Science fiction is a lot like comedy – it allows us a safe distance from which to take a closer look at things in the real world. This latest Star Trek movie has plenty to offer in that respect. As far out there as the premise of the story may be, the principles in the story hit close to home and are worth pausing to discuss. Let’s take a look at three prominent themes, because not only are they worth discussing in their own right, but… Just as science fiction gives us a safe distance from which to discuss the real world, movies give us a safe distance from which to approach the spiritual world.
Don’t Trivialize What You Don’t Understand
The movie starts with Captain Kirk trying to give a gift to a foreign people group. The item was a relic from the past. It was something from another (lost?) people group and no one knew much about the relic. The foreign people he was giving it to rejected it. Later he discovered that it was something that still had value and power and that an enemy who understood its value wanted it, desperately. They ended up in a battle over the item which was still largely shrouded in mystery. Someone (Bones maybe?) called the item a “doo-dad” and Spock’s wise reply was, “It isn’t wise to trivialize that which we don’t understand. I think it’s safe to say it’s worth more than a doo-dad.”
There’s great value to this idea on a simply practical level. We are ever tempted to trivialize things which we don’t understand and it’s ignorant and hurtful, to ourselves and to others. Maybe it’s another culture, or someone’s values or even their personality traits that are different from our own. It could be someone’s pain or it could also be their victory. Sometimes we are tempted to trivialize something that someone else has, or something that is offered to us (as in the opening scene). Sometimes we trivialize what we hold in our own possession, as the members of the Enterprise did.
I think it’s easy to see how devaluing something that is meaningful to someone else can be hurtful to them. We’ve all experienced that. It’s maybe less easy to see how it hurts us, though. As Star Trek showed, when they didn’t know what they had, they were willing to give it away (to other people who wouldn’t see its value). They were willing to let go of something that held great power and let it slip into enemy hands. All because they didn’t understand it and therefore didn’t value it properly.
In spiritual terms, however, we see two dangers. There were times when the Israelites were cautioned not to bring things into their “camp” – into their lives, essentially. These were things from other cultures, things which were tied to other religions. God’s command to destroy these things and not to bring them home doubtless seemed extreme at times. After all, those items at least had financial value—why destroy them and not use them? What they didn’t understand was the spiritual power connected to them. They didn’t understand that bringing them into their homes would also mean bringing the enemy into their homes. They were gateways of a sorts. The Israelites may not have understood their full value, but God did.
On the other hand, Jesus came and we “esteemed him not”. Man did not begin to understand His worth; so we killed Him. We had something on earth with us, in our very presence, and we didn’t understand how valuable, important and powerful He was. That’s not the only time we’ve made that mistake. Could we not say the same about our Bibles? About the Holy Spirit? Or, on a more fleshly level, our spouses, families, jobs, blessings of any sort? So often we hold in our very hands things of such great worth but esteem them not.
- Have you ever undervalued something because you didn’t understand it? What happened? How did your perspective change?
- When you don’t understand something, how do you usually respond? Do you treat it carefully till you do, or do you trivialize it?
- Has something you valued been misunderstood and therefore been treated poorly by others? Explain.
Throughout the movie, Captain Kirk struggles with feeling lost. He doesn’t know his purpose. He’s thinking of changing jobs, changing locations…anything to anchor him again. Commodore Paris comments wisely, “There’s no relative direction in the vast [expanse] of space… It’s easier to get lost than you think.” If this isn’t a comment relative to our modern, American world, then I don’t know what it is. We have been told to value choice. We have the “freedom to choose,” therefore, more choices must equal more freedom, right? The problem is, we are overwhelmed by choice. What we want is not more options, but less. We have no relative direction in the vast expanse of our choices and it’s therefore easier to get lost than we think.
This is one of the things I loved about wearing uniforms in school. I didn’t have to make any choices about what to wear each day. Simple. It’s one of the reasons I liked eating at camp. I never asked myself what I wanted to eat that day, I only asked if I wanted to eat what was served or not. Simple. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like eating at the Cheesecake Factory. Once I’ve chosen the restaurant I don’t want to have to start all over again with choosing what genre of food to eat. Mexican, American, Chinese, Italian…I expect to have already made that choice when we chose the restaurant. Their menu is too big and too varied. It makes me feel lost. Overwhelmed. Just Google “connection between stress and too many choices” and you’ll see an overwhelming list of articles stating how our abundance of choice is stressing us out and robbing us of our happiness. This is why there’s such a big movement right now for anti-consumerism, little houses, and challenges to do with less, etc. We’ve made choice to be a virtue in America, without realizing how it’s hurting us. It’s a Trojan horse.
In a surprising way, this makes Jesus even better news for us. We aren’t left with an overwhelming choice of religious options. Religion may be a vast expanse of options, but Jesus says there is only ONE way that will satisfy us, and only ONE way that will bring freedom from sin and death. There is only ONE way to Heaven and to the Father. Jesus said “I am THE way, THE truth, THE life. No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6, emphasis mine). It’s simple. There’s no vast expanse to get lost in here. One way. One truth. One life. Jesus. Even if you don’t know if you believe His claims, and even if you think it’s an arrogant statement for someone to make (it is if it’s false, to be sure)—doesn’t it at least make some things simpler? If you’re curious about whether or not God is real or if religion matters, then you have a clear starting place. He claims to be the only way, to be different than all the others. You can try Him first, and see if He’s right. If not, then you’re back where you started anyway, with the vast array of choices, sans one. If He’s right, then you know you need look no further. Simple.
- Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the options and choices you face in your life? Do you ever wish the choices were simpler?
- Have you ever felt lost because you had too many choices?
- What situations (or times in your life) have you been in where your choices were limited? How did you feel about having limited options? Was it freeing or did you feel robbed?
- When Jesus says He’s the only (viable) option, does that make you angry or does it provide relief? Doesn’t it at least make the first step of exploration clear cut and provide some simple direction?
Conflict vs. Unity
The other ongoing debate throughout the movie is between the ideology of the bad guy, Krall, and the that of the Federation. Krall said, “The federation has taught you that conflict should not exist, but struggle teaches you who you really are.” Lieutenant Uhura replied, “There is strength in unity.” Which makes you stronger? Conflict or unity? Really, it’s not a fair question. Both are right, the problem is that Krall misapplied the concept of conflict. Conflict does make you stronger, in the way that lifting weights makes you stronger. However, it can also weaken you in the way that sickness in your body will weaken you. The issue is where the conflict is found. If a body, an organization, a group of people, is in conflict with itself, it weakens. If, however, that body, organization, group of people stands together in unity in its conflict with an outside source, it will find that it is strengthened. (This will be so up until the point where it is defeated, in which case, the conflict will likely have been counter-productive for the purposes of strengthening. Just as a weight lifter can lift too much weight and hurt and therefore weaken himself in the process.)
In the end, Krall’s statement has a lot of truth to it, but it goes too far. Conflict can serve a purpose (but not all conflict is good). Struggle often does teach you who you are, if you let it. Krall, however, thought too much of conflict. He began to search out conflict for its own sake, rather than responding to it well as it came. He saw all conflict as good, never acknowledging that some conflict is nothing more than an evil cancer.
Honestly, unity also shares some ambiguity. Unity is strength, no doubt. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken,” the Proverbs say. The only qualification is that you need to be unified to the right things. Assuming that little caveat, however, Uhura was right. So Krall was strong because he’d spent years strengthening himself through conflict, but the Federation was stronger because they stood together, unified against their common enemy. In fact, their unity gained strength because of the conflict that Krall provided. He was right that struggle would teach them who they were. It gave Captain Kirk and Spock both the direction they were lacking (for example). Uhura was more right, however, in that it was because of their unity they were able to grow from the struggle, and defeat their enemy. Unity was what determined how the conflict would affect them, whether it would strengthen or destroy them.
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 1 Corinthians 1:10
- Do you tend to value unity or conflict more as a source of strength?
- How has conflict strengthened you? How has it weakened you? (You or something you’ve been a part of.)
- Why do you think God places such a high value on unity among His people?
- Have you ever stood unified with the wrong thing/person/idea…?
- The Trinity lives in perfect unity. In light of this discussion, why do you think that is such a critical detail about the Trinity?