Star Trek: The Trouble with Tribbles and Faith
To all of the Trekkies who have complained it took 5 books before me getting to Star Trek, I do apologize. Hopefully this will make up for it.
The Trouble with Tribbles is one of the most classic episodes of Star Trek of all time. It's the equivalent of "Blink" to Doctor Who. It's the episode that a majority of the general public has seen or is at least familiar with even if they have no other real exposure to the series.
The 1967 episode features the debut of the tiny reproducing balls of fur in the midst of a shady trade deal. The Enterprise crew is there to supervise a potentially volatile trade deal over grain, and in the midst of the seemingly overcomplicated affair a new element is introduced. A trader named Cyrano gifts Lt. Uhura the furry creature and before you know it, things get crazy. What is quickly seen is that the tribbles reproduce…. like a lot. At first, they are seemingly harmless. Everyone enjoys the friendly fuzzy furbries, but they quickly grow to the point that they are starting to overtake the ship and station. Not only are they overtaking the general internal surface area of the ship, but they are working their way into the infrastructure, storage, and food supplies.
It was overwhelming. Spock stated that in the grain compartment alone, there were 1,771,561 tribbles. Over the course of 3 days, the growth went from 1 to 2,000,000 and had the potential for unlimited growth. While this seems annoying and problematic for the Enterprise crew, it is a fair picture of something that should be taking place in our life.
Our spiritual growth should be continual. Often times, our spiritual growth sparks quickly, plateaus, stops, then declines until we hit some rock bottom moment that makes us start moving again. Some of us live from moment to moment where we need a concert, a conference, or some exciting special event to grow our faith, but that is equally unhealthy.
When Paul describes spiritual growth, he makes the point that it should be constant, unceasing, and ever increasing, much like the tribble population.
"For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control,
perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly affection; and to brotherly affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins." - 2 Peter 1:5-9.
Paul describes our faith as something that must be growing. Imagine the point you met Jesus as the moment the first tribble was brought on board the Enterprise. If each moment of growth in your faith and spiritual life was represented by a tribble, what would it look like? I doubt many of would have 1,771,561 moments of growth, but would your moments of growth seem overwhelming, or totally manageable? In reality, our growth in our faith probably moves at such a slow pace that we could probably be overestimating if we said our faith grew once a month. However, Paul makes the image so clear in the above passage. He states we need to add to our faith specific elements: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly love, and love. It would be amazing if we could add those things to our faith once over the course of our life and they would be permanent additions, but it's not that easy.
In verse 8, Paul states that it is having these in INCREASING measure that leads us to be effective and productive in our faith and knowledge of Jesus. Increasing, meaning not only do we have to add these things to our faith, but we have to continually add them. The iconic scene where Kirk opens the grain container and is literally showered with tribbles is what our spiritual growth should look like. A world full of Christians with faith growing in increasing measure that boldly go where no man has gone before is exactly what we are called to do. When the church was in this heart in the early portions of Acts, the world was turned upside down by just a few thousand believers with increasing faith. In our world today, we have over 2 billion people claiming Christianity yet creating a fraction of the impact compared to the early church.
I think we see why in verse 9, as Paul states that those who aren't increasing in their faith are blind and can't see the reality of what's going on around them. In a lot of ways when we stop growing spiritually, it's similar to dying spiritually because our faith should never stand still. In the aforementioned grain scene (when Kirk opened the grain shoot and was showered by shaggy scruffy snackers), they soon came to realize that many of the tribbles were actually dead. The only reason the enterprise wasn't completely overrun by them was that they had eaten the grain in storage, which – Plot Twist! – was poisoned! The thing that had stopped the growth and increasing measure of the tribbles was that they had been feeding on stuff that was killing them.
Our spiritual growth sometimes ends up in the same place. While we may not be chowing down on poisoned grain, we can end up choking on things that bring us down. Jesus illustrates that in the parable of the seed in Mark 4:18-19, "Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful." We have all the potential for unlimited growth and effectiveness. We have access to God more readily than most of the patriarchs of the Old Testament. We have ways to communicate globally in the blink of an eye. We have financial resources beyond measure. We have a more in-depth understanding of scripture and theology. With all of these truths before us, we are still less effective than a few thousand believers in the book of Acts. We, like the tribbles in the poison grain are choking and dying, instead of growing and thriving.
Just as Paul stated not growing your faith will make you ineffective, Jesus stated that the things in this world can choke the Word in us and make us unfruitful. Jesus described the stuff that chokes us as the worries of life, deceitfulness of wealth, and desires for other things. Those seem like such simple things, but like the poison grain, they can stop our growth and choke us. We understand the worries of life, as the culture we live in seems to constantly instill worry and anxiety in people at alarming levels. The deceitfulness of wealth is also prominent because our culture engrains in the masses that money will make them happy, yet it never does. In the end, they live in pursuit of something that will never satisfy. This, in turn, embitters them to the things that do. Jesus also mentioned the desires of other things, which is a pretty broad statement, but I think is necessary. Scripture teaches that we all like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6), and when sheep go astray, they really do go in every direction. We are all filled with a variety of desires for things that take the place of God and choke out the effectiveness of His Word and Spirit. These things that could range from power to Instagram likes. I could be the desire for physical perfection to the desire for physical affection. It could be anything, and I'm pretty sure if you really searched yourself, you would know what the desires are in your heart that are close to choking out your relationship with God.
The tribbles didn't know any better. They saw food in front of them and they ate it blindly, costing them their lives. We, on the other hand, do know better. We know that we should continually grow, and we know the consequences if we feed on the things of this world that stunt and choke our growth. So what are you going to do? Add to your faith and grow exponentially while being effective for the Kingdom of God, or feed on the destructive things in this world that will choke your relationship with God, causing you to be unfruitful?
Wherever you are in your life and walk with God, I know you have more understanding than a gluttonous rapidly reproducing hairball. If you are a Christian, you possess the Spirit of God active and alive in you which will clearly guide you. You can make the effective choice. When all the conflict was over, Cyrano was ordered to remove all the tribbles from the space station, a task that Spock said would take 17.9 years. The effect of the tribbles in just a matter of days created an impact that would last for years. The same is true for us as believers. When we are growing in our faith and living effectively in our relationship with God, it will be felt for generations to come and echo through eternity. When we live a life of continual growth in our faith, avoiding the things that choke it out, we not only will grow, but we will set examples for generations to come.
Dr. McCoy: Do you know what you get if you feed a tribble too much?
Capt. Kirk: A fat tribble.
Dr. McCoy: No. You get a whole bunch of hungry little tribbles."