Faith and Fandom
To Boldly Go Into All the World, Preaching the Good News...Where No One Has Gone Before

Failure at the Cave

Right in the middle of The Empire Strikes Back (1980), there’s a surreal scene that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the sci-fi blockbuster’s action-packed storyline. The film’s breakneck pace slows down for just a moment during Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) Jedi training on the swamp planet Dagobah. Due to the vignette’s subject matter, positioning in the plot and stylistic filming, it’s clear that creator George Lucas and director Irvin Kershner intended to set the episode apart from the rest of the film for a specific reason, which invites a close examination of the sequence.

To set the scene, diminutive Jedi Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) has been drilling Luke with a series of physically demanding exercises. During a break in training, Yoda initiates Luke’s next challenge…a psycho/spiritual exercise designed to test the young initiate’s character.

“That place,” Yoda indicates with his withered wooden cane, “is strong with the Dark Side of the Force.”  

The Force is the mystical energy that “surrounds us and penetrates us” (pantheism) and grants magical powers to those skilled in its use. The Dark Side is the embodiment of evil, and the cave that Yoda is prompting Luke to enter is saturated with it.

Concern evident in his voice, Luke asks what he’ll find inside the pit. Yoda’s cryptic response is, “Only what you take with you.” This seemingly innocuous line, delivered by the green-skinned alien as he draws circles in the muck with his walking stick, has huge implications for Luke’s impending test.

As a precaution, Luke picks up his weapons belt and prepares to face the unknown. But Yoda, ever the intuitive instructor, senses Luke’s apprehension and says, “Your weapons, you will not need them.” That statement generates the only moment of levity in this otherwise serious and dark passage in the film.  Luke tosses Yoda a skeptical look, as if to say “Yeah, right!,” and continues fastening his utility belt around his waist.

Standing at the mouth of the cavern, Luke reaches a crossroads…you might call it a crisis of faith.  Will he enter the cave or not? What will Luke find inside the “domain of evil” and will he be ready to face it?

As Luke descends into the dank, reptile-ridden pit, he comes face-to-face with the manifestation of his greatest fear…the black clad Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader. There are a couple important points to consider in this scene. First, Vader activates his lightsaber only after Luke does; a defensive posture. Secondly, and most importantly, Vader makes no serious effort to either attack Luke or defend himself against Luke’s assault (the contest is comprised of just three lightsaber clashes). Due to Vader’s feeble resistance, Luke decapitates him within a matter of seconds. In the aftermath of this short-lived duel, Luke sees his own face inside Vader’s helmet, which, of course, sets up the haymaker revelation later in the movie.

The brief battle is shot at a pseudo slo-mo speed and has a dreamlike quality to it. This visual aesthetic, which is highly effective in creating an atmosphere of palpable dread, is cunningly symbolic when considering Luke’s earlier statement about boggy Dagobah resembling something out of a dream.

The cave confrontation confirms Yoda’s unheeded advice since Luke could’ve completed the challenge far quicker and without any violence had he entered the grotto sans his weapons. Ironically, even though Luke learns the lesson, he still fails the test.  This fact is confirmed later in the movie when Yoda says, “Remember your failure at the cave.” 

Luke’s conscious decision to shun sound counsel recalls many similar situations in the Bible where ostensibly righteous men chose to ignore, reject or modify God’s will in order to suit their own purposes.

Remember the Sunday school story of Jonah and the whale (Jonah 1&2)?  God called Jonah to teach in Nineveh, but obstinate Jonah jumped on the first ship headed in the opposite direction.  Jonah eventually ended up preaching in Nineveh, but not before he was tossed into a stormy sea, swallowed by a whale and vomited onto a beach. That’s what you call learning the hard way.

Or how about when Moses struck the rock with his staff instead of speaking to it as God had commanded (Numbers 20:11&12)?  Moses’ moment of anger prevents him from entering the Promised Land.

And what about mentally tortured Saul, who, after failing to hear God’s voice, consulted with the witch at Endor (who must’ve been short and furry) to conjure up the spirit of departed prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 28:7)?

Luke’s disregard for Yoda’s instruction smacks of the same kind of disobedience demonstrated in these Biblical examples. Even though Luke’s hesitation over entering a potentially dangerous situation without any defenses is completely understandable, the way he responds to the situation, by taking matters into his own hands, is still an act of rebellion against his teacher.

Turning away from the Master (Romans 3:23) is something we all have in common with Luke. However, the fact that we can glean insight from a mishandled mission (just like Luke does) is a reassurance that God’s plan can still be fulfilled in spite of our selfish motives. But how much more could we accomplish for the Kingdom if we did things God’s way instead of ours?

So have you ever had a failure at the cave?  Have you missed out on God’s best by relying on your own wisdom instead of His (Proverbs 3:5)?  Have you tried negotiating (or wrestling, as Jacob did in Genesis 28:10-17) with God only to discover that your efforts were in vain and that things would’ve worked out far better had you just done what He asked from the start?  Do you find that the guilt you experience over past failures keeps driving you back to the cave time after time in a habitual cycle of shame?

Whatever challenge the cave represents in your life, know that God will never allow you to face a trial that you can’t overcome with his power (1 Cor. 10:13), nor will He abandon you in your darkest hour (Deuteronomy 31:6).  In fact, He has promised to protect you and lead you through life’s many dangers and pitfalls (Psalm 23).  So, whenever you’re faced with a cave moment of your own, prepare your heart in advance to learn the lesson God is seeking to impart.  Or, to tie the moral of the story back to Luke’s training, always do what the little green guy says.

February, 5, 2016

Sometimes the Transporters Don't Work

And sometimes they turn hapless transportees into genetic soup (Star Trek: The Motion Picture). Or split a person into good/bad halves (TOS’s “The Enemy Within”). Or merge two individuals into one (VOY’s “Tuvix”). Point is, we can’t always expect technology to function optimally, solve all our problems or protect us against every potential threat.

Some of the best
Star Trek episodes, both old and new, featured landing parties/away teams left in the lurch by fickle transporters (a la, “Gentleman, I suggest you beam me aboard”). When the transporters break down, survival instincts kick in and Starfleet decorum is quickly tossed out the nearest airlock. In this subset of Trek shows, temperamental technology raises the stakes, ratchets up the tension and delivers exhilarating drama…just the way we like it.

When transporters malfunction, our heroes are faced with untold dangers on hostile worlds and must rely on something other than mechanization—namely the gray matter between their ears—to get them out of sticky situations. With limited resources, the waylaid crew’s chances of surviving significantly increase with reliance upon training (particularly that extension course on “What to do When Stranded by a Transporter”), intuition, ingenuity and even a little luck.

By episode’s end, we’re impressed by the composure and courage exemplified by the marooned officers when they eventually succeed against all odds. And, with the stranded crew members safely aboard, we’re on to the next adventure.

There are many instances of faulty transporters in the Bible. No, really. God took the celestial transporters offline on several occasions for the purpose of producing perseverance, character and hope (Rom. 5:4) in a number of Old and New Testament believers. In many of these Biblical accounts, heavenly aid was withheld until the last possible moment and was frequently delivered in unexpected or miraculous ways.

Take the plight of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Dan. 3: 4-30), for instance. For refusing to bow down and worship the golden image of King Nebuchadnezzar, the Hebrew men were thrown into a fiery furnace. When the king peered into the flames, he was startled to see the unconsumed forms of the three men, plus a fourth figure…which appeared as the Son of God (v. 25). Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walked out of the inferno unscathed, without a single singed hair or even the smell of smoke on their robes (v. 27).

Due to their unwavering convictions and the miracle in the furnace, the king professed his belief in God and mandated that from that time forward all Babylonians should worship the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as the one true God (v. 28&29). Instead of merely teleporting the trio to safety, the pre-incarnate Christ protected His three servants in the midst of their searing dilemma.

Another individual in desperate need of an emergency beam out was Daniel when he was cast into the den of hungry lions (Dan. 6:16-28). But what if God had answered Daniel’s prayers immediately by extricating him from the lion-laden den? Wouldn’t make for a very exciting Sunday school story would it?

Instead of simply rescuing Daniel from his dire predicament, God allowed Daniel to face his fears and flex his faith muscles. In response to Daniel’s prayers, angels placed a supernatural vise on the mouths of each lion in the pit (v. 22). When Daniel was lifted out of the den the next morning, he didn’t even have a scratch on his body (v. 23). Again, God’s method wasn’t to remove His servant from tribulation but to sustain him through it for the perfecting of his faith.

Examples of those needing to be rescued from dangerous or intolerable situations abound in scriptures. Joseph certainly could’ve used a Get Out of Jail Free card when Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of raping her, resulting in his incarceration in an Egyptian dungeon (Gen. 39:1-20).

Samson surely would’ve welcomed an exit strategy when he yanked the pillars from their foundations, killing a host of Philistines, and himself, in the process (Jud. 16:23-31).

Jonah ardently prayed for a way out of the slimy, smelly whale’s stomach, but I don’t think being vomited up on the beach at Nineveh (Jon. 1:17, 2:1-10) was his preferred method of divine deliverance.

Paul, who unwittingly chartered three different ships that fell apart around him (II Cor. 11:25), definitely could’ve used a supernatural intervention on a variety of occasions.

Of course, the ultimate example of an individual faced with a life or death crisis was Jesus. If anyone ever deserved to be spared an excruciating, agonizing demise it was Christ on the cross. And yet, instead of saving Himself, He chose to save us.

The Bible records that Jesus could’ve called down twelve legions of angels to free Him from that Roman cross (Matt. 26:53). Had He done that—had He taken the easy way out—there would be no salvation or eternal life for anyone. Jesus suffered the worst death imaginable so that we could have the greatest life conceivable.

So, how do you react when you find yourself in the middle of a hopeless situation? Do you look for the quick fix or do you “endure hardship…like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 2:3)?

We must meet each challenge head-on and live our lives worthy of His calling so that on the day of redemption, when the divine transporters are activated, we will be beamed up into His glorious Heaven!

Fall 1998