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‘The Oath’: The thing we live and die for

Languor can’t and doesn’t last forever. Eventually the soul remembers. It remembers what it lives and breathes for. And it’s about time for human and Cylon alike to rediscover this, as some of them finally do in Battlestar Galactica’s latest episode, “The Oath.”

I find this concept is most powerfully displayed in Admiral Bill Adama, whose rediscovery of why he does what he does is nestled in his oath of service. For Adama, that goes beyond keeping chain of command and defending Galactica. Adama has carried the weight of protecting and defending not only humanity’s way of life but the very existence of human (and now Cylon) life itself. That Adama has done this, for the most part, with integrity is evident when Gaeta’s mutiny swings into full gear and he orders Adama’s arrest. In riviting and righteous fury, Adama warns those around him: “I want you all to understand this. If you do this there will be no forgiveness, no amnesty.” When a solider reaches out to escort him off the bridge, he growls at the man to keep his hands off and the solider immediately backs off while others physically squirm. Their decisions to mutiny are not so cut and dry in Adama’s presence.

Adama makes this much more specific and personal as he and Tigh are being escorted to the brig. He connects with the marine holding a gun at his back by name, and he tells him: “When this is over, there’s going to be a reckoning. And live or die, it’s how you act today that’s going to matter. So what’s it going to be, Nowart?”

His words deepen even further in context when he’s reunited with President Laura Roslin as she’s about to escape Galactica. The two deeply love each other, but rather than beg him to come with her, she tells him: “I came here because I don’t want you to worry about me. And I know what you have to do.” Then she boards the raptor taking her to safety (we hope), leaving Adama behind.

Her words powerfully acknowledge that there are some things bigger than ourselves, our own happiness and even those we love. There are some things worth sacrificing for. Some things worth dying for. There are some things by which we are and will be reckoned.

Roslin and Adama’s words are worth considering. They invite us to examine our own lives: Is there something larger for which we live our lives? Why are we doing what we do? And if we were to be reckoned today, what would be revealed?

And in all of this—especially Adama’s reference to a reckoning—I couldn’t help but think of one of Matthew’s recordings of Jesus’ teachings about an impending reckoning:

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.'

"Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'

"Then he will turn to the 'goats,' the ones on his left, and say, 'Get out, worthless goats! You're good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.'

"Then those 'goats' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn't help?'

"He will answer them, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.'

"Then those 'goats' will be herded to their eternal doom, but the 'sheep' to their eternal reward."

To be completely honest, I’ve always been uncomfortable with Jesus’ references to judgment. Some of it had to do with my own squirming. Some of it with reconciling a God of love with judgment. And some of it with my longing for all to know the life I do.

But as I was mulling over all this, it dawned on me that (at least here) Jesus is not talking about a simple fire-and-brimstone sorting of folks to life and death. He is talking about love. In Jesus’ words, I begin to glean how what we embrace and value in life is revealed in how we approach others. The “sheep” paid attention to those around them; they were “in the room.” They loved those they were with, paying attention to and meeting their needs. And they did this not because they were afraid of going to hell or out of some desire for a reward—in fact, they were confused when Jesus tells them that they had fed and comforted him. In their experience, they cared for others because they loved them. Their actions were born out of who they were, out of love.

This makes sense when we put Jesus’ words in the context of the Story. Since his creation of time and space, God’s intent was to lavish good and life upon and within us. As the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible puts it, God’s intent was to form a community of loving people with God—from whom we get our very breath and life—in the center. And in the beginning, we walked openly and together in the wide-open spaces of his holy Love, wrapped unfettered in his glory, right-ness, goodness and grace. Then came that day when we tore ourselves from him, when our hearts ripped and broke, when the cancer that is sin greedily scuttled through the wounds and with a dark hunger ravaged our very core. So, with a honed, ferocious will to redeem, restore and return us, he set about to make it all right-full once more. Right-ness, goodness, just-ness, grace, mercy, fury—all fused together in a holy, insuperable power that is Love.

Jesus didn’t come to bring more laws by which we would be judged. Jesus came to deliver us from darkness and death and give us the Way to life. He brings life, love and right-ness to us and, through us, to the world in which we walk. Through Jesus—the Way—we are freed and enabled to live the life we were created to live. As Paul says, “Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God!” And that life—God’s Spirit within us—can’t help but exhibit itself in love for others. And, as John tells us in his letters, love is a central focus of this life. We know that life is in us and we are in God when we love:
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we're free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ's. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.

If anyone boasts, "I love God," and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won't love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can't see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You've got to love both.
In the end, letting love have “the run of the house” isn’t simply just a good philosophy by which to live but a matter of life and death. We live in a world that is full of death, darkness, hunger, thirst, suffering, pain and despair—things with which Jesus deeply identifies and longs to right. The “goats” of Jesus’ teaching didn’t pay attention to those around them but lived after their own agendas, and that left all that darkness, death and suffering untouched—both, we could say, for themselves as well as those around them. Love, on the other hand, brings food, water, shelter and comfort. Love brings life. It is the something larger and bigger than ourselves. It underlies the Oath by which we were made to live: to love God and love others as we are Loved.

And it is a thing by which we are reckoned.

Folks like Roslin, Tigh, Apollo, Starbuck and even Tyrol don’t choose to side with Adama because they are afraid of him or the judgment of a coming reckoning. They side with and follow him because they love and/or respect him. They side with and follow him because they believe he wants them all to live—not just survive, but live. They believe he wants to and is able to bring right-ness and goodness to their lives.

And this helps me in my contemplations of Jesus’ words of judgment. These are not the words of an arbitrary God playing with power. These are the words of a God who wants us to live—really live. He wants us to experience the life we were designed for—one of freedom, joy and love. He wants it so badly that he takes on flesh and blood, lives and loves among us to show us what that life looks like, and then takes on all death, swallows it whole and explodes life through time and space. These are the words of a God who is love.

I'm still uncomfortable with words of judgment. But then, I'm not one of the hungry, thirsty or imprisoned--and they know what it is to long for justice and right-ness far more than I. And, in it all, I also remember that God's judgment is so amazingly drenched in grace and mercy. There's Jesus' parable of the doomed fig tree and the worker who gets yet another year to help it bear fruit. There's that parable of the prodigal son that always brings me to me knees in overwhelming awareness of God's patient, lavish, enduring and celebratory love. And, of course, there's Jesus himself.

At some point in our lives, we will be faced with a situation that requires us to consider for what our souls live and breathe. Is it bigger than ourselves and our own agendas? And if so, what it is it? And how would we be reckoned? Episodes like "The Oath" invite us to consider these things—and that brings God-talk into open spaces.

(Images: Sci-Fi Channel) bsgctgy


SolShine7 said…
What an amazing episode! Once again your commentary is a good read.