Trektember 2016 – #26: Errand of Mercy

Star Trek celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this month. So, here on Redeeming Culture, we’re going to release a short review of every episode of Season One, one episode per day, all month long; for each episode, we’re writing a 3-sentence recap, a 3-word review, and (as much as we can) answering the questions “What fears or hopes are conquered or realized?” and “How does this point to Jesus or to the way God made us?”

For more about Trektember, read our preview post.  Please note that there are minor plot spoilers for this episode below.

Today’s episode is number 26: Errand of Mercy. Let’s meet some Klingons.

Three-sentence Recap

Tensions are high when war is declared between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, with Kirk and Spock quite literally caught in the middle.  On the contested planet Organia under Klingon occupation, with the Enterprise far off and the Klingon Fleet overhead, they do what they can to stop the Klingons from stripping the Organians of their lives and freedoms.  However, the local population doesn’t seem interested in fighting back; in fact, they seem quite opposed to anyone fighting at all.

Three-word Review

Fun, adventurous, pointed.

Big Sci-Fi Concepts

  • For the sixth time this season alone, Star Trek brings up the concept of a super-powerful, Godlike alien race.  For the second time, they are not only pacifists, but against the idea of others fighting as well.  One might call them militant pacifists.
  • The idea of interstellar war is not often dealt with in The Original Series, save in the abstract or conceptual; in this episode, war actually breaks out, at least for a time.

Fears Conquered/Hopes Realized

  • The fear of helplessness is not only addressed, but practically wallowed in.
  • Kirk and Kor are an exercise in the fear and anger you feel at someone in whom you see yourself.  I believe Kirk is so upset with Kor because the two are very similar.
  • The fear of war is palpable in this episode, as it deals very pointedly and uncharitably with the Cold War – and ideas about what might happen if it were to turn hot.  The Klingons are well-known to be veiled representations of the Russians, and the fact that their first appearance is one in which neither side is allowed to fight makes very clear that the producers of Trek favored the peaceful route.

What does this episode tell us about God or about man?

The godlike Organians are very interesting, and I think they resonate with three truths about God, man, and our relationship:

  1. “I should say the Organians are as far above us on the evolutionary scale as we are above the amoeba.”
    Kirk is not only mystified by the Organians, but also frustrated.  He doesn’t understand why they won’t fight back, especially when the Klingons apparently murder many of the citizens of Organia.  But they are so far advanced above humans that their reasons and desires are simply not comprehensible.In contrast with “Arena,” which featured a similar setup but different conclusion, “Errand of Mercy” doesn’t end with the godlike spoilsports expressing their intrigue at how far humanity has come, or how they hope that one day humanity will be able to join them as godlike aliens.  It ends instead on a profoundly despairing note, with the Organians registering the same disappointment with Kirk as they do with Kor.With God, the prophet Isaiah reminds us that

    “My [God’s] thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your waysand my thoughts than your thoughts.”
    (Isaiah 55:8-9)

    The things our God does can be confusing to us. In fact, they often are. But praise Him that I cannot fully understand Him; I am glad that my God is greater and wiser in understanding than I could even imagine, because that is who I want running the universe.  Not only that, but on my own power, we will never reach His level of understanding; He is an infinite God, and even throughout an infinite eternity of being with Him, we will not know Him perfectly.

  2. “We think of ourselves as the most powerful beings in the universe; it’s unsettling to discover that we’re wrong.”
    Kirk is unsettled and angry because no matter how much power he commands on the bridge of the Enterprise, the godlike beings he encounters simply prove his weakness.It’s unsettling because it means we exist at the pleasure of Another, but it is also unsettling because it means that (as Kirk noted the Organians did) our God requires things of us; “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, ESV)

    We’re not often just, kind, or humble.  We aren’t often peaceful.  But God spurs that within us, giving us the abiity to stay peaceful and seek Him despite all that vies for our attention.
  3. “Curious how often you Humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.”
    Paul talks in detail about the wrestling within His heart in Romans 7:18-25, which we covered yesterday.  The things we want are far off from us; the things we don’t want seem to control our lives – and the only way out is by giving them to God.
  4. “Have we a ram among the sheep?”
    The Biblical imagery is striking here.  Still, Kirk is not a ram, but a goat.  In this episode, he assumes quite an unusual role; he is very wrong, and never in the end vindicated.  He’s attempting to stir up dissent within the flock, to get them to abandon their principles and fight that which cannot destroy them anyway.Paul has no kind words for someone who stirs up trouble in the church.  In Titus 3:10, he provides a “three-strikes” rule for people who cause dissent.  God’s people are to remain united, and those who seek to divide them are to be told to leave.

We aren’t unlike the Organians in a lot of ways.  Of course, we aren’t demigods; but they are beings with an unkillable spirit; they’re called to a higher purpose, and inclined toward peacemaking, welcome, and helpfulness; and they are not afraid of destruction by evil forces, because they know that what dwells within them is greater than that in the world.

Still, we are not commanded to aloofness or maddening smiles without action.  God calls us to be in the world, even though He calls us not to be of the world.  That is, we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn; to work for the good of the city in which we are placed, and to seek the welfare of the less fortunate.

And if, someday, we can master those things – though we would still be as an amoeba before God – perhaps then we can take our place alongside the Organians.

• • •

Thank you for reading Redeeming Culture! Come back tomorrow for more Trektember as we look at episode 27 of Star Trek- perhaps the franchise’s best work ever, “The City on the Edge of Forever”.

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