Picking a Fight with God in Star Trek: Picard
Editor’s note:This post includes spoilers for Season 2 of Star Trek: Picard.
What do you do when it feels like God is against you? If you're Jean-Luc Picard, you fight back.
In the second season of Star Trek: Picard (STP), the titular admiral (Patrick Stewart) and his ragtag crew find themselves in a race to save the future from fascism (the majority of the season takes place in 2024). But it's all an experiment by Q (John de Lancie), the omnipotent god-alien whose disdain for humanity drove Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), in which he put Picard—and by extension, all of humanity—on trial.
Q has always been a capricious character. Though he possesses the omnipotence of God, he lacks the benevolence and care, acting more often like a spoiled child than a heavenly parent. In this second season of Picard, however, he approaches the troubled and unsettled admiral to interrogate one of Picard’s core traits: the emotional distance he keeps from those in his life.
On TNG, which ran from 1987 to 1994, this was embodied most famously in the poker game run by first officer William Riker (Jonathan Frakes). Over the 178 episodes of the show, many crew members sat at the game—but never Picard. The series finale ended with Picard finally taking a chair, much to the delight of his crew. Season 2 of STP opens with Picard rejecting a romantic advance from a close friend, leading another to interrogate how, exactly, his lifelong bachelor status relates to his career among the stars: “Since I've known you, the only place you've ever been afraid to explore is in [your heart].” She implies that Picard's distance from everyone—friends and lovers alike—has to do with some unexplored trauma deep in his past.
There is no time for self-reflection, however, when a Borg ship emerges from deep space, calling for Picard by name. This fearsome nemesis is now petitioning for membership in the United Federation of Planets, although it seems to be a ploy designed to help the Borg destroy the Federation armada under Picard's command. In a desperate move, Picard activates his ship's self-destruct sequence. But when the countdown reaches one, everything vanishes in a flash of light and Picard finds himself in a twisted version of his own home. The explanation—such as there is one—is Q, who declares Picard is still on trial.
What do you do when it feels like God is against you?
What does all of this have to do with Picard's fear of intimacy, a fear so strong he'd rather flee to space than remain at a lover's side? It's unclear until the final half of the season finale. Until that point, Picard and his crew curse Q's name every chance they get. In the face of his god-like power and knowledge, they feel like pawns in a game they don't comprehend.
While Picard is not a religious man and his esteem for Q is far from reverent, his plight in this season echoes that of the prophet Jeremiah. God called Jeremiah as a prophet in the years leading to the Babylonian exile. Jeremiah found himself in the unenviable position of watching his nation reject God and their covenant with God over and over.
But in the midst of his prophetic work, Jeremiah gave voice to doubts as to God's goodness. He laments, "You are always righteous, Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?"
Worse is Jeremiah's own experience. His warnings of judgment and destruction have made him an object of scorn and persecution, to the point that he wishes he could quit his prophetic work. He uses strong, accusatory language against God, words that don't sound far removed from the accusations Picard levels at Q: “You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.”
God, however, won't let him go, which Jeremiah acknowledges: “But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”
It's good that scripture gives us the full range of Jeremiah's experience. He was, after all, correct again and again about Babylon's might, God's judgment, and ultimately even God's mercy. Those who compiled his writings might have been forgiven for preserving only the highlights, rather than the time he sued God and called God a deceiver. But because of their faithfulness and Jeremiah's honesty, we have the space to be confused about God's work in our world. We have room to kick and flail and accuse God, even as we strive to do the work to which God has called us. Israel, remember, means “wrestles with God.” The work of faith is less unquestioning obedience and more of a struggle.
After Picard has faced his inner demons and, along with his crew, saved the future and defeated fascism, he faces Q, who confesses he is dying. This whole adventure has been a gift from him to Picard, a chance to find peace. “Even gods have their favorites, Jean-Luc,” Q says before the two longtime frenemies embrace.
The moment is sweet enough to overpower the questions it raises about Q's behavior all season. And in its way, it's a dim reflection of the truth Jeremiah knew when he declared, “You are always righteous, Lord.” It's the same truth Paul affirms in Romans: that God is always working for the good of those who love God and are called according to God's purpose. The work of faith is to wrestle, to question, and doubt, all while resting on a bedrock of conviction that God is good and faithful.