Y’all know I’m a big fan of sci-fi. I’m pretty sure the first movie I saw in a theater was Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (which I don’t recommend in general for three-year-olds, but it got me hooked!).
I grew up on Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D. Right now, we’re in the age of New Trek. From Star Trek: Discovery to the animated Lower Decks, it’s a pretty amazing time to be a Star Trek fan.
What I love about Star Trek is that it’s aspirational sci-fi. It’s intentionally utopian. Any Star Trek fan can tell you about a favorite episode that tackles any number of real-world social issues. That is the DNA of Star Trek – when the original series premiered in 1966, at the height of both the Cold War and the Civil Rights movement, the bridge crew featured Lt. Uhura, a black woman, and Ensign Chekov, a Russian. Creator Gene Roddenberry was sending a message: we can choose to be the best versions of ourselves.
My favorite New Trek show is Strange New Worlds. It’s set a few years before Kirk and the original series, and features a younger Spock and Uhura alongside Captain Christopher Pike.
The second season, which is wrapping up right now, features a genre which has become a classic Trek trope – the courtroom episode. These episodes offer a chance for Star Trek to pick directly at ethical questions that plague us today.
The second episode of the season, Ad Astra Per Aspera, features the trial of the show’s first officer, Number One – aka Commander Unna Chen-Riley. At the end of the last season she was arrested because she is part of a race of aliens who freely use genetic modifications, something illegal in Starfleet. Because she lied about her race in order to become a Starfleet officer, she was jailed.
The trial was fascinating because everyone – even the prosecution – agreed that Number One is an amazing officer, and that Starfleet is better because she’s part of it. But the fact remained that she broke the rules. So surely that means she must be punished, right?
Friends, this tension is at the heart of so much of faith. We are going to call it the tension between law and mercy. Law – doing the right thing. Mercy – doing what’s best for someone.
Most of the time, those two things don’t contradict each other – what’s right is also what’s legal. But there are times when those two things come into contradiction, like they did for Number One.
In those cases, what should a person of faith do? Do we follow God’s law? Or do we follow God’s command to love?
Today we’re going to see that framing the question as a conflict between law and love is a false dichotomy. Because the deep purpose of God’s law is to help us love our neighbors as ourselves.