River Tam: The Truth Will Set You Free
When you begin the epic story of Firefly/Serenity the enigmatic River Tam is an automatically intriguing character. With a base back story, but foreshadowing of much grander sinister plots. I’m sure as the years went on, and Joss Whedon had like 7 seasons to slowly reveal things to us it would have been glorious, but with the cancelation of the series, and trying hard to keep the movie within 2 hours we weren’t given a slow build up, but just had the climax thrust upon us. All in all, I would rather have an abrupt climax than none, so no complaint here. As you see in the series she is severely mentally disturbed, unable to distinguish from fiction/reality, unable to control her own thoughts, etc. This affects her and everyone else around her. It makes her dangerous on missions and a liability to her crew.
One moment she is having a deep conversation with a cow, the next she is slicing Jayne’s shirt off with a butcher knife (which by the way, she was doing because it was a “Blue Sun” shirt, which was a secret cover for the alliances project which experimented on her, same reason she ripped all the labels off the cans). She just wasn’t stable. In the film Serenity, in a horrifying moment you find out why. *SPOILERS* (which by the way, if you are reading this book and you haven’t watched Serenity, shame on you). You find that River (who was made psychic) was placed in a room with government officials, and found out the terrible secret that the government had tried to use chemicals to control people’s behavior and subsequently caused the death of 30 Million people on the planet Miranda.
She had learned the truth of this horrible occurrence, but didn’t know how to comprehend it, or process it. It was trapped in her, because it was trapped in her, it completely crippled her and didn’t allow her to function normally at all. Most of us have never had to deal with the mental anguish of psychically learning horrible secrets, but we live knowing there is something wrong. We live our lives knowing that things aren’t the way they should be. We see people do horrible things, selfishness and greed abound while children die daily from hunger and dehydration. We commit horrible crimes and often glorify and praise those who do them. We have this horrible underlying secret, and so many never bother to acknowledge it.
That secret is that we are broken, that we are sinful, and most importantly that we need salvation. So often we just go about our lives day by day, seeing the symptoms, feeling the repercussions, but never seeing the underlying truth. We all have this sinful condition and need of a savior, and until we acknowledge and respond to it, we go about our lives like River Tam, tortured and confused. I love the moment right after the crew of Serenity learns the truth, when River states, “I’m alright.” This isn’t a casual “eh I’m ok,” this is her stating ever so simply that now that the truth has been spoken, now that it is acknowledged, she doesn’t have to live with this torture anymore.
That she is finally free from the pain. We see it in the often quoted Romans 3:23, as well as the under-quoted Romans 3:24; “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” We have to acknowledge that we are all sinful and broken and need salvation, true, but just as important we need to acknowledge that we are all equally offered freedom through Christ. Not just that we need salvation, but also that we have salvation. Just like River learned in that beautiful moment of clarity on Miranda, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32.
Our problem is what we do with the truth once we have learned it. So often we will simply hear it in passing and not allow it to change our lives in anyway. I think we have to learn from what the crew of Serenity did at that point. Once they knew the truth they vowed not to stop until everyone knew it. They were willing to die for it. They flew into overwhelming odds, sacrificed loved ones, and held back nothing of themselves, all because they believed the truth needed to be told.
“ I know the secret. The truth that burned up River Tam's brain. Rest of the 'verse is going to know it, too. 'Cause they need to.” Captain Malcolm Reynolds. If we know the truth, we can’t just stand back and not acknowledge it. It requires action. Sure once River learned the truth it benefited her; in the same way knowing Jesus benefits our life. But if we just settle for that, we leave the rest of the world to continue on in the struggle. We choose to acknowledge the truth when it’s safe and convenient, but not when we even have to think of stepping out of our comfort zone. Share the truth with the world. Move like you have Alliance, Operatives, & Reavers on your tail. Fly like a leaf on the wind and make it known.
Can’t stop the signal.