May 1, 2023

The Harder Truths

What did we earthlings want to say if contact were made?

Clifford Goldstein
Photo by Conner Baker on Unsplash

In 1977, in an attempt to contact alien life (contact has already been made [see Genesis 1:1–Revelation 22:21]), the United States launched the Voyager spacecraft to the stars. Now about 14 billion miles from earth and still booking it, Voyager could reach Proxima Centauri, the star nearest to the sun, in 73,000 years, approximately.

What did we earthlings want to say if contact were made? If the space aliens could decode the instructions for the gold-plated copper phonograph record (a disk predating the CD-ROM) inside the ship, they would hear, among other things, greetings in dozens of languages, the sounds of wind, rain, humpback whales, and Chuck Berry.

Not happy with the selections, one dissenter, who wanted Bach, and only Bach, to represent earth, wrote: “We would be bragging, of course, but it is surely excusable for us to put on the best possible face at the beginning of such an acquaintance. We can tell the harder truths later.”1

And they would be hard, wouldn’t they, those truths? Such as: the earth is a tough, unforgiving, and harsh place with the very ground that holds us up also ravenous to pull us back in, leaving only a few bones and, perhaps, some whiffs of chemical residues in the wind. Or that the people who inhabit it, with the right buttons pushed, are capable of incredible brutality for irrational and incomprehensible reasons. (“Hier ist kein warum.”)2

And yet, what does Scripture say? “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7, 8).

If we consider the size of the known universe (about 93 billion light-years across) in contrast to the earth, it’s amazing enough that the One who created this cosmos—with 2 trillion galaxies (each containing billions of stars)—could care about us at all. But size aside, think about the quality, the moral quality, of the beings whom the Creator God came down here to save. “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10) or “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). 

Look at yourself. You might not be Joseph Goebbels or even Al Capone. Fine. But you, better than anyone, know what lurks inside. You know what you are capable of if cornered. And yet for you—wretched as you are, or could be—Christ died. Yes, there are hard truths about our world, hard truths that extraterrestrials already know about (see 1 Cor. 4:9). Yet, as hard as those truths are, a greater and transcendent truth, that of God’s love, sweeps across endless space and reaches down to reclaim us infinitesimally small beings with desperately wicked hearts.

1 Quoted in Susan Neiman, Moral Clarity (New York: Harcourt, 2008), p. 231.

2 “There is no why here,” a statement made by a guard at Auschwitz. See Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz, Kindle edition., p. 18.