God is a Star Trek Fan: The Kobayashi Maru = Plan of Salvation

Brian Johnstonapostasy, families, God, inter-faith, Jesus, marriage, obedience, plan of salvation 26 Comments

In the Star Trek II movie “The Wrath of Khan,” the opening scene is a failed military engagement in the Klingon neutral zone. The Federation ship is destroyed and the crew dies. Not only that, it will likely spark a war between two empires. The audience doesn’t know until the end of the scene that it is just a training simulation.

[for more info refer to: Kobayashi Maru, Wikipedia]

Here is the training scenario. If the captain is obedient to the law, they must let 400 people die who are begging for help in a failing ship. The ship is accidentally stranded in a forbidden area. If the captain breaks the law to save the lives, a vastly superior enemy force comes out of hiding. They kill the captain and their crew. The officer in training has two choices. Both result in failure as a captain.

Captain Kirk, as a cadet, supposedly cheated on his third attempt at this simulation by finding a way to hack the computer and alter the rules. He was not punished for his violation. He was given a commendation for such a creative solution. He did not believe in no-win scenarios.

Three lefts make a right. Do three wrongs make a right? God sure seems like a Star Trek fan sometimes.

Take the Plan of Salvation for instance. We agreed to come down to earth and be tested. The whole point of being here is to pass the test. The problem? It is a Kobayashi Maru simulation. None of us Star Fleet cadets pass the test.

Jesus passed the test, but you could also argue that he hacked. He was at least half-God, and he also built the simulation. I don’t want to belabor that point or diminish his divinity. He passed. He’s the man! What about the rest of us? Nobody else passes and nobody else can hack the simulation.

I tried very hard to look this reference up, but I could not find it. I recall from my youth hearing over and over that there is no trial or temptation too great for us. We will never be tested beyond our abilities. I always had a hard time with that. Everybody is tested beyond their abilities! The proof? Every single person fails at least once; therefore, it was beyond their ability to resist at that moment.

The other aspect of this thought is the breakdown of right vs. wrong. In primary I was taught to “Choose the Right.” Now I’m an adult. I find myself with complex decisions. I make painful choices between wrong and worse. I have to choose sometimes between good and better. Right and wrong are not always available options.

I’ll give a very personal example. My wife has left the Church. She was very angry about the Church for a while. My oldest son wanted to have Family Home Evening one night. I could see it was very important to him, and he was upset about the situation with his mother. I pushed the issue. I got everyone together. We barely got through it, and it ended up setting off an argument between my wife and I for the rest of the night. The Spirit totally left my home. It was a very bad argument, and she talked about our marriage perhaps not lasting.

I had two choices:

1. Bad.
Disobey the law and no longer hold Family Home Evening in my home. The benefit was keeping peace in my home and the possibility of the Spirit. I keep my family together. In the Kobayashi Maru simulation, I went into the Neutral Zone and saved the 400 passengers. Are the Klingons going to kill me now for disobedience?

*Valoel looks up at the sky nervously for cloaked ships*

2. Worse.
Obey the law and hold Family Home Evening. The consequence was to lose the Spirit and peace in my home and probably lose my family. In Star Trek terms, I obey the law and let the 400 people die.

I chose family unity. I believe that God wants me to stay with my wife. My role as a husband and father is a very important task for me in my journey. I love her too much anyways. I pray and ponder a LOT about this general concept.

Can you boil specific choices down into a relative right vs. wrong? Maybe a single decision has a right or wrong that applies only at that moment. Or does an absolute, universal truth apply at all times?

Is life a no-win game, the test being one of character? That’s what the Star Trek simulation was about. They wanted to know how the captain would handle losing. It wasn’t a test of ability. It was a test of character.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this life is just a one-time pass/fail course. Do what is right, let the consequence follow. Some people say that.

Comments 26

  1. I’ve been thinking about these specific issues-though not in these terms!Thankyou for raising this.
    I seem to have picked up the notion that living in a family was all about us as parents setting standards and requiring tht our children live to them’as for me and my house,we will serve the lord’and i would say we have been pretty liberal in that process amongst the mormon families we know.now i feel it’s all about getting everyone in the boat and across the water-finding a way to keep this family afloat.This means all sorts of accommodations which i would not choose to make left to myself-but it’s all about opting the kids in.Sunday activities for one.Is it better that I take my elderly mother out to a meal on a sunday or keep the sabbath holy?Is it better that my kids see each other on a sunday based around an activity that fits with their calendar and opts them in or that we keep the sabbath day holy?It just seems to me that we have no leverage as parents if we have no relationship with our children-or should i be prepared to sacrifice that on the altar of my personal righteousness?I guess I have decided that loves trumps all,as you have.I think this is the harder and most demanding path.I will share a sacred dream-perhaps personal revelation.I dreamt I was on a beautiful path,but ahead I saw a twisted figure hobbling along the same path.In my heart I knew i should stop and help this figure along the path,but so did not want to stop when i was getting along just fine.I stopped,and as I supported the figure I was forced off the path and to walk on the thorns that bordered it.It was me or the other.I guess I chose the other.

  2. My first point is a question: Do the Klingon really have cloaked ships, I thought that was just the Romulans?

    My second point is a comment: I figure that life is a multiple choice, open book test. One need only choose the best of the worse options in front of you (IE. ‘The cream of the crap’). The open book is an amalgam of scriptures, inspirational writing, personal experience and spirituality. The only ideal for me is to try to keep my choices simple, ethical, and compassionate to others while keeping myself honest, thoughtful and preferably as quiet as possible (nothing is sometimes a good thing to do and almost always the right thing to say.)

    When I follow these rules I find it harder and harder to judge others – that makes me think that I may be on the right course. Regardless, it is a world of tough choices.

  3. The scripture you may have been thinking coulc be 1 Corinthians 10:13:

    “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted abovie that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

    I have come to the opinion that this life is a teaching experience for us. There is no way in my feeble brain that I could encounter and be successful in all my trials. There are only so many lessons a person can learn in one life.

    I would hope that there is enough common ground with your wife to pick topics that are pertinent to raising your children. Honesty? Care for others? Setting up a family discussion and activity doesn’t have to start with a song and a prayer, for example.

  4. Or maybe there’s a third answer? Like Capt. Kirk, I’ve never liked either/or situations. Take a cue from Kirk and rewrite the program–come to an agreement with your wife about a family evening. FHE doesn’t have to be centered on a gospel lesson. Or you alternate FHE’s with her–you direct it one week, she directs it the next. Don’t even call it FHE if that is a trigger. “A rose by any other name…”

    When one member of the family calls all the shots (by launching an argument, torpedoing the event or threatening the marriage) is acquiescing really the least bad of the either-or question? In the short term, maybe. But what about long-term? What kind of family are you forming? Do you want your children to believe that one spouse should have that much control over what happens in the family? Is it a pattern or relationship you want your children to emulate?

    The problem here isn’t FHE, the problem is your wife’s method of controlling what’s happening in the home. Of course she has every right to say “I don’t want any FHE in my home” just as much as you have the right to hold FHE. The issue isn’t whether or not you hold FHE but how you arrive at the decision. The choices are not just (A)no FHE (B) FHE but also (C) something we can both agree to. Your children will learn much more from HOW you arrive at (C) than the answer itself.

    The solutions to issues with differently believing spouses are never clear cut. There is rarely a choice (A) or choice (B). But the solution ALWAYS has to be based on respect from BOTH partners. She’s part of the problem, she has to be part of the solution.

    Live long and prosper!

  5. Post

    #1 Thanks for sharing your dream/vision. Many people have these types of exepriences, but they are much less talked about these days. I believe in those types of experiences.

    #2 Loved the “cream of the crap” comment. It made me smile.

    #3 I knew about the Corinthians verse. I want to say the statement if in the BoM or more likely an early Church leader (JS, BY, etc.). I searched and searched. It went something along the lines of “The Lord will never test us beyond our abilities.”

    #4 Hi Prairie Chuck! Good points on finding alternate solutions. I don’t want to focus too much on finding a specific solution for my example so much as talk about the general idea. I win some and I lose some these days in our negotiations about the Church. I lost on a formal LDS FHE each week. I win on taking the kids to Church regularly and other important things like baptizing my daughter who is turning 8 this month.

    I used that incident just as an example of a no-win situation from a strict orthodox LDS perspective. We still do stuff together as a family anyways. We also have a good time talking about issues, ethics and morality with our older children.

  6. Just another thought: the choice made in Eden was a no-win situation, also. It is presented in the temple as a figurative lesson for all of us. And guess what? The decision Eve came to was NOT obedience. Given the way her choice is lauded in the Church and in latter-day scripture, it ought to make us think.

  7. Fwiw, I believe in doing what is right and letting the consequence follow. I just believe that “doing what is right” is not a simple thing – that it is not a one-size-fits-all thing. Ironically, I believe that is what the Church teaches – shown in way too many things to cover here.

    Just as an example: “Keep the Sabbath day holy” is the standard. Pretty simple, right? What about how it differs for an all-Mormon family, a part-Mormon family, a family where nobody works on Sunday, a Mormon professional athlete (especially a football player), a long-haul trucker, someone who owns a store, etc? The standard is a general guideline for the collective group, but it says nothing about individual situations. Even the standard list of do’s and don’ts was created simply because the natural desire of many people is to be safe by being told what they can and can’t do – or, at the other end, to justify what they want to do.

    Dale Murphy was a professional baseball player for about 15 years, IIRC. During that time, he worked on Sunday for at least six months each year. He was traveling for weeks at a time. He Home Taught over the phone during that time, often calling his families from hotels across the country and arranging with other members to take care of their needs. He attended Sac Mtg whenever possible, often leaving church after only that meeting to get to the ballpark.

    Did he “keep the Sabbath day holy”? I’m not going to try to answer that – other than to say that I think he did to the best of his ability given his situation and was called as a Mission President a few years after he retired.

    So, who says you personally MUST “hold FHE every Monday night” according to some general outline developed to help a stereotypical family? As long as you are following the spirit of the program (spending quality time with your family deepening your relationship and strengthening your ties), exactly how and when you do it is up to you. If Monday nights are possible, great; that is the communal ideal. If not, great; that can be a family compromise and still be “ideal” for that family.

    My point: We do the best we can do (“what [we feel] is right”) and let the consequence follow.

  8. Love the Kobayashi Maru analogy.

    That’s right about Eve. She made the tough choice to advance the plan, and it comes through in some versions more than others that she really understood what she was doing, and was not just tricked into it.

    Back to that scripture above and your thougts, Val. I’ve always taken that to mean that no single occurrence of temptation is too great for us to resist. Over a lifetime, something is going to get to us because we are not perfect.

  9. Your situation is certainly a tricky one and I don’t think there are any obvious answers. As you say, sometimes we are faced with decisions between bad and worse. I wish you all the best navigating this successfully.

    The proof? Every single person fails at least once; therefore, it was beyond their ability to resist at that moment.

    I have to disagree with this. Just because we fail, it does not mean it was beyond our ability to succeed. If that were true, then there would be no reason to hold people accountable for their choices. The reason people are blameworthy is that they had the capacity to do better than what they did.

  10. Valoel – the BOM scripture I always hear used this way is 1 Ne 3:7. “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” So, if he prepares a way for us to accomplish the thing, then it’s possible.

    I love the analogy in a religious context. Of course, Roddenberry was big on exploring these types of philosophical questions. So, is it that God is a Star Trek fan or that Roddenberry, like God, used parables and analogies to teach?

    Gerry – “Do the Klingon really have cloaked ships, I thought that was just the Romulans?” In short, they both have it, although ST III is the first mention of Klingon cloaking technology. Romulans were first introduced as having cloaking technology in “Balance of Terror” (ST: TOS). The assumption is there was a previous Romulan-Klingon alliance, with one of 3 theories about how the technology was shared: 1) Rs gave to Ks in exchange for warp drive technology (but this presupposes that Rs fought an interstellar war without FTL drives – not bloody likely), 2) Rs gave to Ks in exchange for a K ship, the D-7, which they are seen using in ST: TOS (in which case Rs are basically suckers), or 3) the original script for ST III was about a conflict with Romulans later changed to Klingons, but the cloaking technology was already a key plot point (yeah, this one sounds about right to me).

  11. Your analogy with star trek is good. I commend you for at least trying to do family home Evening, but now comes the time for the Kirk hack. If I were you I’d suggest that you take your kids one by one out in the car by yourself and have mini family home evenings with them as daddy-child dates, and just leave your wife out of it entirely. Who says you have to get the whole family together? It doesn’t make sense to create contention by “keeping the law.” The greater issue here is to preserve the faith of your children and essentially leave your wife out of it. Preserve your marriage by leaving your wife out of what you do spiritually with your children. To me, this is only common sense, not a breaking of the law, but rather doing what you can do to preserve peace as well as do all you can do for the spiritual welfare for your children. This is justified to not do a conventional family home evening.

  12. Santa Claus, I’m sure Val is taking his family out to the movies, sitting them down for moral lessons, or playing Parcheesi together. These things count as fhe even if you don’t start and end with prayer. No need to leave the wife out in the cold.

    I don’t think this example was meant to ask us for advice, he seems to have it under control. But to make his point: there are times when disobeying a law is bad, and obeying can even be worse. If we aren’t being given trials over what we can handle, it seems that either we are being put in no-win situations to build our character, unless we can find a Kirk-like choice to get us out of the conundrum.

  13. How about this verse, from the Book of Mormon? It does not guarantee that you will not be tempted above your ability to bear it, but it gives us this as a blessing for humbling ourselves, praying and watching continually.

    I think this is more in line with my interpretation of the temptation question. We can and we will be tempted above our ability to bear it, as evidenced by the fact that all succumb to temptation many times throughout this mortal life. But, if we do live by the Spirit, praying continually, there is a way provided to escape from unbearable temptation if we take advantage of it.

    Alma 13: 28
    28 But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering;

  14. Bones–Very Good!!
    I’ve noticed the “way of escape” clause in 1 Corinthians, but I love the added information in Alma, especially what the Holy Ghost leads us to.
    Thank you for this insight.

  15. BTW, given ST technology, the win for the scenario is to lay mines on the way in, the enemy uncloaks and runs into the mines and you successfully complete the scenario. But, that requires knowing what is up before you move.

  16. I’m just surprised no one elected to shoot the 400 civilians. But that would be from Speed, not Star Trek, I guess.

  17. To be tested beyond capacity is necessary to find the stress limit. Without the limit there is no basis for improvement.

    BTW, I love the analogy.

  18. I love this analogy as well.

    I think you have hit on something here, because it is a game designed for us to lose. We can’t win. That’s the promise. We are told over and over again, we are sinners, God can’t tolerate sin, etc. We WILL fail.

    But, that’s where the plan is set up with Christ’s atonement to make up the difference. Depending on various interpretations, Christ will make up the difference for us. One theory holds that Christ will make the decision about us COMPLETELY on his own terms, and nothing we do can effect his choice to either come and save us, or not. Some scriptures seem to support that idea.

    Other scriptures seem to support the idea that we can somehow COMPEL Christ to save us, by keeping our part of the covenant we made. We must do ALL that we can in order for their to be a promise that Christ’s atonement will cover us, if we do ALL that we can, then he WILL save us. Some scriptures seem to support this idea.

    And, there are various theories that are some kind of a middle ground.

    Although much of Christianity seems to favor the first theory, the greater majority of Mormons tend to go with the second theory, or some similar variant, such as Christ not being “compelled,” etc. In this second theory, how can we ever know that we ever did ALL that we could. What about that night when we had 10 phone calls to make for the quorum president, but only made eight of them and then went to watch a favorite TV show? Is that enough to say that we didn’t do ALL that we could have done? There’s no clear, unambiguous answer to that. There are no clear, unambiguous answers to what doing ALL we can do means. Some people like that. (Ray comes to mind.) 🙂

    I think ultimately we are set up for failure, just like the cadets at the academy. If there is a test, it must be one of character, because it isn’t a test that is passable. If the test isn’t passable, why try? The answer seems to be that it must be it’s a test of character.

    Now, knowing that it’s about character, and knowing that the Church will be fine without you for a year or so, what would it say about your character, and your commitment to your wife if you told her that you were going to take off the rest of 2008 and all of 2009, and not attand church, not talk about it, not think about it, just focus on her, your marriage, and your family. Let her know that you put her first. You could also let her know that in January of 2010 you plan on returning to church. She might really like that, it might strengthen your marriage. Or, she might like the idea, and it might not make one bit of difference in your marriage. Maybe in 2010 you go back to church, maybe you don’t. If you don’t go back in 2010 will you have failed? Could you just tell the Lord, I was required to do all I could, but I all I could do was attend church through August 2008, that was it, I could do no more. I feel I’ve lived up to my end of the covenant. How do you know when you’ve done ALL you can do?

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  20. The Kobayashi Maru scenario at the opening of Star Trek II was set in the ROMULAN Neutral Zone, a concept that came from the classic Trek series, with an episode where the Enterprise crew appears to be the first Earth ship to see an actual Romulan, which shocks them because–dang–they look like Mr. Spock! Of course that relationship is expanded on through ST-TNG episodes, with the Romulans being portrayed as what the Vulcans used to be before they embraced a kind of Zen Buddhism, including the 2-parter in which Spock sneaks into Romulus to support an insurgent movement. A later classic Trek episode has Kirk disguising himself as a Romulan to steal the cloaking technology, but then the Federation agrees in some kind of Strategic Arms treaty not to install it on their ships–kind of like the stupid ABM Treaty–but sneakily trying other technical approaches, like the sliding sideways in a fourth dimension approach that sticks the Pegasus inside an asteroid in a ST-TNG episode that poses a moral dilemma for First Officer Riker much like the Kobayashi Maru problem.

    What this all illustrates is how well Science Fiction and Fantasy can lend itself to being used as a parable, illuminating a moral question in a way that can be difficult in the real world, where the choices are not as clear or consequential. That may be why many Mormons tend to write fiction in speculative universes, like Orson Scott Card and Stephanie Meyers and Dave Wolverton (AKA David Farland, the Runelords).

    Andrew (#22) has some interesting thoughts. I also agree that the Fall of Adam and Eve places us in a difficult spot, where growing in knowledge, not just of facts but also in understanding of moral choice, inevitably guarantees a certain amount of failure, and the only way we can be rescued is through Christ’s atonement, which helps us to both get experience in making moral choices, and be saved from the consequences of the bad choices.

    On how our works interface with the Atonement: We often quote 2 Nephi 25:23–“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”–but most often we just quote the last phrase about “grace . . . after all we can do,” and think that grace does not kick in until we have expended all of our resources, we have fasted many days, have pulled the handcart over the rocky hills and across the freezing rivers, until we are at the point of exhaustion–THEN Christ sends an angel to pick us up and drag us the rest of the way to the Promised Land. But that is NOT what Nephi is saying.

    Note that Nephis talks about HOW HARD HE IS WORKING in order to tell everyone that it is grace, a gift, that saves us! We sometimes pick out the humorous passages in the Book of Mormon–like the Lamanites who decide to surrender when they wake up from a night of drunkenness to find themselves surrounded by armed Nephites both outside and inside a city–but this passage needs to be recognized as ironic! IN the DVD version of the Book of Mormon, this verse should be read by Dennis Miller. Nepohi is telling us, “Look, I am running myself ragged to let you know that, it isn’t how hard you work that will save you, but the gracious gift of Christ that will save you!” And Nephi says this with an ironic grin at the joke on himself. Indeed, once we understand this, we recognize it is a bookend to the other most quoted statement of Nephi: “I will go and do the thing which the Lord commandeth, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” Though the word “grace” is not used here, that is what Nephi is talking about! We see God’s gift being given to Nephi. He doesn’t know how he will get the brass plates away from the murderous Laban, but he trusts God to help him accomplish the mission if he just puts himself in a place where he can benefit from God’s help. God’s grace is given to us whenever we are trying to obey his commandments! Admittedly, living all the commandments by ourselves is impossible. That is why God helps us, not just by forgiving us for falling short, but actually by helping us do things that would be impossible without God’s help.

    God wants more than a bunch of people who say “Lord, I am so glad you pulled me out of that mess in Mortality. Yuck! I don’t ever want to go there again.” No, God wants people who step forward and say “Here am I, send me!” I think that difference, seeking to obey and fulfill God’s tasks for us, while constantly relying on his Grace to help us accomplish the impossible, so that it becomes, together, a “gracious work”, is what will separate the Celestial from the Terrestrial Kingdoms at the Judgment.

    Look at Paul. No one in the New Testament articulates the importance of reliance on God’s grace than Paul, but he also works like crazy to get that message out there. He suffers privation, imprisonment, beatings, hunger. Does he think he is earning his salvation by his works? No, of course not. He is achieving his exaltation by entering in, every day, to work where he can receive the blessing of Grace, of God working alongside him. Grace is not being “raptured” into heaven before the bad stuff hits the fan on earth. It is a daily, constant support from God as we seek to live according to his commandments.

    This is not something new. That is precisely what we are promised in the Sacrament prayers: As we always remember Christ, identify ourselves with him, and strive to obey his commandments, we will have the Holy Ghost with us to sustain us, to guide us, to help us accomplish more than we ever could by ourselves.

    So when we have obstacles to living the commandments in the way we normally expect to, such as your unbelieving spouse, it is time to fall back on God’s grace, the help of the Spirit, to guide you to fulfilling those commandments in ways that do not violate that second great commandment, to love our neighbors–including our wives and husbands–as ourselves.

    The difficulty I have seen in some part-member homes is that the active church member sometimes takes the attitude that “I am more righteous than you. I have judged you and found you wanting. I am so noble for putting up with you.” That attitude is, I believe, offensive to the Spirit. It smothers any flame of spiritual yearning in the unbelieving spouse.

    This is not to say that you should assume that you can change your spouse. You can only give him or her the opportunity to do so and reasons to want to do so. Sadly, it is quite possible that the self-righteous spouse in a marriage relationship might be the one who has decided he or she is smarter than the Mormons, including you. Pride is a great barrier to the Spirit. It may take something that involuntarily produces humility, as with the poverty of some of the Zoramites, before the spouse will be able to feel the Spirit. You can only seek the Spirit yourself, which means being humble and spiritual and loving, no matter how your spouse feels.

  21. Raymond – “with the Romulans being portrayed as what the Vulcans used to be before they embraced a kind of Zen Buddhism” The Vulcans ROCK!

  22. It is January 2012, so what if I am a little
    out of season?

    Brian Johnston you are spot on – 100% agree both with the
    analogy and analysis. The world was overcome by the one, the rest of us are
    here and life is a proving ground. Earth is a place for the universe and for
    ourselves to determine, beyond the shadow and any doubt, what we will do
    if/when we make an error. In other terms, will we author chaos or will we act
    with honor. The heart of the matter is discerning good from evil; to attain
    this knowledge requires agency. Do not fail your kids, your wife or yourself by
    living without honor.

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