Star Trek – Charlie X

This is an entry in my ongoing series called Deconstructing Star Trek

Charlie X is the second episode in the first season of The Original Series and premiered on September 15, 1966. The episode features the arrival of Charlie Evans, a teenage boy, to the Starship Enterprise after he was rescued from the planet Thasus by the cargo vessel Antares. Charlie had somehow managed to survive alone as a child after his transport ship crashed on the planet. We ultimately discover that Charlie was not alone, but was given incredible mental powers by the Thasians in order to ensure his survival on Thasus. Once on the Enterprise, the crew quickly notices Charlie’s telekinetic abilities and the danger this brings in association with his bad temper. Charlie begins to perform several devastating mental feats after developing a strong crush on Yeoman Rand, including making Rand “go away.” The Enterprise is largely helpless against Charlie’s god-like powers until a vessel arrives near the Enterprise and a Thasian commander speaks to Kirk. He apologizes for Charlie’s behavior and acknowledges how Charlie is too powerful to be placed in a human environment. Despite Charlie’s pleas to remain with humans and Kirk’s insistence that he should “be with his own kind”, the Thasian commander takes Charlie back to Thasus.

Charlie X involves a recurring theme in Star Trek: The Original Series – unstoppable divine-like powers coupled with children and young adults. Charlie XMiri, and The Corbomite Maneuver are three episodes in the first ten to highlight the power of adolescence from a near divine standpoint. It isn’t clear whether this theme is intentional (I assume it is) or what creator Gene Roddenberry was trying to say (I have my theories). For the purpose of this series on deconstructing Star Trek, we can only work with the material in front of us, so I will stick to Charlie’s behavior and leave my theories about Roddenberry’s underlying cynicism behind.

Iron Man is a heavy metal song written by the Ozzie Osbourne led British band Black Sabbath. The song is about a man who time travels into the future and sees the apocalypse. Upon his return to the present day, he tries to warn the human race of their impending doom, only to be ignored and ridiculed. He finally loses his patience, wreaking havoc on the human race and personally fulfilling his own vision of the end of the world. The song is often interpreted to be about God who becomes so bothered with his creation he destroys that which he loves most – humans. That concept is indeed terrifying; what would happen if the God of unlimited power and knowledge had the propensity to misuse his power due to an emotional imbalance?

That is the very question prsented in Charlie X, and one that is asked time and again throughout the Star Trek canon. Charlie’s incredible power was his only chance for survival in the harsh world of Thasus, but that which was once used for life becomes a tool for certain death. One slip of the tongue, one wrong move, one faulty expression, and Charlie can make anyone “go away”. The Enterprise found themselves on pins and needles.

This is the concept of God embraced by many. God, it seems, is inconsistent at best or malevolent at worst. With the obvious reality of daily unspeakable horrors on planet Earth, it would seem God is either incapable of stopping such bloodshed or, even worse, delights in his culpability. This distorted picture of a weakened God or a God who is bloodthirsty with unstoppable power will lead folks to reach one of two conclusions:  Either God does not exist or humanity should live in dreadful fear of this monster.

Consider the remarkable restoration of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar as told in the Old Testament book of Daniel. After a marvelous display of God’s grace in Nebuchadnezzar’s life, the king speaks some of the most beautiful words of worship in the entire Bible. Nebuchadnezzar expresses two eternal truths about the nature of God’s power: 1) God’s authoritative power is limitless and incapable of being altered, avoided, or changed. 2) Every use of God’s power is just. Listen to the king: 

[God] does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”…all his works are right and his ways are just.

In other words, Nebuchadnezzar could have simply started singing, “He’s got the whole world in his hands…” The fundamental difference between the God of the Bible and Charlie’s god-like power is in the certain righteousness of God’s works. There is a reason human beings are not God….we would destroy the world and ourselves. We mistakenly assume we could handle the responsibilities of kingship, but our works would always revert back to selfish unrighteousness. God is never tempted by evil nor does he act in any way other than what is just and right. We see today the ongoing results of humanity’s devastating power-grab for God’s kingship in Genesis 3. Temptation, selfishness, misdirected intentions, death:  These are the marks of Charlie’s attempts to be God and these were the marks of Adam’s attempt to be God. Thus, what will always distinguish the one true God from others who might display surprisingly powerful abilities is the nature of righteousness in all of his works. No one can thwart God’s hand, but thankfully God can do no wrong.

Human beings have been created with powerful gifts and abilities (Genesis 11:6), but we have also been given limits. Our limitations are given as a means of grace, not punishment. Only God can be God and so much of our frustration, so much of our mourning, stems from our forgetfulness of that simple truth. God is big. God is good.

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