In bed above, we're deep asleepIn the second episode of the most reason season of Doctor Who, the Doctor takes Amy thousands of years into the future to an immense British city sailing through space many years after the earth has suffered an environmental disaster. Initially just intending to drop in for a bit, our good Doctor sees a small girl crying and plunges in to find out what’s gone wrong in the colony. After much adventure, the Doctor discovers a horrible truth: the city is resting on the back of an ancient and sentient star whale that is continually tortured to force it to paddle the city through space. Way back, when the whale showed up at earth in the midst of its disaster, and the British powers that be enslaved it in order to save their slice of humanity. But the general population doesn’t know that their city rests on the back of the whale. Why not? Because those original powers that be set up a system so that each resident is informed of the situation in a special booth every five years and asked to vote as to whether to continue the torture (in which case their memory is erased and they go about the next five years in ignorance) or to protest (in which case they are fed to the whale).
While greater love lies further deep.
This dream must end, this world must know:
We all depend on the beast below.
~Amy Pond reciting a rhyme in “The Beast Below” episode of the Eleventh Doctor Who
So, our Doctor is faced with the horrible choice: stop the torture, give the star whale its freedom but assure the death of millions of men, women and children or essentially lobotomize (and end the sentience) of the magnificent and innocent space whale so as to end its torture but keep the human colony moving through space.
But as the Doctor is about to make that choice, Amy realizes something. The whale never hurts or attacks children; if they are fed to the whale, he spits them out. Amy watches its long tentacles that have found their way into the city actually caress the children—even while in torturous pain. In a moment of insight, she does what the Doctor could not—threatening the existence of millions, she ends the torture of the whale.
But the whale doesn’t leave. Not only does it allow the city to stay on its back, but it actually increases its speed through space. Even after enduring all those years of torture, it not only chooses to stay and help the humans but uses its freedom to increase its aid. Amy looks meaningfully at the Doctor as she explains why. She tells him and the others that the whale didn’t just happen by the earth in its time of need, but intentionally came to help. Why would it do that—and why would it stay after what they’d done? She tells them:
What if you were really old and really kind and alone? Your whole race dead, no future, what couldn't you do then? If you were that old and that kind and the very last of your kind, you couldn't just stand there and watch children cry.
Later, she reflects to the Doctor, “Amazing, don’t you think? The star whale, all that pain and misery, the loneliness. It just made it kind.” Of course, Amy is talking just as much about the wisdom and compassion of the Doctor (the last of his own kind) as she is the whale—and I find her observations profoundly echo the nature of God, too.
Not that I think of God as lonely and the last of his kind (though that is thought-provoking when we think in terms of Jesus’ experience as flesh-and-blood on Earth). I’m thinking more of the idea of a being enduring suffering of great proportions and yet responding not by withdrawing life giving and sustaining power and salvation but increasing it. I see that a profound echo of Jesus, who came to earth in love and compassion to save us from destruction and darkness. Yet none of us understood; even the best of us who did not abandon him did not comprehend who he really was and what he could do, and the worst of us tortured and executed him. And after voluntarily enduring unimaginable pain and suffering, he could have justly and understandably abandoned us, even destroyed us. But instead he explodes with abundance—with a profusion of unimaginable love, life and salvation.
I also love the image provoked by the rhyme at the top of this post. The people on that colony were completely unaware of the benevolent creature that was keeping them alive and moving them through space—of the “greater love that lies further deep.” Yet in the end, their awareness of it results in even more abundance for them. That is another wonderful echo of our own reality. God, who created and sustains all, is Love itself, and that Love relentlessly works to bring us and his creation back to the way we were created to be—free, good, whole and standing in the wide open spaces of his grace, glory, love and life. That Love is the foundation of our own salvation and redemption. To turn a phrase, God is the greatest Love that lies further deep.
Like those people on the back of that benevolent star whale, even in our ignorance, our lives depend and rest upon a Being of great love. And when we are no longer ignorant but encounter that Love? New life and love explodes and increases infinitely within us. And that, too, is something the world must know.
(Images: BBC, via DailyMotion.com)