From Divine Kings to Doctor Who, General Revelations of an Alien Savior
“It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish,” Caiaphas famously prophesied. There are times when people—even those who don’t know God—speak better than they realize. Some sensus divinitatis inescapably grabs hold and drives a stumbling, blinking humanity toward the eternal power of the one sovereign Creator whose divine attributes are revealed in the world he created. We might say there are moments when despite our best human endeavors of suppression, general revelation breaks through like beams of sunlight in a dense fog. One of these beams is the deep seated human longing for an alien savior.
In ancient times, cultures spanning the globe viewed their kings as divine, or at least uniquely chosen by the gods to represent divine interests on the earth. From the banks of the Nile to Mesopotamia to the Amazon Basin, people desired a king that could unite the unsurpassable chasm that spanned heaven and earth. In some cultures the king was truly divine and a member of the pantheon, while in other cultures he simply portrayed the image of the patron god on earth. In both cases, the king functioned simultaneously as insider and outsider. He was one of the people, yet substantially other, and it is this unique status that afforded him the sacral function of religious leader and divine protector. The divine king was an alien savior who protected kingdom boundaries, ensured crop production, and united the people and with the gods, maintaining the supposed divine world order through their reign.
As foreign as this feels in our world of smart phones and social media, let us not shrug off these notions of divine kingship as dusty religious artifacts of dead civilizations. Our twenty-first-century culture is quite taken with a literal “alien savior”—Doctor Who. Like ancient kings of old, the Doctor spans the gap between humanity and that which lies outside our grasp. There is one significant difference. In the ancient world the divide was between heaven and earth, but in our postmodern, naturalistic age “heaven” must be substituted with another unsurmountable divide that is still materialistic—thus, time. With one foot in worlds of other dimensions and another foot in England, the Doctor is both insider and outsider; one of us yet not really one of us. He looks human, acts human, and maintains an undying affection for human beings, but it is because he is in fact not human that he can continually, episode after episode, deliver humanity from disaster.
I believe these types of cultural narratives are snapshots of a humanity that has a deeply rooted “alien savior complex.” As human beings—at a foundational level—we know we need a savior. The need is opaque and vague, yet clear enough to recognize that whoever or whatever is going to save must be an outsider in some way. If our savior were only an insider, we seem to easily discern that his predicament would be the same as ours. However, if this savior is wholly and completely other and detached, then there is the great risk of disinterest or failure to care. The incarnate Christ revealed in the Christian Scriptures is not a complex reimaging of ancient ideas.
As C. S. Lewis would say, the incarnate Son of God is the true myth that lies behind these transgenerational and transcultural recapitulations. Like children trying to snatch dust floating in beams of sunlight, humanity has been driven by general revelation to create stories of an alien savior who is like us, cares for us, but is outside of us. However, while these stories are grounded in general revelations of the Creator, they are fundamentally flawed and merely project the image of the creature into the realm of the divine.
Praise God that we are no longer children trying grab beams of light, but instead the “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).