Thoughts From the Silent Planet
During my younger years, my Christian faith and interest in science fiction found a shared home in C.S. Lewis' trio of books known as his "Space Trilogy." Lewis, beloved to many as a Christian apologist and author of The Chronicles of Narnia, also wrote this interesting series of novels entitled (respectively) Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Within, the idea of Christian apology and allegory are transmuted into a different kind of setting. Well, at least in the first two. The third is a bit...different, but it does exist in the same imagined world..
What we find in these three books is a universe--or at least solar system--that is a lot more alive that we ever realized. Malacandra--known to us as Mars--is far from the barren rock we know it to be. Instead, it is inhabited by three races of alien creatures. Another planet--Perelandra (Venus)--is described in Edenic terms, with a human-like woman and man. Other creatures known as eldil appear as beings of light and exist in space and on different planets. One being known as Maleldil oversees the leading eldil.
With a solar system teeming with life and Earth (Thulcandra) just one of the places in which it exists, these books have at least two interesting things to offer. First, they provide a unique "contemporary" allegorical take on the Christian faith. After all: eldila are like angels or spiritual beings and Maleldil is God. Earth is "the silent planet"whose leading eldil rebelled against authority and is now cut off from the wider goings-on in the solar system. In all of these goings-on, pieces of the Christian worldview related to the existence of God, the spiritual world, and the reality of human sin are illustrated in unique ways. In a certain sense, they can help to make the familiar strange again and in the process illuminate some thought-provoking ideas.
The second thing these novels does is expand the boundaries of what the universe might actually be like. For while Christians understand and affirm that God created the heavens and the Earth, we tend normally to focus only on the latter. When we think about everything that God is and does, we most often consider it only in relation to us and this planet. We assume, at least tacitly, that the whole of the cosmos exists for us. That the stars and untold billions and billions of space are simply window-dressing. To this, Lewis applies the brakes as says--what if there is something more to the story?
While it does seems that, at least as of what know in January 2021, Venus and Mars do not host the kinds of life that Lewis fancifully posits, that does not mean Lewis has nothing to offer. Because the larger idea of Creation being bigger than just us is still a powerful theme. Lewis reminds us that God's work may be deeper, wider, broader, and more complex than we might think. Such an idea tracks well with classical Christian theological ideas of God's holiness, omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. But at the same times, it invites a revolution in the narrow and earthbound ways we often view that.
Is the universe full of the kind of life that C.S. Lewis posits? I have no idea. It might. It might not. But: it might. And that is enough to fire the imagination and reframe our perspectives. I think this is important, because we walk around so sure of ourselves sometimes. So sure of our ideas, our understanding of the way the world works, and our place in the universe. We can make things make sense to ourselves just because we want things to make sense to ourselves. It is easier and more peaceful that way.
And then we are beckoned to leave the silent planet and travel to the stars. Invited to see that there is so much more than we ever imagined. In response to all that, we can turn from our former shortsightedness and try to embrace and take in all that is there. Or we can be understandably tempted to retreat into the silence of ourselves and the clean lines of pre-existing thought. So it is with anyone when confronted, perhaps for the first time, with the hard questions of eternity and the larger spiritual world. But the challenge does not end only at the first doorway of faith. It is also--and importantly--an invitation for we who have followed Christ for some time to admit that there may be more going on than we have shown ourselves been willing to embrace. A call to humility, even when stubborn surety feels so much better.
Whatever the barrier we need to cross may be, may we be willing to follow onward into the world of God's greater truth.