The Gospel According to Star Trek – The Final Frontier

Star Trek V came out to mixed reviews despite being the no. 1 box office film in it’s first week. Many regarded the plot as thin and unimaginative; it is best known for the line uttered by Kirk, ‘what does God need with a spaceship,’ which seems to sum up the film. Despite this, the film raises two interesting philosophical points that link directly with the Christian gospel. The first concerns the human need to find God and the second that it is our suffering that defines our humanity.

In the Final Frontier, Spock’s half brother, Sybok takes hostages in order to secure the starship Enterprise. His desire is to travel to the planet where he believes creation began in an attempt to meet with God. In order to do this he ‘mind melds’ with others, sharing their pain, and thereby taking control of their minds, so that they carry out his will. It is at this point Kirk refuses, saying ‘his pain is what makes him human.’ On arriving at their destination, Sybok meets with an alien form. However, it is not God, but a malevolent being. Ultimately Sybok and the being are destroyed and the crew returns home.

Sybok is driven to seek after God. Even though he is able to bring peace into the lives of others by taking away their pain, he cannot quench his own struggle to be at peace with God. He is an embodiment of St. Augustine’s cry to God, ‘our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.’ Augustine goes on to speak of there being a ‘God shaped’ hole in us that only God can fill. Certainly this is Sybok’s dilemma for he goes to the most extraordinary lengths to be at one with God. What Sybok doesn’t realise is that the created can never find the creator; it is up to the creator to reveal himself, as Jesus says, ‘I have come down from heaven to do the will of him who sent me,’ and, ‘he who has seen me has seen God.’

Kirk argues it is his ‘pain that makes him human.’ His hurts, struggles and disappointments make him the person that he is, just as much as his joys and successes – rather like the battle scars on a warrior. They should not therefore be casually swept under the carpet; neither should we be anaesthetised to our pain. In the Christian gospel, Jesus Christ takes upon himself our frailty and sorrow, ‘he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows… the punishment that brought us peace was upon him.’ His incarnation into our pain and suffering made him fully human, so that he can truly say he is one of us – he has the scars to prove it! So his resurrection into glory becomes the ground of our hope of life beyond death.

So why are we not spared pain now if he took our sorrows upon himself? For the same reason Kirk gives about our humanity being tied to our suffering. The human struggle is a fundamental characteristic of life that drives us towards our final goal. Jesus came to glory through the suffering of the cross, so we should not be surprised if our own path to heaven is similarly paved with hardship and pain. Not only does our pain define us but it also prepares us for the joy of heaven! The point is not to try to anaesthetise our pain but to learn from it and to become more like Jesus through it.

John Harries (School Chaplain)

Sir Thomas Boteler Church of England High School by STB