Every old episode of Star Trek is super interesting, because Captain Kirk is always put in an unwinnable situation, but he also always wins. It’s great.
He always wins because he ends up making difficult decisions that fall somewhere between logic and emotion. That’s not a coincidence — the show is set up that way.
Aristotle came up with the idea of a “golden mean,” or average. He thought that the admirable traits that we like in ourselves and others always fall between two extreme traits. For instance, bravery is the average between recklessness and cowardice.
In Star Trek, Spock is completely logical. Dr. McCoy is completely emotional. Say the gang has to destroy an abandoned planet, but they find out some people group is living on it. Spock would say they have to destroy it because that is their order. McCoy would say they can’t destroy it because, “C’mon, man! Those are real people down there!” Then Kirk would have to make the tough decision somewhere between the two that satisfies the good parts of their arguments without bringing along the negative consequences.
We don’t have a Spock and a McCoy in our lives (unless you are actually a Starfleet captain, in which case I apologize deeply). But we do have two opposing forces pulling at us from either end.
In Mark 10, we see how the rich young ruler wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. He felt that something inside wasn’t right. He knew there was something missing. And that feeling manifested itself as one of the two things that pull at our hearts.
Those two ends that we deal with are religion and irreligion.
Religion is recognizing that there is something wrong and then doing something about it. This normally includes people admitting that they’re evil or sinful in some way and then working to fix that problem. A lot of the time, people will try to satisfy this tug at their hearts by upping their church attendance, increasing their giving or stepping into more volunteer roles. But at the root of religion, people are trying to solve an issue that is impossible for them to solve.
Irreligion is denying that we are bad or evil and justifying our way of life, living the way we would like to, no matter the consequences. This normally includes people denying the existence of sin in their lives. Or it includes people justifying sin in their lives by comparing themselves to others who are seemingly more sinful. A lot of the time, people will try to satisfy this tug at their hearts by seeking temporary pleasures, by picking and choosing what religious ideas they like while throwing away the rest, or by living by their own standard of what produces “good vibes.” But at the root of irreligion, people are making themselves God.
Whether we know it or not, we are constantly bouncing back and forth between these two ends. There are underlying feelings that force us one way or the other. Often times, feeling distant from God and feeling apathetic about our faith takes us to religion, trying to do more to regain the feelings we once had. Feelings of despair and frustration about life take us to irreligion, where we try to deflect or escape from what’s actually bothering us by masking those feelings with pleasure in food, drink, stuff or people.
Unlike Captain Kirk, our job isn’t to find some balance between the two. And our job isn’t to work really hard to avoid religion and irreligion. If we dig a little deeper, we find out that Jesus actually perfects both of them.
In religion, Jesus does all the work our sinful nature tricks us into believing we have to do for ourselves. Jesus never sinned. Jesus fulfilled the law. Jesus is the one that came down from heaven and met us where we were. Jesus revealed himself to us. Jesus died for us. Jesus overwhelmed us with salvation, and he holds onto us, never to let go for any reason.
In irreligion, Jesus is God. Jesus is the one that comes up with a way of life. While we reach to the very bottom to find our relative moral standard, Jesus sits at the top as the perfect moral standard. Jesus is eternally satisfied in the Trinity, and he is the source of all true pleasure.
When we start feeling the way we do — far from God, numb to spirituality, out of touch with our faith — there is a way back. When we get feelings like the rich young ruler had, and we want to know what we need to do, there is a way back. But the way back isn’t what we would think. It’s not more church attendance. It’s not comparing ourselves to someone who is worse than us. It’s not doing more. And it’s not in temporary pleasures.
The way back is the cross. Looking back at the cross shows us that the work is done, and eternal satisfaction is in Jesus. Jesus died for us. Jesus chose to die for us. Jesus wanted to die for us. Jesus is the only thing that will keep us grounded in a world that tries to pull us in all different directions.