Listen to “Hard Comfort” by Fred Smith
Star Trek lasted only three seasons on television. NBC cancelled it due to poor ratings but the show grew a cult-like following with much of the credit due to Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal of the unflappable Mr. Spock. The fan tributes to Nimoy after his death show that his character on Star Trek has remained a folk hero since the 60’s.
While he understood the irrationality of our species and even struggled with his own half-human nature, Spock always said what he thought and was bewildered by how humans complicated and confused issues with emotions — anger, fear, love and attachment. In one episode, he said, “May I say that I have not thoroughly enjoyed serving with humans? I find their illogic and foolish emotions a constant irritant.”
Spock’s logical, straightforward — even detached — observations and deductions almost always prevailed.
It’s curious to me how we are drawn to people (both real and fictional) with these traits. The film The Imitation Game is about Alan Turing, an aloof mathematician and computer genius. Turing was known to be eccentric, antisocial, and much more comfortable with numbers than people.
Once when asked about the future of “smarter” computers, Turing answered, “The original question, ‘Can machines think?’ I believe to be too meaningless to deserve discussion.”
Another eccentric but less intimidating character is the lead of the British television series Doc Martin. He rarely self-edits or hesitates to say exactly what he is thinking. As well, he has great difficulty in understanding the emotions of the “normal” characters in the series, but his unvarnished honesty and lack of empathy have endeared him to fans around the world.
In one scene, when told by another character that the train was delayed from departure because a passenger has just died, Martin says, “I think it’s best we get a move on…It’s not a condition that’s going to change the longer we stop here.”
What is it about these characters that attracts us? We would never describe them as sociopaths but they are not swayed by strong feelings. While often seen as insensitive, they are not hostile or desiring to harm or criticize anyone. They do not use their words to spin, flatter, attack or deceive. They are straightforward and ask incisive, direct questions. They just say what they see. They state the obvious.
But it’s not only modern characters possessing these personality traits. While it may seem unusual, I’ve begun to think of some of the angels we find in Scripture that way. Angels don’t always ask questions in sensitive ways, do they? They seem to ask the questions that only upset more than comfort us.
For example, look at Luke’s account of the grieving women going to the tomb and discovering that the body of Jesus is no longer there. Frightened at the sudden appearance of two angels, they bow down and the men/angels say to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
In John’s account of the resurrection we meet the same two angels. The question is different but equally as disturbing: “Woman, why are you crying?”
Finally, in the Gospel of Acts, as Jesus is rising in the clouds and the disciples are intently looking up at his miraculous departure, two angels/men appear beside them and ask, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?”
What kinds of questions are these? In the moment when people are grief-stricken, confused and immobilized the angels are asking questions that seem to be more disturbing than comforting.
I’ve even wondered what it might mean when Scripture says that the angels came and attended to Jesus in the wilderness after the temptations. I’ve always thought they may have brought food and water but maybe, instead, they asked him the same kinds of questions. Or when they strengthened Jesus in Gethsemane. Were they kind and compassionate or was it a different kind of strengthening?
Sometimes, but hopefully not often, we need these questioning people in our lives. Could it be the tongues of angels Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians is exactly this? It is not euphoria but an extraordinary clarity. They are neither coddling or cruel. Seeing the painfully evident we often miss, they ask questions and force moments of clearness in our lives – moments when we need to face why we are standing and gazing or weeping or looking for the living among the dead.
Art: “The Truth Tellers” by Albert Sellaman
This is an excerpt from Where The Light Divides