The Final Frontier

by Dale Beaver

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
-Ecclesiastes 3:11

           

William Shatner is an icon of the 1960s, catapulted there by the space race of that decade and our dreams of hurling humanity into places where no man had gone before. He is most known for Star Trek, which ran for three seasons on television. As a kid, I could be anywhere in the house and recognize that single pinging note just before Shatner, in his signature Captain Kirk voice, said “Space. The final frontier.” I was hooked, as was my uncle, who just 10 years my senior, would allow me to join him in my grandfather’s 14-foot V-bottom riverboat that he transformed into the “USS Enterprise.” He was Kirk, and I was the Chief Engineer, “Scotty.” Instead of a Matter-Antimatter Warp Drive, all I had was an 18-horsepower Evinrude outboard motor. “I've giv'n her all she's got captain, an' I canna give her no more!”

A couple of months ago Shatner, known to friends as “Bill,” turned 90. Though he has often denied his age, Bill is more forthcoming now about his longevity. Born in Canada and raised devoutly Jewish, Shatner is quite an enigma. “The Shatner Personna” is a tag that frustrates him, but in all honesty, Bill is a hard one to know. He is either as purely transparent and authentic as a human can be, or he has faked sincerity for so long that he has convinced even himself. Either way, he is likable enough and remains a large figure in the entertainment industry.

I am always interested in the musings of folks who have lived for as long as Shatner, especially since he has such a variety of life experience to speak to issues about the end of life. I just finished reading an interview with him in The Guardian by Hadley Freeman titled “Take it easy, nothing matters in the end.” Most of the article is about what Shatner is up to now, even at 90, but closes with a more introspective question that he answers insightfully:

He has recently done a project with a company called StoryFile, which will recreate him as a 3D talking hologram.

“Isn’t that incredible? So it could be on my gravestone and people can ask it questions, and as long as the electronics work there will be some kind of permanence,” he smiles.

It feels rude to ask a 90-year-old if he worries about death, so I ask instead what he wishes he had known at 20 that he knows at 90.

“Here’s an interesting answer!” he says perkily. “I’m glad I didn’t know, because what you know at 90 is: take it easy, nothing matters in the end, what goes up must come down. If I’d known that at 20, I wouldn’t have done anything!”

 

It seems clear to me that Bill has crashed head-on into the message of Ecclesiastes, which he likely encountered during his childhood years in Judaism. God has “planted eternity” in every human heart. As we saw in our first study in this current sermon series, God is eternal and has placed this longing for permanence into our very nature. Only mankind, in all of God’s creation, has the understanding of “something more remains.” But we also long for transcendence, like God, to be outside the bounds of time and space, to be able to reach the final frontier, and to understand the world the way He does.

The problem with mankind is that he seeks to discover this permanence and transcendence apart from the Creator who made him. Shatner believes that our lives, in the end, merely succumb to the forces of gravity. We rise and fall. That’s it. Nothing matters. This is to say, as he does, that at 20 we haven’t yet figured out that life is meaningless.

For William Shatner, he has lived long enough to validate a need for permanence. Evidently, a syndicated television classic that repeats infinitely through the decades, and where you are also the star, isn’t enough. I find it tragic that he still comes up short in settling for a hologram of himself that can “interact” with visitors to his graveside. Until, that is, the electronics that drive it also fail.