The inspiration for todays’ post comes from an unlikely source, that being the highly logical mind of the fictional Mr. Spock from the show Star Trek. This show has so permeated pop-culture that even those who have never seen any episodes or movies in the series probably at least have some idea of who Spock is. For those of you who somehow have lived under a rock long enough not to know anything about Star Trek or Spock, he’s the science officer of the star ship U.S.S. Enterprise. He’s half Vulcan (an alien race that suppresses all emotion and relies entirely on logic) and he is arguably the most popular character in all of Star Trek. He’s also the last person you would expect any deep theological truth to come from. Honestly I never would have guessed that my casual love of Star Trek would ever amount to anything theological significance, but in a strange twist of fate, the ever logical Mr. Spock has gotten me thinking about spiritual matters.
Last night I was watching an episode titled “Is There In Truth No Beauty” which really wasn’t a “great” episode. It was ok, but as far as Trek episodes go this one was pretty weak. It was goofy, ham-fisted, and had more 1960’s sexism than any other episode I remember. In spite of this, there were a few lines of dialogue towards the end of the episode that really made me take pause. I don’t know what the writers were trying to get across, but there was a real existential beauty to what was said.
To give a little bit of context here Spock’s body was being shared by the combined mind of both Spock and Kollos, an alien who lacks a physical form and has different senses than we do (yeah… Star Trek is weird like that). This allows him to perceive the world around him with a new level of understanding (which somehow help’s him save the ship… I didn’t get it either… it wasn’t a great episode). Anyways, right before Spock and Kollos separate back into two separate minds the combined mind of Spock and Kollos utters this little monologue:
“How compact your bodies are, and what a variety of senses you have. This thing you call language though… most remarkable… and you depend on it for so very much, but are any one of you really its master… But most of all… the aloneness… you are so alone… you live out your lives in this shell of flesh, self-contained… separate… how lonely you are… how terribly lonely…”
– Mr. Spock
This surprisingly insightful moment really struck me as a moment in which the realization of human limitation set in for the first time in the mind of this fictional character. Perhaps you have had a similar moment, or perhaps it has never occurred to you just how limited you actually are. Most of us have been blessed with five senses (taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell) but that is all we have to observe the reality around us. If something were to exist outside of these senses we would need to invent special tools to help us comprehend it since its presence would be utterly unknown to us. We are limited to our senses and to this one singular body. I am only aware of this tiny field of sensory that my body can comprehend, and as hard as I try I cannot know what is happening just a block away from me unless I venture forth myself or use some tool to do the observing for me. We are limited by senses, space, time, and possibly numerous other factors that we are not even perceptive enough to know exist.
We use language to try to understand and comprehend the things around us. We give names and assign words with meaning so that we can communicate the thoughts to each other, but as we constantly try to compartmentalize and break down the world around us into simple concepts we become increasingly aware that the vastness of what exists out there is beyond us. Our minds can only contain so much information, and there are still countless mysteries and so many unknown things on this little rock called Earth that we do not yet understand. To think of all that there is in this one tiny planet and then to consider the universe… it is beyond us. We are so small and so limited, we could never in a million lifetimes hope to understand everything.
One of the most frightening things I can fathom are those cold moments when we realize just how insignificant we truly are. When you consider yourself among all those who have lived, died, and who have yet to be born you should feel very small, but when you consider how small our little planet is in the solar system, and how small the solar system is in the galaxy, and how small our galaxy is in the universe… you come to the dark realization that you don’t really matter. You… we… are alone.
If this isn’t sinking in let King Solomon explain it in Biblical terms:
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
– Ecclesiastes 1:2
If you haven’t read Ecclesiastes I highly recommend it even though it’s probably one of the most depressing books of the Bible. Solomon was a man who had every pleasure and resource at his disposal and in the end he found it all pointless and stupid (sorry hedonists). In the end only the Lord proved to be able to give Solomon any hope of significance or meaning, but let’s get back to the human condition. We as human beings are singular functional units that can sustain themselves for over one-hundred years or so if they put a lot of work into sustaining and maintaining their bodies, but we want so much more than survival. Human beings desperately crave meaning and purpose. We cannot deal with being a tiny insignificant carbon coincidence. We fear death because we know that that’s the end and after all that time we spent in life it was all for nothing. We’re just gone. Everything that was you… poof. Nothing you could have done would have had any real cosmic significance, you were simply here one day and then gone…
Isn’t it interesting that we desire for something unobtainable. It seems to me that a creature that is designed for survival (as we surely are) would not have come into a need for something that did not exist, after all what purpose would such a desire serve? It seems to me that man’s loneliness, his desire for purpose, his desperate need for truth must have an answer. Why else would we ever develop a desire to find it? I don’t know about you but I’ve found my answer.
We seek to reclaim the connection with God that we lost through sin. Though many may not have realized it, we all desperately crave for a connection to something greater. We may be trying to fill the void with all sorts of things good and bad, but in the end each of us has a gigantic need for something more. This life, as grand as it can be, pales in comparison to something… even if we don’t know what that something is. For those of us who know the joy and peace that comes from a relationship with our creator the answer seems obvious, but so many are still out there in the dark searching for something to drive away the loneliness.
I was like that for most of my life, but the things that used to frighten me no longer feel me with dread and terror. I do not fear the unknown, I no longer am gripped by the crippling need to fill the void in my heart, and when I face death I can do so knowing it has lost its sting. The moment I came to faith it was as if the missing puzzle peace that I was lacking fell into place. I was no longer a carbon coincidence seeking meaning in a meaningless universe, but a creation and child of a living and gracious God. I was no longer a tiny speck in the cold and dark universe that had no rhyme or reason, but instead I was a tiny speck in a bold and beautiful plan that was too large for me to grasp. I wasn’t alone, because I now can walk with my father and commune with the one who made me. Rather than seeing the universe as a dark and terrifying reminder of my insignificance and pointlessness, I can now look on it in wonder as a beautiful creation made by one whose wisdom is so beyond me. I am still limited and small, but I know have reason, purpose, faith, and a relationship with God himself. While Mr. Spock might have realized the human condition, I doubt even he could have seen the beauty that lies at the end of those questions.
For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
– Romans 8:6
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
– Colossians 3:15