Screengrab from YouTube


Super spoilers ahead!  Don’t read this if you plan to watch the last episode of Picard and haven’t done so.

GEORGE TOWN: Former director of the Third World Network and The Star columnist Martin Khor Kok Peng has died.

He had been ill for several years and had returned to Penang to receive treatment and fight cancer, where he passed away Wednesday (April 1).

Born in 1951 in Penang, Khor was active in civil society movements.

A journalist, economist and the former director of advocacy group for Third World societies, Third World Network based in Penang, he taught at Universiti Sains Malaysia and played a leading role in the Third World Network before heading the South Centre in Geneva.

Khor was a columnist for The Star from 1978 to 2019.

Read the above notice on April 1st. I felt profoundly sad though I didn’t know Martin Khor personally. But I know the family and some members of the family are my friends. We also came from the same school, the St Xavier’s Institution, Penang. I am proud of the many Xaverians who give their lives to make a difference in the world. I noted that he was born in 1951, only four years my senior. So young! Bernice and I suspected it must have been cancer (we had read an earlier Facebook notice where cause of death was not mentioned) and it turned out that it was. I am not sure if the death ended his pain, but I don’t see death as a friend. It takes away people we care for. It takes away beings made in the image of God.

Bernice and I know firsthand the pain of death. We have lost a number of loved ones. We also know the danger of looking at death purely as numbers, for example the daily tally of deaths from Covid-19. Numbers numb us to the horror and sadness of death. Which is why I felt the last episode of Picard was just not honest.

Towards the end of the episode, Picard has to end the existence of his old friend and colleague Data. Well, by then, Data was existing electronically and he had requested for Picard to commit this act of electronic euthanasia. (I confess this is a simplification of what happened but I believe it captures the gist of the exchange.) As Picard terminates Data’s “existence”, Picard makes this speech, ending with a quote from Shakespeare’s Tempest.

“It says a great deal about the mind of Commander Data that looking at the human race, with all its violence and corruption and willful ignorance, he could still see kindness, immense curiosity, and greatness of spirit, and he wanted more than anything else, to be part of that. To be a part of the human family. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

It’s a speech that notes Data’s desire to be human and I argued in my piece on the movie Star Trek: Nemesis (2002), his decision to die so that Picard could live made him more human than most humans though he was an android. But it was Picard’s romanticising of death, just “a sleep”, that didn’t ring true. It didn’t ring true because Picard himself doesn’t die, not really. He doesn’t go gently into his own sleep. He dies from some brain abnormality, but lives again, his memory housed in an artificial body. Indeed, at the end of the episode, his adventures continue. Death is not the end for him; that would not have been a happy ending. (It would also mean no second season.) But death is an enemy. Death means no happy ending no matter how one tries to romanticise it.

Today is Good Friday, a day when the church remembers the death of Jesus Christ. It’s very important that we remember that He really died.

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. (John 19:31–34 NIV)

In the early days of my widowhood many tried to comfort me. But the ones who were of any real help were fellow widowers who had walked a similar valley. If Jesus claims to be able to guide me out of death into life I need to know He knows the terrain. I need to know that He has met the final enemy and has defeated it. (We remember that on Easter Sunday.)

So, as I grieve for the loss of Martin Khor and the many others who have passed on, I think of Jesus’ own death. This is no Saviour who tries to rescue us from a distance. He enters into our darkness to lead us out. I have been preaching on “Jesus Calms the Storm” (Mark 4:35–41) a lot recently. During my latest sermon, I noticed that Jesus was with the disciples in the storm and then He leads them safe to the other side. He is with us in death. Then He leads us to life. There is a happy ending with Christ.