You wake up on a spaceship. It’s dark and there are sirens blaring. You have no idea where you are…or who you are. Yet you still know how to speak, fight, and even operate machinery that you don’t think you should understand. And you’re not the only one; a handful of others wake up in the same situation. The big question is: who are you?
Without your identity, you have no idea what you are supposed to be doing, or where to go. Do you have a home to get back to? A mission that was jeopardized? You do not know how long you were in the deep sleep nor why you ended up there in the first place. Until you know who you are, you will have nowhere to go, no one to turn to, and no idea what step to take next.
So you make it your mission to dig up any information you can. Searching through the ship’s databases and files, you eventually find some relevant information, but it’s not what you were hoping for. You, and this crew, are the most wanted criminals in the galaxy.
That is the premise of Dark Matter, my most recent foray into the world of Canadian sci-fi shows. Once the crew of the Raza (that’s the name of the ship) realize who they are, the theme of identity becomes integral to the storyline of the whole series. Everything that the crew does revolves around their knowledge of who they were. They are constantly struggling with each other and themselves to figure out whether it is possible to change who they once were.
Is character inherent or informed by one’s life? Can people change if given the chance?
The answer is complicated, because life is complicated. The characters don’t stop trying to learn about their past because it was bad. Instead, they want to understand why; in some cases, this leads them back to familiar patterns. They also develop superficial judgments of one another based on the few facts they do have and the things that they have witnessed since their reawakening.
Every time they come into closer contact with their past, the choice to change becomes that much harder. Even still, there is a choice. There is always a choice. When they re-examine their history, piece by piece, they see that they have all made wrong choices that led them farther into the cold, dark place from which they awoke.
When (slight spoiler alert!) several of the characters are presented with the chance to restore their memories, only one goes through with it. And while he claims that he is the same man they have known all this time, his inability to let go of his past and his need for revenge changes him utterly.
Once the slate was wiped clean, they had a chance to start over. Once they had no memory of the things they had done and experienced, both good and bad, it gave them the freedom to leave all of their darkness behind.
What does this tells us?
This tells us that all of the things in our lives that we regret, that we know were wrong, do not have to determine who we become. This tells us that we can change, but it won’t be easy. Starting over requires a clean slate. Unfortunately — or, perhaps, fortunately — wiping our memories is not really an option. How, then, can we erase all of the problems of our past?
The truth is, we can’t. On our own, there is no way that we can ever undo or forget all of the wrongs in our past. However, God offers us forgiveness and a fresh start. When we become believers, God makes us new. This doesn’t change the fact that we were (and still are) sinners, and that’s okay! Without the knowledge of everything we’ve done before, we would have no measure of how far we have come. Like the characters in the show, we cannot pretend that our pasts do not exist. The effects of our behaviours do not magically right themselves, nor does history erase itself.
Rather, the knowledge of who we used to be helps us recognize how God’s grace is changing us and how it gives us the opportunity to grow. This knowledge is not always an easy burden to bear, but God lightens the load by relieving us of the weight of that sin. What this means is that our past is still our past, but God gives us a clean break. He takes the guilt away and pardons our mistakes and, in doing so, God presents us with the opportunity to have a new life in him.
When we look back at our past and realize how deep the darkness was, how much we hurt ourselves and others, it gives us a better perspective to see how fortunate we are to have been given a second chance. As we remember that we have been granted a new beginning, we can take the opportunity, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to make better choices.
And unlike the crew of the Raza, we don’t have to do this alone. Even though they desire to be better, they still make the wrong decisions sometimes, because there is no one with the authority to tell them what is right. We, however, are given the help of the Holy Spirit, who is God in us, and he guides us down the right path. See, God doesn’t just give us this great opportunity and then walk out on us. His Spirit lives in us, making us more like him. He gives us the strength to overcome our darkness and to live a life that demonstrates selflessness, generosity, and love. God wants to help us move beyond the troubles of our past.
With God, there is always a chance to change.