For years, Hollywood has produced one alien invasion movie after another. And, perhaps with the exception of the cute and benign little space critter E.T., the aliens usually have evil purposes for us. Whether Men in Black, Teenagers From Outer Space, War of the Worlds, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Blob, or Independence Day, the scenario is somewhat as follows: the aliens want to take over our minds and bodies—and our planet—because their planet is no longer inhabitable, and they seek to make their home on ours. In the end, often after creating a lot of fear and havoc and all sorts of philosophical musing among earthlings about our place in the cosmos, the aliens are either killed or sent back into space with their tails (in some cases, literally) between their spindly legs.
In recent times, though, there’s been a new spin on the question of space exploration. And this time it hasn’t come from Hollywood. Instead of aliens wanting to come to Earth because their planet is no longer inhabitable, the idea is reversed: humans need to leave Earth because it is becoming uninhabitable. And instead of being produced in the mind of Steven Spielberg or Hollywood scriptwriters, this idea has been coming from the scientific community itself!
Indeed, the most famous proponent of the let’s-get-off-the-planet-before-it’s- too-late scenario is none other than the man who has been called “the greatest scientific mind since Albert Einstein”—Dr. Stephen Hawking, a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and best-selling author who also at one time held the same chair at Cambridge University in England that Isaac Newton did. According to Dr. Hawking, between climate change and pollution and other factors, human life on Earth is doomed, and our only hope is to get out of here and colonize somewhere else before we’re all dead.
“Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially,” he has warned, “along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill. But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were a survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million. Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain lurking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space.”
Getting off the planet? Interestingly enough, the Bible agrees. We do need to get out of here. How? Well, that’s another matter.
Logical and rational thinkers can certainly question the feasibility of Hawking’s proposal. In fact, some would argue that what he is proposing is more in the realm of science fiction than science itself. For instance, it is within the realm of present technology to get a few people to Mars, a potential project that will cost billions and has no guarantee of success. It’s a big step from there to evacuating the whole planet before it’s too late!
On the other hand, whether the idea of science getting us off the planet is feasible or just science fiction, we do know that planet Earth itself is in trouble. We face a host of problems that, potentially, could bring worldwide disaster, which would, of course, create the impetus—whether humanly possible or not—to evacuate.
Though hotly debated, many (including Hawking) fear that climate change presents one of the biggest threats to life on Earth. As more and more nations develop and industrialize, the use of our natural resources will continue to increase, and who knows where that will lead environmentally? Some experts claim that unless we make drastic changes (which don’t seem to be forthcoming), we will face an ecological tipping point from which there is no return.
In fact, many believe that the problem is already here. The World Health Organization estimates that issues related to climate change already kill 150,000 people each year. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon claims that climate change poses as great a threat as war itself.
Whatever one’s take on environmental issues, who could argue that the threat of war in an era of weapons of mass destruction holds the potential for worldwide calamity? In spite of the reduction in nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War, there are still an estimated 23,000 nuclear weapons spread out among nine nations, which is enough to wipe out humanity many times over. And though the Americans and Russians aren’t poised, as they once were, to bring a nuclear Armageddon, there’s always the danger of some terrorist organization igniting a nuclear weapon that would unleash responses leading to a nuclear nightmare for the entire world.
Then, too, some scientists worry about the threat of a pandemic caused by a deadly virus. Whether something natural, such as the bird flu, or something even more frightening, perhaps created by humans in a lab for biological warfare, the danger is real. We can’t forget the 1918 influenza outbreak, which killed more people than did the First World War. Furthermore, if a deadly virus should surface today, considering the ease of world travel now compared to 1918, the disease could spread much more quickly than the influenza epidemic did back then.
Others fear that things like asteroids or a wandering black hole could bring worldwide disaster. However farfetched these threats may be, there seems to be no question that life on Earth is becoming precarious, which explains the desire from Stephen Hawking and others to get off the planet before it’s too late.
Though some of this seems like pessimistic speculation, the fact is that Christians for almost 2,000 years have believed that factors on Earth were going to get so bad that we would have to get out of here. And the great news of the gospel is that this is exactly what is going to happen, except that we won’t have to wait for NASA to provide the way. God Himself is going to do it for us.
The Bible presents an incredible picture of humans literally getting off the planet. “The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–18).
Encourage each other? No kidding. We are promised a supernatural deliverance from this dying and violent and evil world—a promise that says we will literally be lifted off the planet and be with the Lord forever. It doesn’t get better than that!
These verses express what Jesus Himself said before He returned to heaven: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2, 3).
Yes, long before the threat of global warming or nuclear war, the Bible depicted a world of violence, devastation, and despair—exactly what we see today. Which is why we have been promised that God isn’t going to leave us here—not in a world that’s getting worse and worse, despite the best human attempts to fix it.
And here’s further good news: the same God who will get us out of here will also remake Earth, and it won’t be anything like it is now. The Bible says that “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).
Science and theology do agree that if humanity is to survive, Earth as it is now can’t go on. Thus, Stephen Hawking has a good point. The human race does need to get off our planet. The difference, however, is that Hawking is pinning his hopes of human beings accomplishing this goal for themselves. That seems farfetched at best, and more likely to be “realized” by the same folks who have given us The Blob and Teenagers From Outer Space than by NASA or some other man-made endeavor. In contrast, God—knowing how bad things are here, and knowing that we can’t go on like this much longer— promises those who have waited for Him not only a sure way out of this mess but that this mess will never happen again.