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The Gospel According to Lost

on Mon, 05/24/2010 - 00:00

The beauty of the ABC drama Lost is that it can mean many different things to many different people. With its large cast and sprawling narrative, numerous religious, literary, philosophical and scientific references and varied story-arcs ranging from adventure to romance to science fiction, the series has something for everyone and is open to personal interpretation more than any other show in the history of television. And while a statue of the Egyptian goddess Taweret and an ancient, mystical protector of the island named Jacob may appear out-of-place within the realms of Christianity, Lost still contains enough symbolic references and universal concepts for modern-day believers to find meaning within the show’s confines as well.

At least three books have been published since Lost premiered in 2004 that explore the series from a Christian perspective—Lost: A Search for Meaning (Chalice Press, 2006) by Christian Piatt; What Can Be Found In Lost (Harvest House Publishers, 2008) by John Ankerberg and Dillon Burroughs; and The Gospel According to Lost (Thomas Nelson, 2009) by Chris Seay. While all three rely heavily on theology to complement their thesis, the latter offers more insight into the characters of the show and serves as an effective analysis of Lost regardless of one’s religious beliefs.

Chris Seay had an advantage over the other authors by writing The Gospel According to Lost after the fifth season of the show, which featured a finale that spun the series into a mythic battle of good-versus-evil as personified by Jacob and the Man In Black. Although Lost had alluded to such a dual concept from the very beginning—John Locke, after all, explained the game of Backgammon as “two players, two sides” and that “one is light, one is dark” in the pilot episode—it wasn’t until “The Incident” that the true meaning came into focus. Seay points out, however, that the battle between these “two sides” had been raging in various forms long before Jacob and his counterpart were ever actually seen on screen.

“The show uses this concept of duality to communicate the idea of epic and personal struggle,” he writes. “The struggle that pits us against each other, against God, and even what lies deep within ourselves. Ultimately, this may be what it is about Lost that rings particularly true—we are filled with good and evil, our motives are mixed, and a battle is being waged within each of us on a daily basis.”

The characters on Lost appear to have been losing that battle before they even arrived on the island. They were, in essence, “lost” in regards to their own lives—Jack Shephard had a flawed internal drive to “fix things”; Hugo “Hurley” Reyes believed he was cursed; Kate Austin was a fugitive on the run; Sayid Jarrah was a former torturer for the Iraqi Republican Guard; John Locke was a perennial loser who yearned to be “special”; and James “Sawyer” Ford was a conman out to revenge the death of his parents. The list goes on, but each of the Lostaways were flawed and trapped in a pre-crash life that held no true meaning for them.

“I didn’t pluck any of you out a happy existence,” Jacob tells them in season six. “I chose you because you were like me. You were all alone. You were all looking for something that you couldn’t find out there. I chose you because you needed this place as much as it needed you.”

Although Chris Seay wrote his book before those words were spoken, they still resonate throughout The Gospel According to Lost. The author points out on more than one occasion that Jesus spent a large portion of his time mingling with the Biblical equivalents of the characters from Lost. “In scandal after scandal, Jesus chose bad guys and sickos as friends and supporters, and true to form, they failed him, time and again,” he writes. “Jesus knew what troubled beginnings were all about.”

Jesus also knew about second chances and the power of redemption. The New Testament is filled with parables about lost sheep and prodigal sons and how they were eventually welcomed back into the flock once they were no longer lost. In this sense, the ABC drama is a parable itself as each of these flawed characters have grown during their time on the island and found some version of personal redemption along the way. While many of those moments have been grand in scale, like the life-sacrifices made by both Charlie Pace and Sayid Jarrah, many are more subtle and have developed over time. The final season of the show even put those changes in perspective by following a flashsideways world along with its main season-long story arc—the personal growth of Kate Austin and James “Sawyer” Ford, to name just two characters, are more strikingly evident when these two competing timelines are seen side-by-side.

Chris Seay also argues that the concept of “love” plays a major role in Lost, as well as within Christianity. Although there are many examples of romance within the show, from Jin and Sun to Rose and Bernard, it is the relationship of Desmond Hume and Penelope Widmore that most personifies the positive driving force that love can be in someone’s life. Desmond and Penny had more than their fair share of bumps on their road to romance, but neither ever truly stopped believing that they belonged with each other. The obstacles preventing them from being together have been equally numerous—from Desmond’s feeling of unworthiness, Penny’s wealthy father being against the relationship and Desmond being trapped on Lost Island—and their quest for happiness has been as epic as any Greek myth. As The Gospel According to Lost points out, the feelings between Desmond and Penny “is not limited to romantic love but instead recalls the scope and magnitude of love in general.”

On the flip-side of the equation is Benjamin Linus, the murderous one-time leader of the Others. Chris Seay points out that actual love has never been a part of Ben’s life, and that it might be the missing ingredient that has painted his character so morally ambiguous. Ben’s paternal father, after all, continually resented his son while Ben’s spiritual father Jacob displayed nothing but indifference towards him. Both of these father figures ultimately met their demise at the hands of Benjamin Linus in scenes that were both poignant and even Biblical in nature.

“It is love that illuminates the rest of life with purpose and meaning,” Seay writes. “Without it, life becomes a set of rules and lists that we must complete.”

In the end, Lost is not a Christian show, nor a show advocating any particular religious belief. But is also not a typical television show—its story is grander, more epic and the series itself tackles such universal concepts as faith, belief, love and redemption in ways never before seen. In this sense, Lost is not about any one religion because the questions it raises and explores resonate with all religions; they are the essence of what makes us human. And while Chris Seay puts a clearly Christian spin on the series, the universality of the topics he discusses makes The Gospel According to Lost an enjoyable read for any member of the Lost faithful, regardless of orientation.

Anthony Letizia (May 24, 2010)

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