Winking-out Phenomenon

I wonder if the biblical Lazarus had such a beard

We’ve been reviewing some original Star Trek this last week and I’m always, no matter how often I watch the show, struck by the difference of pacing compared to contemporary shows (even the Star Treks of the ’90s, now more than 20 years ago). The cheese and camp and production value are to be expected of a show of such means in its timeframe, but the slow pace is almost unfathomable to me. That pace (and the camp and the sometimes primitive writing) belie some severely deep themes, big ideas that made and continue to make Star Trek what it is.

I found most notable a concept presented in The Alternative Factor episode towards the end of the first season. In it an (apparent) madman named Lazarus crash lands on a dead planet after the entire universe “winks out” for a brief second. In essence, the entirety of existence ceased to be for only a moment. Lazarus is hunting a “thing”, a “beast in humanoid form” that seeks to undo everything. In reality he is struggling against himself, but it is the Lazarus of another dimension, a different universe. They wrestle in the gateway between our two universes and if one should pass into the next, and the two meet in real space, it’s the end of everything, like universal nuclear fission.

It’s intriguing pseudoscience, but what a spiritual application! Here is a man struggling against the “beast” that is himself, the same man as him but different, a creature looking to undo everything. It’s our dead selves, the sin Christ buried when He went to hades, refusing to stay dead. It’s the thorn in all our sides, but played out on a galactic scale. It’s Lazarus, but it’s not.

Moreover, it’s the end of everything.

The struggle is real

Thomas Merton became a Catholic, and shortly thereafter a Trappist monk, at the outbreak of World War 2. He remarks in The Seven Storey Mountain that he “caused” World War 2. That we all did. All of us, our brokenness and inability to find peace and goodness, our dead-ness, culminates in war — in that case a terrible one on a global scale. The end of everything. So it is in the spiritual struggle, so it is with Lazarus. Existence (life) versus non-existence (sin). For sin is nothing. It is an absence, a void. In patristic traditions sin is often thought of as non-matter, having no form or life of its own. It’s a shadow. Just as Lazarus of our universe (matter) wrestles with Lazarus of the other universe (antimatter), so we fight in an inner-life of existence against non-existence. Sometimes we appear mad, sometimes we are at peace, but there is always a struggle.

In the final act, the “antimatter” Lazarus agrees to remain trapped in the gateway in an eternal battle with his counterpart to keep both universes in tact. It’s mythical in its way, and the point at which the application departs. Ours is not an eternal war, thank God, only a temporary one that foreshadows things to come. In the end it’s all we have control over, the only thing that matters. Thankfully our inner struggles do not summon the end of the universe!

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