The Economy of Redemption
Storytellers and philosophers of nearly every century have speculated about the wondrous “second-chance” scenario, wherein a doomed individual or group is presented with a new lease on their legacy and future. The Orville – which frequently brushes up against quite complicated moral and ethical dilemmas so casually that they practically stumble into them – tackled this subject in an interesting, if not entirely provocative, way in their episode, “Pria”.
The scenario of “Pria” begins almost stereotypically, with the crew rescuing a beautiful damsel in distress who has crashed into an asteroid on a rapid collision course with a sun-like star. Upon bringing the rescued castaway on board the Orville, Captain Mercer immediately develops a romantic fascination with her, which raises suspicions and minor jealousy in Commander Grayson. Grayson’s investigations eventually uncover that the stowaway, Pria (Charlize Theron) is actually a time-traveling antiques dealer who specializes in going back in time to moments when famous artifacts were about to be destroyed, saving them from destruction, and then bringing them back to the 29th century for sale to the highest bidder. In this case, she was after the Orville itself, which had been originally destroyed in a dark matter storm.
Where the episode intrigues me most is in the ultimate resolution to this ethical quandary: go to the future and preserve the original timeline, or fight to stay and face uncertain futures for more than just their crew? I’d warn you against spoilers, but in the serialized TV world where all things reset to start mode after 45 minutes, you can guess the choice they make. They choose to destroy the wormhole which allowed Pria to travel back in time, thus erasing her from their present existence and steering them forward into the perpetual unknown horizon of their destiny.
As an episode of science fiction, it’s perfectly palatable, even if the scientific ramifications are barely more than magic, and the comedic flourishes throughout the episode are more hit than miss in this episode. But the dilemma at the narrative’s core–what to do when presented with your own redeemed future–carries significant spiritual as well as intellectual weight.
In one sense, the crew of the Orville had been ransomed, pulled from definitive destruction relatively unscratched. Pria’s character has almost literally paid a cost for their lives (a cost she fully intends to turn into an even richer investment once she reaches the future from which she came). But the crew does not accept her view of ownership as binding, and actively fight to free themselves from not only the obligation to return to her future, but from the very possibility of her eventual return to them. She views their rejection as illogical and ungrateful (after all, in the original time stream, the entire crew had died), but Captain Mercer’s insistence that the crew be free to make their choices, fatal or otherwise, ultimately wins the day.
The situation raises questions about the description of salvation within the Christian faith. 1 Corinthians 6:19b-20 states, “You are not your own; you are bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” The language of ownership is frequently used in discussions of Christian spirituality, but is often stated in cooperation with the language of freedom, particularly when considering Galatians 5:1a: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” There can be a profound resistance to the idea of accepting the ransom Christ has paid for our souls because we believe that in order to live under it means to relinquish our autonomy: our capacity to choose our own way.
But unlike Pria, whose rescue was entirely rooted in profiteering and self-advancement, Christ’s redemption of our futures is as rooted in the preservation of our liberty as it is in the deliverance from our bondage. It is as if Christ died to protect our freedom to choose, because in our bondage to our own desires and sinful entrapments, we are never free.
Sin promises us freedom while deepening its hold on our lives, while Christ bids us come and serve him in order to truly liberate us.
We reject the future Christ offers us in concentrated efforts to preserve control over our own destiny, rarely realizing that our controlling efforts will nearly always steer us towards death and destruction. We seek ways to control where and when and how God breaks into our lives, often actively closing off outlets we know He may use.
But the economy of Christ’s redemption is not a credit card or investment scheme, fostering further debt and obligation. It is a bold and decisive rescue from certain death into ultimate liberty and a beautiful future.
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Trektember is an annual series about Star Trek; this year, we’re examining the first seasons of Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville. For more information on this series, click here; or, to read every article from the beginning, click here!