Sunday, February 04, 2018

CROSSover: Jesus & Darmok

I've recently started binge re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix.  For some reason I decided to rewatch the other Star Trek spin-offs first... so like Eric Morecambe, I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.

That last sentence is actually a useful metaphor for what I want to talk about today.  It's all about people behaving in a completely alien fashion, and how it bemuses us, possibly angers us and how we need to overcome that hurdle if we are to move beyond that.

So, in the TNG episode "Darmok", the Enterprise crew encounter a species known as the Tamarians/Children of Tama, who are desperate to open a dialogue with the Federation.  Great, no problem... except there's a catch; while the universal computer can translate all the relevant words into English... it can't make sense of how those words are utilised by the Tamarians in dialogue. All prior attempts at communication with the species have failed and no working relationship has ever been achieved.
Picard struggles to understand the Tamarians in the TNG epsiode, Darmok.

It turns out that the Tamarians speak in metaphors and use short statements from their mythology to convey the literal idea they wish to express. In the episode, the Captain of the vessel - Dathon, takes the radically unusual initiative of beaming himself and Captain Picard (the latter against his will), onto the planet surface to fight a creature in circumstances akin to those from Tamarian mythology.  The idea eventually works... but does so at the cost of his own life and all the while, as Picard is struggling to understand and establish a dialogue... the situation in space between the two starships, deteriorates and culminates in a brief firefight.  When the Enterprise is finally able to retrieve Picard, he hurries to the bridge and finally manages to speak to the Tamarians using what he learned from the encounter on the planet.  The possibility of friendship finally exists between the Federation and the Tamarians... as they finally have a way to communicate.

This got me thinking about today's epistle reading, particularly the last verse:
"The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
Colossians 1:15-20
 Scripture tells us that God's ways - like the Tamarians with the Federation, are completely foreign to us:
""For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.""
Isaiah 55:8-9
If you read the Bible it becomes very clear that humanity has struggled over the millennia to have a proper dialogue with God.  There are a few touched individuals through the ages who are blessed with the ability to convey or interpret God's messages in prophetic manner but the struggle to grasp what God's agenda is, is often a very real one as from a temporal perspective, his motives don't always seem consistent... because of our wrongdoing, our sin... we look at the world through a limited perspective that is tainted by our selfishness. In order to overcome this language barrier, God - like Dathon, took the extraordinary step of allowing his fullness to dwell within the confines of the full human experience.  However even then, in the Gospels... it becomes painfully apparent that the people he lived among struggled to understand the message he brought. You can clearly see Jesus acknowledgement, acceptance and even frustration with this at various times in the Gospel narratives.

Something even more radical needed to happen for God to be able to get through to us.

And that brings us once again to the cross.

There are many ways to look at Christ's sacrifice on the cross and I think some people (foolishly) fall into the trap of stating it means only one of those things... at the expense of the others; to do so, I think, means we miss out on the fullness of the message. To apply human psychology to God's reasoning for acting as he did... is to make the early mistakes of the Federation in dealing with the Tamarians - it is to foolishly use our own mindset to try and understand what somebody else (in God's case, infinitely higher and deeper), is saying.  Some theologians have argued that the idea of God punishing Jesus for our sin is "cosmic child abuse"... but that is to entirely miss the point of Jesus's nature. If the fullness of God is within Christ... then it is not about God projecting His anger onto a wholly separate child, it is about Him taking responsibility for what angers Him, upon Himself. It is also to deny the gravity of our situation... God has to take extraordinary harsh means to deal with a situation we are utterly incapable of dealing with in our own strength.

But I want to look at one thing Jesus' sacrifice does, that is echoed in that Star Trek episode... and that is that it provides a "Eureka" moment. Regardless of any physical functionality behind Jesus' death, when we step back at look at the simple facts - that God, believing us to be unable to save ourselves from a very real danger that he perceived... decided to send himself in the form of his Son, to alert us to our circumstance and confront us with the fullness of divine love, set against the heart of human darkness; we are presented with an opportunity to recognise and respond to that love.

Humans respond to love - when somebody (known or unknown) does something moving for us as an act of love in any form, we are burdened to respond. We might find it inappropriate or incompatible with how we feel, and choose to reject it... or we might change our behaviour or circumstances to acknowledge or even embrace it... but love always by its very nature, demands a response.

When Jesus died on the cross and revealed his reasons for doing so, we were confronted with the depth of God's love.

If we choose to embrace that love... the door is opened. We begin to speak God's language - the Holy Spirit is available to us, in a way that before Jesus death... just wasn't possible.

But it all starts with a single, audacious and extraordinary event instigated by someone who seems alien to us.

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

God and humanity at the foot of the cross.

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