Dinosaurs, Time Travel, and the Sovereignty of God

Fox’s Jurassic era drama, Terra Nova, isn’t the best series on television, but it’s certainly not the worst. I’ve been catching up on the first season on DVR and have been intrigued by the many issues it addresses in each episode. I was most surprised by the presence of an extra wearing a stole in episode 5, “Bylaw.” This brief shot, pictured below, got me thinking about, of all things, Divine providence, the Rapture, the Apocalypse, eternity, and the Kingdom of God. All this from a “dinosaur show”…who new. More after the jump.

For the uninitiated, Terra Nova is about a project in which humans in 2149 have decimated the earth. Global warming, famine, wars, and drought are the order of the day. To combat these global ills, the beleaguered humans flee, not to a remote island oasis, but to the past…waaaay in the past. Every so often, a new group of colonists arrive at the prehistoric colony, Terra Nova, through a time warp. The colony is a mix of green living and modern technology enclosed in a giant fence that protects the group from hungry dinosaurs. The members of Terra Nova negotiate life among these giant lizards but also a rogue group called the Sixers who appear to see through the idealism of Terra Nova and hint at something more nefarious at work with the attempt to reboot society.

These less threatening dinosaurs take advantage of Terra Nova's vegetation.

In many ways, the series plays out like a post-apocalyptic disaster movie, even though the events take place before said apocalyptic disaster. As I mentioned earlier, in only a handful of episodes the series has addressed a wide array of issues and topics. Of course, environmentalism is at its core, as is green tech–from the seemingly sustainable construction materials to the hybrid sounding vehicles to laser weapons. The series also explores so much of the post-apocalyptic genre’s foundational concern: how we as humans (re)act to and move on when given the opportunity to hit the reset button. Like most post-apocalyptic narratives, Terra Nova reveals that humans bring all their pre-apocalyptic woes with them. The tension between the Terra Nova colonists and the racially encoded Sixers is telling. But life within Terra Nova itself is starting to reveal some chinks in the armor…which brings us to the aforementioned episode, “Bylaw.”

In this episode, the lead character, officer Jim Shannon (Jason O’Mara), investigates the death/murder of a soldier, Foster (Sweeney Young). He eventually learns that one of his fellow soldiers killed him to get out of a sizable debt that he owed him. The episode raises all sorts of questions about the appropriateness of the death (banishment) penalty and what justice would look like in such a small, close-knit community. Yet what caught my attention was the presence of a stole-clad priest (?) at the soldier’s funeral procession.

Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang) leads a member of the clergy and a group of mourners in Foster's funeral procession.

Far more interesting than Jurassic era denominationalism (what type of clergy is he?) is the notion that these inhabitants still cling to a notion of the Divine even though their presence in Terra Nova disrupts all traditional understandings of time. Reflecting on the series from a religious perspective, we know that many people believe that God reigns not only over all of creation but over time as well. God, in all God’s omniscience and omnipotence, will bring about the end of this world through a series of violent global events which will culminate in the triumph over evil and the arrival of a new heaven and a new earth. Millenial dispensationalists believe that we can see signs that point to this chronological development.

Other Christians, especially process theologians, question this theology and view of the world. Some claim take an alternate view of God’s omniscience and omnipotence. For many, God exists as future and possibility, luring us towards the Kingdom of God rather than pushing us. We are free to react as we will and, boldly put, these reactions influence the way God moves in the world. Christians who critique Rapture/Apocalypse theologies argue that a new heaven and a new earth will not magically pop out of thin air to replace the world we now know. This Biblical language describes the Kingdom of God in metaphorical terms and should inspire us to work for the creation of a new earth where we already abide, work that is extremely difficult given the ways in which we have negatively impacted our world from, simply put, pollution to injustice and inequality. The work of creating a new earth is far easier for the inhabitants of Terra Nova who benefit from time travel. But it is this sci-fi time travel that should inspire us to think more creatively about our future, the Kingdom of God, and our places in it.

A chronological teleological worldview is, on many levels, easy to swallow. However, this kind of circular experience that time travel allows in Terra Nova is a bit more interesting. Thinking science-fictionally, is God sovereign over time travel? Does God greet each arriving party to Terra Nova? How do we think and talk about God’s work in the world with respect to alternate views of the human experience of time? While many Christians are waiting for God to act violently in this world to bring about a new creation, perhaps God is waiting on humans to act peacefully to pave the way for Her return…giving us multiple opportunities to get it right in the process.

In many ways, the time travel lottery in Terra Nova raises more questions than it answers. For example, who gets to go and who gets to decide who gets to go? At the same time, however, it should encourage us to think about the ways in which we can push the re-set button on our current means of existence. It should force us to question how long our patterns of over-production and over-consumption can exist and what tragedies might await us if we do not exercise more sensible dominion over the gifts with which we have been entrusted. So does God greet the time travelers at Terra Nova? Perhaps. On the other hand, I believe it is safe to say that God definitely greets and embodies our every effort to create new, just communities here on earth, even as we face down our own dinosaurs of evil and injustice.