Commentary

Cliff Goldstein

is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His next book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity has just been released by Pacific Press.

Cliff’s Edge –– Ellen and the Exoplanets

Imagine me 38 years ago, who, not believing in God, came to believe, and instantly, too. And not just in God, but within six months, in the teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as well. If not the same as going from zero to infinity (impossible anyway), going from atheism to the three angels’ messages was quite an odyssey, nonetheless. Having my beliefs, many as basic as axioms to geometry, kicked out from underneath me was disorientating, and not a little humiliating, too.

What an incredible waste of space for the Lord to have created the universe for just one inhabited planet, ours.

Now, imagine as my mind slowly acclimated to the Adventist noosphere, coming across this quote from Ellen White for the first time: “The Lord has given me a view of other worlds. Wings were given me, and an angel attended me from the city to a place that was bright and glorious. The grass of the place was living green, and the birds there warbled a sweet song. The inhabitants of the place were of all sizes; they were noble, majestic, and lovely. They bore the express image of Jesus, and their countenances beamed with holy joy, expressive of the freedom and happiness of the place. I asked one of them why they were so much more lovely than those on the earth. The reply was, ‘We have lived in strict obedience to the commandments of God, and have not fallen by disobedience, like those on the earth.’ Then I saw two trees, one looked much like the tree of life in the city. The fruit of both looked beautiful, but of one they could not eat. They had power to eat of both, but were forbidden to eat of one. Then my attending angel said to me, ‘None in this place have tasted of the forbidden tree; but if they should eat, they would fall.” Then I was taken to a world which had seven moons. There I saw good old Enoch, who had been translated” (Early Writings, pp. 39, 40).

Outside of science fiction characters—Mr. Spock, E.T., Darth Vader, and the like—the idea of intelligent life on other planets, however plausible, even likely, was only speculation with no empirical or experimental verification. But now, not only was I confronted with an explicit depiction of life on other planets, I believed it, too.

For years, astronomers have been scanning the cosmos for a peep, tweet, or mutter from an intelligent being somewhere out there in “the final frontier.” Yet Ellen White, more than a century ago and a half ago, described what some of this intelligent life looked like, and even recorded a conversation that she had in vision with one of them. No question, my newfound Adventist faith opened my mind to realities way beyond where my imagination, so constricted by an atheistic materialist worldview, could have ever taken me.

What made me think of that Ellen White reference were news reports of the recent discovery of new exoplanets, some believed suitable for life. Exoplanets are planets outside our solar system that orbit stars, much like the planets in our solar system orbit our star, the sun. More than 3,000 exoplanets have been discovered, with a few dozen in a “habitable zone,” meaning that they possibly have conditions suitable for life, at least as we know it.

Given the scriptural references to non-earthly life (Eph. 3:10; 6:12; Job 38:7), why not? What an incredible waste of space for the Lord to have created the universe for just one inhabited planet, ours. Between the biblical record, the numerous references Ellen White made to “heavenly intelligences,” and the vast number of galaxies out there, the discovery of exoplanets—however fascinating in and of itself—isn’t all that surprising.

Now, without reading more into it than we should, the discovery of these exoplanets helps add credence, not just to Ellen White’s references to the existence of these beings on other planets, but to the great controversy meta-narrative, in which sin, rebellion, and evil arose among intelligent life in another part of the creation. Aside from the amazing revelation of what life on other planets is like, when she mentions them having their free will tested by a forbidden tree, we have been given insights into a reality that science, even with 20 more future Einsteins, could never begin to approach, much less fathom.

Her words blew my mind then, and now, 38 years later, they still do.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His next book is tentatively titled Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity.


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