Those who know Firefly know it well. They don’t need a synopsis, which is good because I could never do it justice. We love Firefly because it’s about creating family in a broken world. It begins with the Battle of Serenity Valley where Sgt. Malcolm Reynolds and his fellow Browncoats are defeated by the Alliance. But the battle was not the only thing lost in Serenity Valley that day.
During the battle Mal barks the order to call in some go-ram air support. We see—as he kisses his crucifix and tells a petrified solder that God won’t let them die because they’re too pretty—that he was looking for two types of support from above, one from the Browncoats and one from God.
In an alternate opening that didn’t have enough action for Fox medical ships finally arrive to care for the wounded after the crushing defeat. Zoe thanks God for them, but Mal spits out some bitter response informing us that God’s help was—from Mal’s perspective—too little, too late. We get that message anyway later when Mal tells Shepherd Book that he is welcome on the ship, but Shepherd’s God isn’t.
It’s easy to relate to Mal (portrayed brilliantly by Nathan Fillion). We’ve all had disappointments. We all see the brokenness of the world, the injustice, the cruelty. River Tam proves to us that the Alliance is not just inefficient. It is a great bully, showing no pity, stopping at nothing to achieve its ends, breaking real people. River Tam’s father and mother abandoned her, sided with the Alliance. Joss is pointing out that God’s authority structure is itself broken and it is breaking people’s hearts. By contrast, the Companion is the respected one. To fit in with this system you have to prostitute yourself.
Jesus slept in the boat during a dangerous storm and his disciples woke him up and asked him, “Don’t you care if we drown?” The prophet Habakkuk prayed, “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted (Habakkuk 1:2–4 NIV84).” Taking our punishment on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
God is not the Sky Bully. Free will cuts every which way. The community of God from all eternity has been completely committed to one another in love. God created us in his image with a free will. We have chosen to turn away and all kind of dysfunction has followed, but God has provided forgiveness for us in Jesus. He is the way for us to enter this family of love. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:29–30 NIV84).”
We can hold on to our bitterness. We can rail against God for failing us, but there is a Shepherd traveling with us on our journey. That Shepherd is spoken of in the Book and he is reaching out to each one of us right now.