Skip to main content

Last Ship: Family and mission

“One ship against the three of us? They are outnumbered.”
~Sergeant Azima Kandie in the “Detect, Deceive, Destroy” episode of The Last Ship

If you read this blog, you know I’m a fan of disaster and sci-fi stories, so it will come as no surprise that The Last Ship is part of my regular summer viewing. The TNT action-drama, which wrapped up its fourth season this month, centers on the crew of the U.S.S. Nathan James after a global pandemic wipes out over 80 percent of the world’s population. The crew of the U.S. Navy ship spends the first three seasons finding and distributing a cure and the fourth tracking down and finding the solution to a plant virus that threatens to wipe out the world’s food supply.

The last season or two has slipped into a more formulaic format than the first two. As Captain Chandler has transformed from a vulnerable father and mourning husband struggling with the consequences and costs of leadership into your standard hulked-out action hero, the show has wandered away from its philosophical exploration of existential and ethical dilemmas and lost some of its emotional weight.

But one element that continues to appeal to me is the family-like nature of the crew. The ship has become more of home to the crew than the ones they left behind in the U.S. and their loss of personal family and friends has only strengthened their bonds. Their crewmates and their mission has become their top priority—for both of which they are willing to sacrifice their lives.

As in the Fast and Furious franchise, this element strikes a chord with me because it provides some food for thought when it comes to the kind of family-bond and mission Jesus calls us to.

“Jesus radically challenged His disciples…to join the new surrogate family of siblings He was establishing—the family of God,” says Joseph Hellerman in When the Church was a Family.

“Who do you think my mother and brothers are?” Jesus asks. He stretches out his hand toward his disciples, a grafted-together group. “Look closely. These are my mother and brothers” (Matthew 12:48 Message). 

“The group, not the individual, took priority in a believer's life in the early church,” says Hellerman says in Christianity Today article.

And this family group—God’s covenant people who are, as Dallas Willard put it, those “in which he is tangibly manifest to everyone on earth who wants to find him”—has a profound mission: to participate in God’s mission to redeem, renew and remake the world.

The crew of the Nathan James are also a beacon-like family on a mission. In "Detect, Deceive, Destroy," three of those crew members are on a small boat facing down a large military ship that is bent on not only destroying the Nathan James but also the last hope humanity has in curing the disease that is wiping out the world’s plants and food supply.

As they contemplate taking on the enemy ship, risking their lives for their family and the fate of the world, Sargent Azima Kandie says, “One ship against the three of us? They are outnumbered.”

Interestingly, Kandie is a new addition to the crew, a former member of the Kenyan navy. Yet, even though she’s only been a part of the crew for a short time, she reflects the heart of those who have been on the Nathan James a lot longer. They believe their family and mission is stronger than the odds against them. Even if they lose their lives, they are confident the rest of the crew will get the job done. They are confident in their cause and that the power that backs them up will win in the end—and they are willing to commit to and even sacrifice their lives for that.

Their enemy really is outnumbered.

As I watched that scene, I realized the confidence that Kandie feels echoes the kind of confidence God offers to his people. God has given us every reason to feel that way because, as N.T. Wright puts it in Simply Good News:
 …the one true God has now taken charge of the world, in and through Jesus and his death and resurrection…. God’s plan to put the world right has finally been launched. The ancient sickness that had crippled the whole world, and humans with it, has been cured at last, so that new life can rise up in its place. Life has come to life and is pouring out like a mighty river into the world, in the form of a new power, the power of love. The good news was, and is, that all this has happened in and through Jesus; that one day it will happen, completely and utterly, too all creation; and that we humans, every single one of us, whoever we are, can be caught up in that transformation here and now. This is the Christian gospel. Do not allow yourself to be fobbed off with anything else.

God has already won, Wright says. Everything is different than it was before. God is radically and forever changing the world. Here and now. He has made the world a whole different place, says Wright: “He has overcome all the powers of the world—the dark powers that enslave and corrupt and destroy genuine human life” and “nothing can stand in the way of his long-planned new creation.”

True, says Wright, evil is still terrible and destructive. We, like the early Christians, still face suffering, prison and death. But do we, like our earlier brothers and sisters, allow the new reality ushered in by Jesus to form how we approach, stand against and face evil?

It’s not enough to just assent to the good news, Wright says. God’s people must allow it to “remake and reshape their mental, imaginary, and emotional worlds” and “become fuller, more whole human beings” with a life “’full to overflowing’ (John 10:10).”

As I contemplate this, I resonate with Kandie’s words. Evil is on its way out. God’s cure is sweeping the planet and creation. We may not live to see the final cure play out in my physical life on earth—and it might even take our lives—but nothing can stand in the way of God’s new creation.

Evil really is outnumbered.

If we lived in relationship to each other and the world around us like we really believed that, people really wouldn’t need to look far to find God.

Image copyright: TNT