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

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

The Odyssey of Theodicy

Theodicy is a theological construct that broaches the thorny topic of how a loving God can allow people to suffer. Merriam Webster defines theodicy as a “defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.” Though technically accurate, that succinct and oversimplified definition of theodicy fails to address the human side of the equation—the emotional impact that tragedy has on individuals, families or communities.

In addition to being a rigorous philosophical exercise, theodicy can be expressed in the form of a question: Why do bad things happen to good people? Though customary to ask after tragedy has befallen innocent people, the unfortunate truth is that no answer can properly satisfy this universal appeal for justice.

Though the reality of that statement is as pleasant as taking a leisurely stroll across a bed of scorching coals, there’s a reason behind every ordeal we encounter in life…even if we can’t see it at the time. Well-meaning friends attempt to provide comfort in dark times and bromides seem to just roll off the tongue: “Into every life some rain must fall,” or “Suffering is good for the soul.”

Scriptures readily come to mind when troubles abound: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Rom. 8:28), and “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). These encouraging and ennobling words were penned by Paul—the no compromise first century apostle/evangelist who knew all too well the cost of following Christ. Compared to his sundry afflictions (II Cor. 11:23-28) ours seem somewhat tame, like a child whining about a lost penny when his parents are on the verge of bankruptcy.

And then there’s Job. Job is the very personification of theodicy. No one in the history of the world, with the exception of Jesus, was as well acquainted with sorrow, loss and physical anguish as Job. Call his life Murphy’s Law in overdrive (or hyperdrive/warp drive).

Most theologians agree that Job is the oldest book in the Bible, which means that theodicy’s prickly principles have confounded humans practically since the time of the fall (Gen. 3). As the story begins, we learn that God considered Job the most righteous man on Earth at that time (Job 1:8). However, the Accuser wagered that he could make Job reject God if the Almighty removed His hedge of protection from Job. God agreed to the conditions of the challenge, but prohibited Satan from killing Job.

Satan eradicated nearly everything in Job’s life: his health, his livestock, his possessions and everyone in his family except for his wife—who urged him to curse God and die. Yet through it all, Job’s trust in God never wavered: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). When it seemed like Job’s death was imminent, God restored everything to Job in double measure. Job passed the test by taking his focus off his problems and needs and praying for his unbelieving friends.

Though most of us will never have to tolerate even half of what Job did, the way we handle adversity reveals a great deal about our character. Indeed, how we react to negative circumstances is a litmus test that proves whether our default mode is to rely upon self or have faith in God. In a crisis moment, we have several options: attempt to avoid the problem (which only works for a short time), try to handle it ourselves or with the help of friends and family, completely turn it over to God or mope about the situation.

A prime example of the latter is C-3POs remark in
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), “We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.” Such a martyr complex isn’t healthy or productive, especially since Christ became a martyr in order to provide us with eternal life. Instead of indulging in a pity party like C-3PO did, our impulse should be to celebrate when life throws us a curve ball.

That’s exactly what the apostle Paul did when he was tossed into a Roman prison (Acts 16:16-40). Paul and Silas sang songs of praise to God in spite of their dire predicament. In response to their jubilant worship, God caused an earthquake to rattle the prison, providing a means of escape for Paul and the other inmates.

Though it runs in direct opposition to our conditioning, the best way to deal with a setback is to praise God for His goodness, no matter how overwhelming the circumstances are in the moment. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (Jas. 1:2).

Ultimately, there’s only one reason why God allows His people to experience hardships…to produce personal and spiritual growth. “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (Jas. 1:3&4).

Despite the many rigors and horrors of the Great Depression and World War II, Americans of that era are referred to today as The Greatest Generation. Forged on the anvil of tragedy and toil, they became stronger because of what they were made to endure. Similarly, with each successive trial in life we have the opportunity to become greater men and women of God.

Whether you’re in the midst of your own personal Kobayashi Maru test or if you’ve thrown your hands in the air and exclaimed, “Shaka, when the walls fell!,” know that you’re not the only one who’s faced such desperate times and that your plight is actually part of God’s purpose for your life.

So, if you’re feeling the unwelcome agency of theodicy at work in your life, just remember that it’s impossible to obtain pure gold without first purging the dross in a fiery cauldron. In the end, the only way to survive the agony of theodicy is to trust God and trek on!

Spring 1998

Does God Have a Prime Directive, Part 2

Last time, several questions were raised concerning God’s Prime Directive (PD). After establishing the existence of a divine PD, the first query was, “Does God violate His own Prime Directive?” Of course He does. Miracles, angels disguised as humans and other heavenly interventions have occurred at various times and in sundry places throughout human history.

But is it really necessary for us to see these signs and wonders in order to believe? As the apostle Paul was fond of saying, “Certainly not!” The Bible attests that creation itself is an adequate testimony of God’s existence and magnificence (Romans 1:20).

God’s purpose in creating a PD was to challenge His people to live by faith, not by sight (II Corinthians 5:7). To believe in a God we can’t see is faith in its purest form. But would we even need faith if He appeared to us every day? Our free will could be influenced by such epiphanies, right?

Star Trek, when Kirk, Picard, etc. violate the PD, it’s usually to assist beings embroiled in a bitter conflict or to rectify some injustice. In the same way, even though it might be hard for us to see at times, God is continually orchestrating events and circumstances for our benefit (Romans 8:28). This side of Glory, we may never know why God breaks His own mandate of non-interference, but we can rest assured that it’s for our own good—His ways are higher than ours, after all (Isaiah 55:9).

Another question was, “If God violates His own Prime Directive, is that a sin?” The answer is a resounding no. As a theology professor of mine was fond of saying, “God is God, and He can do as He jolly well pleases!” Since God is the ultimate authority and judge over all creation, He knows when it’s appropriate to involve Himself in human affairs and when it isn’t. It’s logical to conclude that the One who forged the universe has a well-defined set of intervention guidelines.

The final question posed was, “If God sins when He breaks His own Prime Directive, who enforces His punishment?” This is another fallacious supposition. Since the violation of the PD for righteous purposes isn’t a sin, the point is moot. God is incapable of sinning (James 1:13), and since there’s no entity greater than Him (Jeremiah 10:6&7), this line of faulty reasoning will be discarded with great haste.

The origin of God’s PD began a long time ago, in a galaxy… Oops, wrong sci-fi franchise. For eons, God had been glorified by angels, cherubim, seraphim and other heavenly creatures (aliens?). These beings had no choice but to magnify God because they were created for that specific purpose. But that kind of obligatory worship was hallow to God, who desired pure praise from a people willing to exalt Him not because they had to, but because they wanted to. God’s solution was to initiate the Human Experiment.

God created human beings and gave us the right to decide our own destiny—this is often referred to as free moral agency. Given a free choice, would we worship God or things (ourselves, money, nature, etc.)? Tragically, before our progenitors had even settled into their new, paradise home, they sinned and were evicted from the Garden of Eden. In an astoundingly short period of time, the created had turned their backs on the Creator. The day we exchanged eternal contentment in God’s presence for an empty promise of divinity, presented as a delicious piece of fruit by the father of lies (John 8:44), forever altered our destiny as a species.

Knowing that our fallen, sinful nature (Romans 3:23) would always prevent us from attaining His righteous standards, God decided to change the conditions of the test (a la Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru simulation in
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.) But the price for entering a new variable into the Human Experiment would run high: in order to redeem humanity, God would have to sacrifice…Himself.

When the fullness of time had come (Galatians 4:4), Jesus, God’s only Son, entered the world in order to cure the human race of its terminal sin condition. And at that very moment, God made first contact with the very people He created.

April 1997