Science fiction, And What Jesus Said to the Woman at the Well

Fr. Jonathan Tobias | 14 May 2017

I don’t believe that scientists will ever find evidence of intelligent life in outer space.

On top of this, I don’t think that NASA, or Russia, or the ESA (European Space Administration) or anyone else will ever find evidence of any life anywhere else than the planet Earth. Just to make this clear: not only will we never meet little green men in flying saucers (or any space aliens like the scarecrow-like figures in X Files or the engineers and monsters in Prometheus) — we will never find any sign of life at all, even in the remote past, on any planet or any asteroid, in this solar system or any other star.

That is my private prediction. You may disagree if you’d like. And if future events prove me wrong, I’ll be the first to eat a nice crow fricasée (I’ve heard it can be quite tasty if one does not ask too many questions).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big science fiction fan. I belong to both Star Wars and Star Trek camps. I don’t have action figures but I do have posters. I built and launched Estes model rockets when I was a kid and learned simple trigonometry just to calculate the arched height of my D-engine flights.

But, truth be told, there is a lot more fiction in science fiction than science. Time cannot be traveled, especially backward, because it is not a dimension to be traveled upon (or through). The speed of light cannot be surpassed. Space is bigger than anyone could possibly imagine — and in this, especially, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is spot on. Any access to a new dimension actually increases distance exponentially — such access never opens up short cuts (my apologies to the Wrinkle in Time fans out there, which I read to my daughters years ago). There are no alternative universes to this one, despite the fervent wishes of a lot of pop scientists. There may be black holes, but there are almost certainly no wormholes. We’ve talked so long about their theoretical possibility on Deep Space Nine that we think they are fact, but they are not. And they certainly could not be traveled like one would in a subway. There is no evidence for wormholes: no shortcuts in reality.

And, sadly, there is not a shred of evidence for intelligent life in the universe apart from us humans (not counting the unseen powers).

Even more disconcerting is the complete absence of any sign of any life anywhere off this little green and blue marble, floating in space, that we call home sweet home. The notion that life must be present elsewhere, since there are so many many stars splayed out in the night sky, is just that: only a notion. No: probability does not at all demand that we should presume extra-terrestrial life (I think the Drake Equation is an egregious instance of the misuse of probability in particular and math in general). There is not a single piece of evidence for extra-terrestrial life. And there never may be.

I’m such a spoil sport. I know. But I’m not a cranky one.

I only want to think with you about a strong possibility: what if we were the only beings capable of real thought? of real planning, of hopes and wishes? of real memory (not just habit)? of consciousness, being and bliss? of real intelligence? (and please don’t mention artificial intelligence, for all that will ever be is a higher more complex development of computation: the only reasons why we assume the possibility of artificial intelligence is that we’ve confused intelligence with computation … secondly, and worse, we’ve denied the reality of spirit).

And what if the only place in fourteen billion years since the Big Bang (yes, I believe that) that ever nurtured not only intelligent human life, but any life is this single world?

What if the only place where a mere single cell that ever existed was this place?

If that were so, then that changes everything.

Because life — all life, not just human life — is itself an unprecedented miracle, confined to this place.

What in the world (or off of the world) does any of this have to do with what Jesus said to the Samaritan Woman at the Well?


The poor woman, who had migrated from one disastrous romantic entanglement to another, had told Jesus that she — as a Samaritan — worshiped God on Mount Gerazim. And that she could really not talk about religion to Jesus, because He was a Jew and everyone knew they worshiped God at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus, Who we know is the Son and Word of God, did not berate this young woman, who had such a messed up life. Instead, He told her that God is spirit. That is, He is not tied down to a certain place, since He is everywhere. You and I are always in a location, but God — as spirit — is in every location all at once. Or rather, all locations are in Him.

God holds all places in His hand. This means that you don’t have to wait until you get to Mt Gerazim or Jerusalem to worship Him.

In fact, you must not wait at all. You and I should worship God — because He is spirit — right here, and right now. Rabbi Hillel, an old wise teacher from centuries ago, gave this piece of good advice: “If not now, then when? If not here, then where? If not you, then who?”

This is good advice for anything in life. But it is best for the most important thing in life.

Worshiping God is the most important thing in life. It is the meaning of life. It is why you and I exist, why God thought of us for eternity before we were brought into being in this moment.

We were born to worship God in spirit — God Who is everywhere present and fills all things.

God is everywhere, but life is not. It may only be here. All of creation shows the glory — the love, the goodness, the splendor — of God. But only intelligent life worships Him.

Intelligent life is only humanity. Life is the highest form of physical creation, and humanity is the highest form of life.

And we were created to worship.

But Jesus said, in the hot noon at the Samaritan well, that we must worship God “in spirit and in truth.”

We, too, are spiritual. We are both physical and spiritual. We are the only creatures who exist in both worlds — material, and non-material. We are both embodied and bodiless, corporeal and incorporeal. Certainly, no other physical species can say that — not dolphins or horses or cute dogs or space aliens (who do not exist). And, no angel can say this.

Humanity is rare and singular. It is the only creation that is both physical and spiritual. We occupy the “linch-pin” between two worlds. It is up to us to bring them together in Christ.

Our job, our greatest responsibility, is to bring the physical world to God in spiritual worship (as Maximus the Confessor taught so clearly). Because only by doing this can we save the physical world.

We are the only ones, the only rational beings in the physical universe who can worship God.

We are the only chance, just like the Virgin Mary was the only human chance for the Incarnation.

That is a lot of pressure to put on a species, in a non-science-fiction reality.

We humans are a divine gamble.

And in the Incarnation, God took on only human nature, no other.

How are these worlds, that are so huge (the spiritual much larger than the physical), brought together (or reconciled)?

By worshiping God in spirit and in truth. This is the essential priestly “vocation” of humanity.

It is interesting that everyone “worships.” You can’t help but worshiping some god or another one. If it isn’t the true God, then a human being will construct his own version. He may not call it “god” and will probably even deny that his invention is a “god,” but it occupies the place of “god” in his thoughts and emotions. The very people that claim that God does not exist, but that there is only stuff that you can scientifically observe are the people who have ended up making this “stuff” their god.

Human beings cannot get away from their human nature. Worshiping “god” is a necessary part of what makes us human (and I suggest here that “worship” is the highest act of being human). You and I are going to worship something: “You’re gonna have to serve somebody,” as Dylan once sang. You can deny the true God, but you cannot deny worship. Worship is tangled up all through your psychology: seeking god is not part of your consciousness … it is your consciousness.

Let me say that again.

Seeking God IS your consciousness. It is the essence of your rationality. Seeking God is your life. Seeking God is the air that you breathe.

Let’s just hope that the “god” you seek is the true God, the Holy Trinity, of Which Jesus is the only Word.

That is the meaning of “worshiping God in spirit and in truth”: we worship the God Who is everywhere present and in every moment (“even in Hell,” the Psalmist says in Psalm 138.8 LXX, and that is no poetic exaggeration).

But we must worship Him right. Correctly. That is, in truth.

That means that human beings should not construct their own gods out of their private wishes or personal opinions, or worst of all, from popular notions in society. These constructions obviously cannot save, cannot think: “Like scarecrows in a cucumber field they cannot speak,” the Prophet Jeremiah says (Jeremiah 10.5), “they must be carried for they cannot walk.”

Worst of all, “god-constructs” like personal opinions fail to save when we need saved … they cannot deify when we must be deified, since we’re going to live forever … and being deified, or “divinized,” to participate in God’s nature (2 Peter 1.4) is the only meaning of life when life will go on and on and on, without end.

So what is worshiping God “in truth”?

This is not hard. God has done all the work. In His economy of salvation, the Holy Trinity has reached out to us “in spirit,” in every moment and place, to artistically express the unseen Father as seeable and knowable and imitatable. Never define-able, but certainly experience-able.

Jesus Christ is the only revelation of God the Father as spirit: “For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell” (Colossians 1.19).

It is Jesus Christ Whom we follow, for He is the only Way, the only Truth, the only Light. He is not a “god-construct.”

He is God.

He is truth.

And He can be met in every moment and in every place, because He is already there. You can think thoughts or make sense of things only because of Christ, Who is the only “sense” of things.

Everything in Creation (seen or unseen, that is, angelic) was made through Him, in Him and for Him. That means everything, small or great, near or far, is meaningful only in Christ. And Christ is everything’s destiny. The destiny of the universe starts on Earth, the only home of life, and in the heart of humanity, the crown of life — in Christ, the crown of humanity, Who is God made flesh.

Christ is the only meaning of you and me. He is our only destiny.

And that destiny is infinitely rich. Wherever there is beauty, Christ the Word is speaking to your heart of the Love the Holy Trinity has for you. You can see His artistry in the leaves, in the summer green, in every smile. You can feel His mystery of peace in the soft breeze and the bracing wind. You can sense His mercy in the rain and sunrise. In the stars you can perceive the depth of His great majestic love, and the unending, infinite eternity He calls as Friend to you.

The meaning of all life everyone and everywhere, for eternity and in this very moment is Christ, the revelation of the unseen Trinitarian God.

And the only true response in all your thoughts, all your feelings, is worship.

Everywhere is holy ground then. This beautiful earth, even the universe, is holy ground. Your whole, entire life in every moment is holy ground. God is Spirit, truly, and He is no longer to be worshiped only on Mt Gerazim and Jerusalem. His Temple has now moved to your body, to your soul, and all the moments you experience and places you see.

Turn away from the dark vision of a godless world, a dark life of meaningless moments. Repent. Turn around. Love your family, your neighbor. Forgive wildly, kiss your enemy. Be free.

And see the Holy Land of the awesome, beautiful and infinite Presence of Christ.

You’re walking in it.



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