The Trouble With Tribbles

District Fellowship News

January, February 2010


Many, many years ago, the original TV series Star Trek introduced as one of its characters a seemingly innocuous furry creature named a “tribble.” Tribbles were basically balls of fur with no apparent appendages, orifices, or eyes that made a soothing trilling sound when they were content, and existed for two reasons; to eat and to reproduce. Although they seemed harmless enough, when they were introduced to a habitat with no natural predators, their numbers would skyrocket and they would quickly consume everything edible making them a menace to the survival of other species.

The writer of this episode, David Gerrold, took some of this idea from the real life introduction of rabbits into Australia in the 1800’s. British aristocrats brought rabbits to Australia for food and sport. At first they were kept caged, but eventually when some were released or escaped, the rabbits began to change the ecology of the continent, destroying habitats and causing the extinction or major decline of many native animals, and extensive damage to crops. The beginning of this scourge was the release of 24 wild rabbits in 1859 to provide sport for a landowner. Within 10 years, 2 million rabbits a year would be shot or trapped without any noticeable effect on the population. The problem became so bad that between 1901 and 1907 a 2000 mile long fence was built across Australia to at least stem the tide westward of the “harmless” beasts. By 1950, the rabbit population had increased to 600 million.

Well, this is certainly bad for Australia but what has this to do with us? Obviously, we don’t have any tribbles, and our rabbits are under control. Well, yes you are right on both counts. But this isn’t about whether we currently have tribbles but rather what we would do if those cute furry little creatures were found somewhere in the galaxy. We can hear the voices now: “They are so harmless. All creatures have a right to exist. Surely they can’t be harmful to us. They aren’t out of control in their natural habitat.” Those are probably some of the same things that were said when some men brought a new species to a continent because they thought it would be enjoyable to have something familiar to hunt, because they were used to having a rabbit or two for dinner. How much impact could it have anyhow? Yet look at the devastation. Native species destroyed, the landscape changed forever. And we are still doing it today. We will not check the spread of AIDS because we cannot bring ourselves to be prudent, control our behavior, limit our exposure. We still have individuals bringing diseased plants or animals, parasitic species, or those with no natural predators across borders or into virgin territory.

In the Old Testament, God was concerned about the spread of sinful practice and belief among the people of Israel. He gave the Israelite men specific instructions to refrain from marrying foreign women (those who would not denounce their gods and beliefs to follow YHWH). But what harm could come from these wonderful women who although different than the Israelites seemed so nice? Ideas can’t hurt anyone. And these beautiful young ladies would never put a spear in your back or suffocate you while you slept. The point is that God could see the destruction that is inevitable when two people with incredibly different foundational beliefs try to live as a family, try to raise and train children, live together as one. Soon the spiritual landscape is pockmarked with pits and crevices, what was once truth become entangled with other truths, and confusion sets in.

Sin can seem so innocuous at times that it appears as harmless as the rabbit appeared to the settlers of Australia, as cute and safe as a tribble to the crew of the Enterprise in Star Trek, as enjoyable as a piece of fruit to Adam and Eve. Yet the unforeseen consequences of introducing rabbits where there were no predators, eating fruit that was pleasing to the eye and yet forbidden, or marrying someone who has a totally different value system than you wreaks havoc for generations. Even though the danger doesn’t seem that great in the beginning, (it just seems like there are stupid guidelines we have to follow that are outdated and unenlightened), by the time we realize what we have unleashed it can be almost too late. Maybe you think playing with a little sin will be fun, maybe you think it will be therapeutic (like the alcoholic going to the bar every night and ordering a beer just to remind himself what he shouldn’t do), or maybe you don’t think it is that harmful, but remember the most innocent looking, apparently harmless things in life can cause you the most spiritual trouble.