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Many years ago, the human race began to receive invitations that hailed from planets millions of miles distant. They arrived one by one, each inducing an ever-higher state of human exultation, and all were individual marvels of art and science.
Some came in the form of radio transmissions, as ethereal songs somehow intoned in familiar tongues. These were unlike any manmade music and beckoned to us from across the vacuum of space. Others entered our atmosphere in arching orbs of flame, and opened upon landing to reveal beautiful alien relics, unmistakably signaling Earthlings through various artistic means (hologram in one case) to leave their sheltered planet and pay a visit to foreign hosts. And it goes without saying that each invitation included directions to its source.
Of course there was great uproar on Earth because we finally knew with undeniable certainty that we were not alone. The universe was apparently home to a multitude of other residents, all seemingly friendly and sociable. But they wrought havoc in the churches. Many a devout worshipper of the Lord spent sleepless nights asking God if His love was evenly divided among all His newly-elucidated children, with much less conviction as to whether or not their queries were even being received and processed let alone answered. Most of us simply wanted to meet the Senders and to learn. And of course there were also those who didn’t care, who were content to stay on their own little world, undisturbed by whatever, or whoever, else existed out in the vast swirling cosmos. We ignored them.
Well, the actual travel through space to respond to the invitations was easy, making it not a question of how to get to these worlds but only if we should in fact go. But that wasn’t really a question at all because we must. Of course we must. We were invited.
So into the spaceships we jumped. Who is we? Well that was much discussed. Of course scientists were selected: biologists, botanists (hello, I’m one of those), astronomers, engineers, linguists, etc. But artists and musicians came as well, and priests and ministers. A few well-endowed civilians paid their way in, but space travel wasn’t difficult and they wouldn’t be an inconvenience, so we didn’t mind. With the team assembled and all provisions accounted for, off we went, to broach a cosmic landscape, to meet the Others.
The first invitation issued from only a few light years away, from a planet slightly smaller than Earth that revolved around a young sun at the inner boundary of its habitable zone. The planet looked remarkably similar to Earth: all blue and green and white. The civilians wondered if we’d really left home at all, but they kept that to themselves to avoid sounding ignorant.
We figured we had been invited so we landed without much prior ado. The planet’s inhabitants were delighted to welcome us and gave the whole group a tour of the planet. Our linguists got to work on the language, which was easy and beautiful, as were the inhabitants themselves. It was a dazzling planet, in all reality.
As we became familiar with the language, we joked that God must love this planet much more than Earth. He had given it more splendor, more peace. The Others said, “Yes, God loves us very much, He always writes us so.” And they showed us the special little boxes in each home where they sent their letters to God and received His responses. We were disbelieving and jealous. “We don’t have God P.O. boxes on Earth!” We told them. “We have so little proof of His presence that our scientists have done very well at telling us He doesn’t exist at all!” And the Others looked at us sadly and some wrote to God to ask about the discrepancy but He must’ve been out of stamps, for there was no reply.
Dejectedly, resentfully, we left that planet. We had other invitations, of course. On the expedition went, and this time we traveled many light years before arriving at the next domain. Finally a planet loomed ahead, and this one was much larger and bluer than our own. Upon landfall (or seafall really, for the world was almost entirely ocean) we were treated as royalty. Multitudes of beautiful treasures were laid before us and we underwent enhancing procedures until we were all quite superhuman.
This planet was all the more generous and exquisite than the last and once again we wondered if God had favored it when He created the universe. Everyone feared the answer so these thoughts were kept to ourselves, except for those of one young and resentful minister. Unable to contain himself, he questioned the inhabitants on their religion, and they said, “We are aware of God’s love for us, He tells us every day during our phone calls.” Thus they showed us the special telephones they used to talk directly to God. We were incredulous at this new and wider discrepancy between His influence elsewhere and on Earth. So a few kind ones called God to ask why He left us in the lurch but it went straight to voicemail.
We wanted nothing more to do with that planet, so away we went. Many wished to go back to Earth and forget the other invitations, but etiquette overcame and we headed in the direction of whatever we would encounter next. It was with significantly less enthusiasm that we arrived at planet number three. This one was only slightly smaller than familiar Jupiter but fully encased in a vast forest (botanist heaven!), only broken up by lakes and curling rivers. Landing was a bit more difficult here but we found a lake large enough to provide a runway.
These inhabitants wasted no time in granting us the utmost luxuries their planet afforded, as well as cures to all our known maladies. But by now we were darkly and ironically curious as to how well God seemed to be treating everyone else so we asked about Him right away. “Our relationship with God is one of equitable respect,” we were informed. “We often give Him ideas on improving our planet during our meetings.” And they led us to the little conference rooms where God materialized to convene with this world’s citizens. The inconsistency was ever-growing and we were sorely distraught at the injustice of it all. The inhabitants tried to schedule us a meeting with God to tell Him our qualms, but He was fully booked.
We moved on with chagrin to see how God interacted with the next planet. There were still two invitations and we planned on seeing our mission through. The following domain upon which we converged consisted of not one, but two planets, orbiting each other extremely closely. We played eeny-meeny-miny-mo to decide which one to land on, then headed down.
The inhabitants took us in lovingly, treating us almost as children and providing comfort and happiness as we had never experienced. They were a wealth of scientific knowledge, and revealed secrets of the universe toward which we had only begun to speculate. But we were now solely interested in the relationship God had established here so we brushed aside valuable information and jumped straight to divinity. There wasn’t much to tell. “God is present among us,” they said serenely. “He walks, talks, and lives with us, though we are aware that He is not one of us.” We couldn’t claim to be surprised at this, though it was yet another blow to our damaged pride. The inhabitants felt our pain and took us to God’s address but He wasn’t home.
Wearily, the procession continued to the planet of our final invitation. We were bewildered as we approached, for it glowed warmly with golden light, and we thought at first glance that it was a docile sun. But it was not, for after advancing without heat or radiation damage, we saw the outlines of water, land, and city that confirmed planet-hood. An inexplicable feeling of contentment swept over the entirety of the team as we orbited the planet, basking in its glow, and we landed hastily with a longing to submerge ourselves in the joy that pervaded the air itself.
We emerged from our ships with one question and one question only on our minds. “How is God present here?” The inhabitants, achingly and indescribably beautiful, smiled warmly at us. They fed, bathed, and rested us, and when we woke from the most comfortable slumber of our lives, they gathered us and said gently, “We are God.”
And it was true. For each one of these sublime beings was assigned a planet. Each chose the level at which it would interact with its dependents as their supposed deity. Thus we learned that we were presided over not by an all-encompassing supreme sentience, but simply by a highly advanced, extensively involved, broad-sweeping alien species. And the most unfortunate fact of all lay in that Earth’s assignee was, as they say and kindly put, out to lunch.