Who of us has not gazed upon the stars on a clear night and pondered the possibility of alien life? If they’re there, do these foreigners look like us? Do they walk and talk like us? Do they love like us? Do they care for their children like us?
I say an unequivocal “Yes”, only we don’t have to look to the stars for them. They’re right here on Earth living all around us. The Bible, in fact, has over 100 references to them.
Am I talking about some comic cosmic collection of xenomorphs reminiscent of Men in Black? Some X-file-ish semi-political multi-world conspiracy? Or a meandering squad of leathery botanical E.T. explorers? Not at all.
If we are striving to know and practice the Bible, then we are the aliens.
I just finished watching District 9, a low-budget independent South African film produced by Lord of the Rings creator Peter Jackson. Good film by the way, although a little rough with the language. Anyway, I had just finished watching the DVD when my husband came in. As we settled down to sleep, I gave him the Cliff Notes version of the plot. Then my words arrested me—it’s the story of a man who becomes more human as he is transformed into an alien.
Well, when I put it that way, who could sleep? If this isn’t a blog seed, I don’t know what is. So after a thorough biblical study of the word “alien” I came to the conclusion that there are two ways to look at this whole alien thing.
First, Abraham considered himself an alien in Canaan, the very land God sent him to. The Father of the Faith might as well have had green skin because his actions and who he worshipped were as freakish to those who already occupied the land as a UFO.
Moses felt so foreign in Midian that he named his son Gershom or “an alien there” (in Hebrew). In his misery, Job felt like an alien to his friends and family. David bemoans his alienation throughout the Psalms.
How could this be when these very men were some of the heroes of the faith? Because they saw themselves as aliens in this world. They didn’t belong. Whatever land they lived in, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one (Col 1:21).
As a novice Bible student, I was under the misguided understanding that “the God of the Old Testament” didn’t like “aliens” or anyone who wasn’t an Israelite (he seems to change his mind about them by the time Jesus comes along). On every other page of the O.T. you read about this nation or that nation offering their babies into the fire to Molech or Baal and you think, well, yeah, I wouldn’t like them either.
But the truth is God himself said that he loved the alien (Dt 10:18) and he proves it time and again. In fact, aliens are treated on par with orphans and widows. I counted no less than 26 scriptures that specifically gave the Israelites direction on caring for the alien in their midst. Moreover, during the year of tithe, when the Israelites all gave their 10th to the Levites, the contribution was actually divided up between the Levites, the poor, the fatherless, and the alien (Dt 26:12-13). The Israelites were actually expected to help an alien if they became unable to support themselves. The alien is mentioned in the 4th commandment. And to show his acceptance of them especially as their families embraced their faith in Him, God gives a special dispensation to the third generation of aliens living in Israel that they should be admitted into the assembly of the temple just like those in Abraham’s line (23:7-8).
I think Jesus only magnified his father’s heart from the O.T. when he spoke of the Samaritans and other non-Jews in the N.T. I think it was because Jesus, more than any of those who preceded him knew what it felt like to be an alien. He was one of a kind. God in the flesh. There was nobody like him. And his alien-ness is seen no more powerfully than in the garden when he alone grasps the very overwhelming task before him (Mt 26). He was the ultimate ambassador from a foreign land, our future home. No one had more compassion on the alien than Jesus.
But there is a flip side to this coin, a tale for the head so-to-speak.
Recall how we are as children—innocent, pure, with a natural propensity for compassion, eager to learn, embracing difficulty and hardship as if they were an adventure. Jesus even challenged us in Matthews 18 that in order to enter the kingdom we must become like children. He could have said “re-become” because we were all children once. It is as children that we are most like God our Father, a being who himself is as alien to man as light is to dark.
I thought about how we as teenagers (especially when we hit middle school) feel not just like aliens to the world at large, we feel like aliens in our own skin. And in many ways we are, as we physically, mentally, and emotionally morph from childhood to adulthood. We’re not quite kids anymore. The simple things that brought us pleasure as children no longer have their appeal. But with years still to go before we can legally drink, drive, or have a mortgage, we feel caught in a netherworld in which we are the only inhabitants.
By the time we hit our early 20s, the metamorphosis to our new state is nearly complete. We’ve grown into a knowledgeable, savvy, experienced adult with years of experience in relationships, business, technology, and the arts. Maturity is ours.
Yeah, right. The truth is, somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose our way. We become aliens to the most important “person” in our life—God.
Then somewhere between 25 and 35 our real transformation commences. Our relationships crumble—repeatedly. Work is hard and long and unfulfilling. Technology satisfies us temporarily, but it’s unable to fill the yawning emptiness we feel when we can’t text, email, game, or chat. Even art (and music), the “soma” of the masses in which we greedily indulge, warps us in our brave new world so that reality falls far short of our expectations.
It’s then, when our outward beauty begins to fade, that our inward beauty begins to dawn. The things that at one time seemed so important, so absolutely necessary to our happiness—the newest gadget, beau, tuck, piercing, job, car—feel like shed skins as we outgrow our old “bodies”.
Youth has one type of beauty. But the beauty of an adult with a childlike spirit is like the love of a couple that celebrates 50 years of marriage. It is an unnatural beauty born by the soul in the way the rock submits to the chisel and the hand that wields it. It is the timeless beauty of a canyon cut from the fluid but relentless hand of the stream.
Like Wikus van de Merwe, the protagonist of District 9, we become more “human” and humane as he becomes more alien to this world. Our pain produces comfort we can give to others. Our suffering produces endurance. Conflict teaches us how to promote peace. If we do not move toward growth in this process, we die. We cannot stay fixed. One way or another we move. Either forward or back. It is our choice.
So if you feel alien, you’re not alone. That could be good. It all depends on where you phone or call “home”.