Part 2: “The Island Made Me Do It” –
The Concept of Providence on Lost
(Please see Part 1, below, for the introduction to this series.)
In my last post I pointed out that one of the characters who conveys the spiritual themes on Lost is the bald-headed man John. Often smiling, with an almost-wild but apparently- benevolent gleam in his eye, John confidently claims that everything on the island is unfolding as it’s supposed to, guided by an unseen hand. Now John’s faith has been tested, mind you, but as a result of his recent experiences in the underground compound (which I won’t go into here), his faith has been restored.
John’s belief that everything on the island is happening for a reason is similar to what theologians back in the old days used to call providence. Simply put, in Christian belief, Providence is the idea that God is watching over and guiding the things that happen in our lives for our good, according to His larger purposes. But for John, is it really God who’s guiding…?
As I pointed out last time, on Lost John’s past is still unfolding before us; in fact, he was the character featured in last week’s episode (October 18). What we learned about John early on in the series was that before the plane crash he was confined to a wheelchair, crippled. However, when he awoke after the crash he was mysteriously healed. This miracle has revived John’s faith.
The question is, faith in what? Interestingly enough, John is convinced that the island itself has made him able to walk again, and he believes the island is somehow overseeing the events taking place in the lives of each of the castaways.
Sin and redemption are prevalent themes on Lost. The events occurring in each person’s life offer opportunities to atone for sins committed earlier in their lives, before they came to the island. And the sins in these characters’ pasts are not lightweight. More than one has committed murder, some were involved in adulterous affairs, some sold drugs, others simply suffered from broken relationships and broken hearts. Now, here on the island, they seem to be offered a chance to reflect, see their mistakes, and make some sort of restitution, or at least learn from the past. (I plan to write more about sin and redemption on Lost in a future post.)
John believes the island itself is overseeing all this redemption. The island has brought them all there, and has done so for a specific purpose, and it’s their destiny to fulfill the island’s intentions. In the October 18th episode, when John has a vision that turns out to be prophetic, he believes the island has given him the vision, and is leading them all towards some higher purpose.
It’s unclear whether as viewers we’re supposed to accept John’s assessment of the origin of these events, or whether it even matters. Some might say the island is intended to be symbolic, representing divine activity, providence, and intervention. However, this may be giving more credit to the show’s writers than is due. Incredibly, there are thoughtful people these days who actually attribute volitional and intelligent supernatural guidance and activity to inanimate objects (like an island).
As long ago as the year 2000 I remember a conversation with a coworker at the telephone company where I worked back then, a smart, educated young woman of about 30, who kept talking about everything “the universe” was doing for her. “The universe” was guiding her and had clearly caused certain events to happen in her life, and she believed that “the universe” had good intentions for her. Since then I’ve heard others make similar references to this sort of New Age belief in guidance from an impersonal universe.
I must confess I can’t quite grasp why some consider it ludicrous to believe in a personal God who oversees life events, but see it as reasonable to think “the universe” is capable of providential guidance. The universe is an inanimate object. It doesn’t have a mind, a heart, or a will. It can’t make decisions, and it certainly can’t manipulate or control anyone’s destiny.
The same is true with “the island” on Lost. An island can’t cause events to happen, or bring redemption, or give someone a prophetic dream. Only a living, intelligent, complex, and powerful Being like God can do that. Could it be this idea of guidance by inanimate objects is an example of the sinful human tendency spoken of by the apostle Paul to “worship and serve created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25, NIV)?
The universe and every island in the world were created by a personal God who is capable of these things. He has a mind that thinks, a heart that feels and loves, and a will that makes decisions. In fact, God is the ultimate Mind, Heart, and Will. Why put one’s trust in “the universe,” when you can trust in the loving God who made the universe?
Maybe the reason some prefer to think in terms of guidance from created objects is that an island, or even a neutral universe, is less threatening than a personal God who watches over us with expectations. What is forgotten (or not believed) is that the God who truly is our “guide and stay” is a God of love more than a God of judgment.
The Bible offers the comforting message that “…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor 5:19, RSV). “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned…” (John 3:17-18 NIV). God loves us all, and we can trust him with our lives. In fact, the Bible promises that if we do, we will be saved and have eternal life.
That’s because Christ is the Doorway to forever.
And that’s today’s blog. Thanks for reading!
NEXT UP ~ Lost and the loss of holiness in American spirituality. See you next time!