March 11, 2018

Star Trek, Nightmares, and Jesus: An Unexpected Lesson

I had a very disturbing dream last night. 

You see, it stemmed from an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise called “Similitude”.  In this episode, the chief engineer of Enterprise, Commander Tucker (“Trip”), is hurt very badly and goes into a coma.  His prognosis is terminal – he will die because of severe brain damage.  Doctor Flox suggests a very controversial treatment which involves creating a clone of Trip which would live for only 15 days, during which it would grow from newborn to old age.  They anticipated being able to harvest some brain tissue from this clone when it reached Trip’s current stage of development (or “age”) without causing harm to the clone, thus allowing it to live out its full life cycle, limited though it would be.  Obviously, the episode raised some critical ethical questions about modern medical research, including cloning, stem-cell research, use of lab animals, and I’m sure a host of other possible dilemmas.  None of this is what got to me, though.

As the clone reached the appropriate stage of development, it became clear that harvesting the brain tissue would kill it.  Perhaps the better pronoun to use would be “him”, as the clone actually retained all of Trip’s memories, as well as demonstrating its own sentience, or personhood, if you prefer.  As the time approached, the clone was faced with a choice:  sacrifice himself to save Trip (and Enterprise, and by extension, Earth), or refuse that option and live his own life.  Hollywood being what it is, the clone ends up sacrificing himself for “the greater good”, though not before struggling with many questions about the value of life, self-determination, self-sacrifice, and human morality in general.

In essence, this is Star Trek at its very best – an exploration of the human psyche and the values and morality of western culture.

Now back to my dream.  In it, I was supposed to let myself be executed by lethal injection.  I do not know why.  In my dream, I had no recollection of any specific wrong for which I was being punished, nor was I even in prison or anything like that.  I do recall that I had a feeling of urgency about my impending execution, like it was necessary for some reason which I did not understand,    My wife was there with me, and I remember crying with her and asking what I was supposed to do.  Should I simply let them kill me?  Should I run?  And then suddenly I was THERE.  The needle was in the “doctor’s” hand, coming nearer and nearer, liquid death ready to stream into my veins.

I awoke, trembling and unnerved.  It was such a vivid experience.

At first I shrugged it off as just a nightmare.  Of course, once the light of day came, I saw immediately how it was spawned by the TV show I had been watching the night before.  Yet it kept nagging at me.  Then a greater revelation dawned.

I realized that I had been given a very small taste of what Jesus went through as his own execution on the cross approached.  The emotions that I faced in my dream (and that the clone, Sim, faced on the TV show) were the same that Jesus surely faced as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane for the cup to pass away from Him.  I don’t mean to belittle what Jesus faced by comparing his situation to a mere TV show, or even to my own little nightmare.  Instead, I thank God for giving me just a tiny glimpse of what Jesus was going through as His own time of sacrifice approached. 

Today, I understand the true meaning of “sacrifice” a little better than I did yesterday.  So often, it is not the act of sacrifice itself which is so frightening, but rather the anticipation of it.  When we see destruction coming, it is only natural for us to wish to flee.  Self-preservation is hard-wired into us.  Running away is such a tempting option, even in the best of circumstances, because we naturally never WANT to give up our own lives.  It would be hard enough to step in front of a bullet for another person in a split-second moment of decision. “Should I risk my own life to save another?  No time! Choose!” How much harder it becomes when we know that we are called to make a sacrifice, and we have the time to look at the situation, weigh our options, and analyze every possible outcome!  We have time for the fear to set in and fester. And yet, this is exactly what Jesus did.

He did this for me.

He did this for you.

Jesus lived through that time of absolute terror; something far more intense than what awoke me in the middle of the night.  Jesus faced something much bigger.  He endured a torment so great BEFORE the cross, before He was even arrested, that His sweat became drops of blood as He prayed. 

We look at images of Jesus on the cross, and we are reminded of His great sacrifice for us; but I submit to you that the great lesson of sacrifice which should be applied to our lives does not begin at the cross, but in the garden.  It was in the garden where the choice was irrevocably made.  We will each be faced with moments of sacrifice, whether small or great.  Most of us will not be called to actually die physically, but we will all face moments of choice.  Will our actions honor God, or indulge ourselves?  Will we choose to gratify ourselves, or will we submit to God’s will and live only for Him?

Will we sacrifice our comfort, our money, our time, even our own free will, in order to obey what God is asking us to do?  Would I truly lay down my very life in order to advance the Kingdom of God?

That question I just asked is terribly unfair.  If I ask that question to another Christian, he is most likely going to respond with a “yes”, or at the very least he might say, “I would like to think that I would.”  I mean, when we are talking about GOD, we as Christians tend to take on our somewhat practiced air of submission, even when we really don’t want to release our sense of control over our own lives.  Or we may in fact be very genuine in the moment as we proclaim our willingness to give it all to God.  But talk, if I may use a cliché, is cheap.

That sacrifice you say you would make for God’s Kingdom – would you make it for a bum on the street?  Would you make it for an inmate in prison?  Would you make it for the woman dying in a nursing home, all but forgotten by her own family?  Would you make it for that meth head living next door?  Would you make it for a prostitute?  Would you make it for that man across the street who gets drunk and beats his wife and kids?  Will you stop doing that thing that YOU do that nobody knows about? 

Will you give God the sacrifice of service, and get up to actually DO something, instead of just wishing things would happen?  Will you give up your slothfulness?  Would you give up the security of a full belly after every meal?

Would you, if you were truly called to do so, sell everything you have to give to the poor?

Seriously, what exactly are you willing to sacrifice, and who would you sacrifice it for? 

Hollywood grapples with concepts like this, and within an hour or two we see the most complicated situations neatly resolved.  The noble hero sacrifices himself, and the greater good is served.  Everyone lives happily ever after.  Well, everyone except the noble hero, who is greatly honored by all those who will remember him, tell stories about him, and write his name in the history books.

In real life, even small moments of sacrifice can bring great turmoil.  And yet even the greatest sacrifices we give may go completely unnoticed by others.  Certainly most of them cause us more than an hour of emotional distress.  During that time of suffering, when you don’t know if things will work out, when you don’t know if you can give what is asked, when you just don’t think you have the strength to keep going, remember that Jesus endured the same pain you are feeling.  He came right up to the very same wall you are facing (well, a much bigger one if I am to be honest), and He climbed over it.  He overcame the very thing that troubles you so.  In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus faced His moment of choice.  He surrendered His human will, His human desires, His human life, to God the Father.  When the time to choose came, He made his decision based not on any humanistic worldview, but on the eternal will of God. 

That “eternal will of God” stuff sounds like a big deal, because it IS a big deal!  But don’t think for a moment that it is beyond your grasp.  The same power that enabled Jesus to trust His Father is available to us today, right now!  Every small, tough choice you make is a moment of sacrifice, and God will give you the strength to get through it, if you only ask.  God’s eternal will can overcome all the struggles that you are facing.  He wants to help you through them.  He wants you to be victorious.  And He has given you the greatest power in the universe:  the power to choose.

The question is, “What will you do with it?”

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