My three-year-old sometimes watches Star Trek with me and, bless her heart, actually thinks it’s cool. A while ago we watched the notorious Gorn episode, in which Captain Kirk does battle with some unfortunate guy in a rubber lizard-man suit. The Gorn lumbers about hopelessly, almost in slow motion; according to Trek lore, the actor could barely move in the suit and was supposed to be sped up in post-production, but somehow that never happened. 

Ellie was smitten. The Gorn (now portrayed by yours truly, albeit sans rubber suit) immediately became the villain of choice in all of our imaginary adventures together, responsible for such dastardly deeds as kidnapping stuffed kitties and setting off tickle bombs. Great stuff, but clearly the Gorn needed a heroic science-fiction-inspired counterpart. 

The answer came shortly afterwards in the form of a St. Louis Science Center refrigerator magnet featuring a cartoon Tyrannosaurus rex in astronaut gear. Thus were elegantly combined Ellie’s two great passions — dinosaurs and outer space — and thus was born my alter ego, Captain T-Rex. 

Captain T-Rex sounds like he’s trying to sound like Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear. He pilots spaceships and submarines. He fights Gorns. He saves kitties trapped on Mars (and occasionally Neptune). In my opinion, he talks a really big game for someone who pretty much constantly requires help from his trusty cadet, Cat Girl — but my daughter, bless her heart, thinks he is the epitome of cool. 

When we pray together as a family, we reserve some time at the end for “thank-yous.” Ellie’s tend to go like this: “Thank you for kitties, puppies, outer space, baby Hannah, mommy … and Captain T-Rex!” “I love you mommy,” she often says at the end of the day, “and I love you, Captain T-Rex.” 

Naturally, I became upset after a while. Captain T-Rex was clearly outbidding me for my daughter’s affection. I would frequently complain to my wife that “Ellie likes a character that I play more than she likes me.”

That, of course, is true. But after some time passed I realized that I was being treated to a first-rate illustration of the doctrine of imputation. At least sometimes, when my daughter sees me, she doesn’t see a guy who disappears for hours every day into the basement to “work,” doing heaven knows what, only to re-emerge and drone on interminably about such stupefyingly dull incomprehensibilities as “the bond market,” “the state of the white evangelical church,” and “laundry.” Instead, she sees the best thing she can possibly think of: a dadgum dinosaur astronaut. “He’s a better captain than Kirk,” she once said, brazenly. 

From “Dinosaur Rocket,” by Penny Dale

But, then again, imputation is inherently brazen. It’s the idea that God looks upon us, knowing full well the depths of our dishonesty, greed, and fear, and decides that in Jesus Christ we are the best thing he can possibly think of: his holy and righteous children, able to stand before him without an ounce of shame. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (1 Jn 3:1). 

And that is indeed what we are, and not just a part we play. On the level of empirical data, it makes no more sense to say that I am righteous than it does to say that I’m a spacefaring Tyrannosaurus. But while the latter is a joyous fiction, the former is as true as it gets. That’s because God doesn’t pretend that we’re righteous — he makes it so through our union with Christ, who takes our filth in exchange for his goodness. What God has put together, no one can tear asunder. And that is pretty much the best thing I can possibly think of.