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As National Geographic launch a new series which imagines humans living on Mars, Matthew Winbow considers the theological implications
On the 27th September I, like many others, stayed up to watch Elon Musk via live-feed announce that he would like to put humans on Mars by 2025.
Elon Musk is not talking about visiting Mars but about a permanent human colony - an idea also dramatised in the new National Geographic series Mars (pictured above). Musk is imagining a million people living on the red planet by the end of the century. Dennis Muilenburg the CEO of Boeing has since said that he hopes to beat Musk's SpaceX project to Mars.
After these announcements I have started to think about how the Christians living on Mars might see themselves in God’s story. Christianity after all has a good record in space. On the 20th July 1969 Buzz Aldrin took communion on the moon. Mars however, is different from the moon. The moon landings were temporary. The astronauts who went to the moon returned to Earth.
Mars will be permanent. The colonists will not come back. How will people born and raised on Mars view God, angels, the fall, the covenants, the incarnation, redemption and final consummation? How will they understand a story which seems focused on a tiny blue dot in the sky 34.8 million miles away?
Christianity is very geocentric. The Bible begins with the creation of earth. The events of the fall and the lives of Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus, all happened on earth. Even Christian eschatology is earth focused, whether you believe in a millennial kingdom or simply a new heavens and new earth. Jesus is coming back to earth, not Mars.
The Lord’s Prayer says “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” and the Apostles Creed says “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth”. They are both geocentric.
Mars like the American Frontier will produce its own religious movements. The frontier gave us Mormons, Shakers, Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses. I am certain Martian prophets will come, perhaps like the Fremen in Frank Herbert’s Dune, with an ecological vision of creating a well-watered paradise from the desert. Here's three ways Christians living on Mars could perhaps view themselves in God’s story:
1. Remember that they are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve
Acts 17:26 says, "From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries." The colonists and their descendants, like us all, are like Adam. We are all exiles from the presence of God, outcasts from Eden, until we are united with the second Adam, Christ.
They will still need the work of Christ for the forgiveness of sins when they are on Mars. Acts 17:26 also assures us that it is God who determines the boundaries of the nations, so if humans find themselves on Mars, it is because God has determined it. This could be the Martian notion of manifest destiny.
2. Turn the wilderness into a garden
If we take the view espoused by John H. Walton in his recent book The Lost World of Genesis One, creation is to be seen as a Cosmic Temple with humanity as God’s image within it. Ancient temples featured images of their gods and so humanity is the image of the creator.
As Priest-Kings of the creator we have a duty to spread the Edenic vision. Eden was not the whole world (Genesis 2:8) but Adam was called to spread Eden to the rest of the earth (Genesis 1:28). Outside Eden was the wilderness (Genesis 2:7). As imagers of the creator, humanity’s presence on Mars can be seen in this light. We are spreading the Edenic vision of a well-watered garden to the wilderness.
3. View Mars in eschatological terms
Christians who choose to be celibate in this life are eschatological witnesses to the fact that one day there will be no marriage (Mark 12:25). Those that are peacemakers are eschatological witnesses to the fact that swords will one day be beaten into ploughshares (Isaiah 2:4). In the same way the colonisation of Mars can be seen as an eschatological witness to the ever-expanding Kingdom of the Messiah (Isaiah 9:7) and the hope for a restored creation (Revelation 21:1).
Christians who live on Mars should remember that as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:19 "For God was in Christ, reconciling the world (κόσμον/cosmos) to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation." As Christians our exile from Eden has ended, God dwells with us by the Spirit and as such we have the Edenic calling of spreading the rule and reign of God over the cosmos.
Matthew Winbow is elder at Discovery Church Swindon. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies and Applied Theology and loves space
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