God saw all that he had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31).
The Vatican Observatory announced several weeks ago that it's OK for Catholics to believe in UFOs.
That news will come as a huge relief, I'm sure, to ... well, somebody. The announcement by the Reverend Jose Funes, director of the Observatory, touched off discussion and debate about whether or not God might have created other worlds populated by other beings, and whether those beings could be granted redemption through Jesus in another Incarnation. It also created debate over what it means to be created in God's image.
Rev. Christopher Corbally, also associated with the Observatory, weighed in on the discussion by alleging that human beings "are always trying to restrict God's creativity, putting theological difficulties in the way." He went on to say, "I don't think God bothers with theological difficulties." Which begs the question: Can God create a theological difficulty that's too complex for him to resolve?
All that's good and well, I suppose. I guess I tend to be agnostic toward most questions that edge into the fuzzy boundary between science and theology. In an earlier generation, there were those who made it an article of faith that the universe revolved around the Sun, and since then we've learned that our cosmic geography was off and that faith is not nearly so vulnerable that a minor reorganization of the galaxy could really threaten it. In view of that Copernican shift, I think it wise not to put all of my theological eggs in any one scientific basket. If one day extraterrestrials park their interstellar SUV on my street, maybe I'll invite them to church.
But, I did hear one comment on the blessing and sprinkling of UFO's that troubled me a little, truth be told. It was offered by Rev. Jack Minogue, a priest and former president of DePaul University here in Chicago. Rev. Minogue is apparently a bit of a UFO enthusiast, and his take on the Vatican Observatory's announcement was that no one should be surprised if it turns out that God created intelligent life on other planets. "Do you think we're the best God can do?" he asked in an interview. "I'm sure there are other creatures out there who do better."
Do I think that human beings are the best that God can do?
Yes, I suppose I do.
I don't think that necessarily rules out the possibility of extraterrestrial life, but I guess I do think that all of creation, human beings included, represents God's best efforts. With apologies to Rev. Minogue, the Creation story takes great pains to point out that God's evaluation of his creation is unequivocal: "very good." I take that to mean that all the parts of the world he had created worked as they were supposed to and did what they were made to do, and that together they made up a world that functioned to create and sustain life. Even human beings, as many problems as we seem to have, were originally created both to care for and benefit from that creation.
The problem with the human race, as I see it, is not that we're flawed and yet think too highly of ourselves. It's that we don't think highly enough of ourselves. That's been our problem from the beginning: we weren't content with the honored place our Creator gave us in his creation, and so we bought into the fiction that by taking matters into our own hands we could "be like God." The downward spiral started, not with a Creator who couldn't do any better, but with our own dissatisfaction with being made in the image of God. That's our sad legacy as the human race: it isn't enough for us to be like God. We always overreach, always want to be God, and that ... that, we're not very good at.
It's possible, even likely, that I'm making too much of a minor story on a slow news day. But I think that the way we see ourselves is important — even if it comes out in an off-the-cuff comment like Rev. Minogue's. If we think our frailties are hard-wired into us from our creation — if selfishness, greed, violence, and so on, are part of our nature — then that doesn't speak very well for God, does it? And, more practically, it doesn't speak well of our chances to rise above our sins. It's ultimately a far too fatalistic view of human nature; if our problems come from a Creator who just couldn't do better, then why fight our nature? We are who we are, and nothing can change that.
I disagree! More importantly, that's not the picture the Bible paints. Again, we're made in "the image of God" (Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 5:2; Genesis 9:6; James 3:8-10), part of a "very good" creation. If that doesn't lift your opinion of yourself, nothing will. While we often don't live up to that standard, that's who we really are. We aren't by nature broken, frail things who every now and then manage to perform above expectations. We are made with the innate capacity to be exactly what God wants us to be, and it's only because of the cumulative effects of sin on us personally, on the people around us, and on the creation itself, that we don't always live up to that.
But God has never given us a free pass. He continues to hold us accountable to be exactly what he created us to be, while at the same time offering us grace and patience for our failures. "Where are you?" he asked the first man and woman (Genesis 3:9), crouched and hiding in the bushes in guilt and fear. And he still asks that of every one of us: "Where are you? Where's the person I created?" And even when we're too frightened and guilty to even begin to imagine how to answer, he helps us to find ourselves.
To do so, he went as far as he possibly could. The Creator was conceived in human form in the womb of a woman (Luke 1:30-35), while in some mysterious way remaining God. He lived as a human being, and showed what a human being was capable of when he lived as God intended human beings to live (John 1:1-18). He showed that such a human being had nothing to fear from sin, from Satan, or even from death. And then he made it possible for us to be re-created, with our sin taken away, our guilt forgiven, our lives transformed and radiant with his glory. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17 TNIV).
So don't buy into the fiction, as attractive as it may sometimes be, that there's something fundamentally wrong with you. Remember who you are — who you really are. You're made in God's image, and in Jesus, that image is being restored day by day. Don't settle for less. Don't live for anything less that what God made you to be (Psalm 139:13-16). Don't content yourself with being anyone other than he made you to be.
After all, that would be, well ... alien.