through the biblical story. When assessed against the plotline of the Bible, we discover that humans are understandably fearful about life in the modern world. We are right to search for salvation. We are so close to the truth when we assert that we need an outside rescuer. And we are looking in the right direction when we gaze hopefully towards the heavens.

But, like the builders at Babel, humans err when we think that salvation can be found in the stars rather than in the One who hung the stars in space. Instead, we must remember that God “is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). He not only created the space-time universe, but he entered it, providing the outside rescue that we know we need. The Son of God came from the heavens to offer himself as a substitute on the cross. There, he offered humanity the cosmic rescue that we crave.

As a species, we want to believe. And, as Paul told a fearful, suicidal jailer, if we believe in the Lord Jesus, we will be saved (Acts 16:31). As a Christian, my hope does lie in the heavens. The truth is out there. We need to believe.

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Stephen Stallard

Stephen Stallard is the Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He served in NYC for eight years, where he planted a multicultural church. Stephen earned a PhD in Applied Theology from SEBTS. Trained as a missiologist, he enjoys exploring a rich diversity of cultures. Stephen is married to Sonya, the love of his life. They have four children: one girl and three boys. Stephen's hobby is making hot sauce.

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