Monthly Archives: November 2006

Lost in Translation: Spirituality on the TV Show “Lost” and the Christian Faith – Part 5

Part 5: Did Jesus Sin, and
Does It Matter Anyway?

For a television program, Lost deals a surprising amount with the idea of sin. All the characters on the show have a past, and in many cases they’ve done things they’re not proud of, things they’re still feeling the negative impact of, actions they’re either trying to forget or else wishing to atone for.

As I’ve mentioned previously, many episodes have centered on a particular individual, taking viewers back into their past, revealing some of the regrets they’ve brought with them to the island. In many cases it has seemed like events on the island might give the characters an opportunity to somehow redeem or atone for their past actions (although, I must confess that after the Nov. 1 episode, I’ve begun to wonder how much redemption there really is on Lost.)
While it’s good that Lost presents themes like sin, redemption, and providence (see “Lost in Translation 2: The Concept of Providence on Lost” below), there’s a huge piece missing from the spiritual puzzle presented there. That missing piece is (a sinless) Jesus. Without Christ there can be no redemption. (For more on why Christ is crucial in finding redemption, see “Lost in Translation 3” below.) And in fact, without a sinless Christ, there is no redemption.

If you’re wondering whether Jesus sinned or not, the Bible speaks clearly on this issue. The New Testament book of Hebrews states that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Christ faced all the same temptations we face. The difference is, He didn’t give in to those temptations as we are prone to do.
We cannot underestimate how important this fact is. Only a sinless man would have been capable of serving as an acceptable sacrifice to God offered on our behalf to cleanse us from sin. Take away Christ’s sinlessness and you take away his ability to save us.

That’s why Lost’s portrayal of Jesus as a sinner is such an egregious thing (see “Welcome to my Blog” below). For one thing, it’s a slap in the face to the holiness of Christ, to the holiness of God. Jesus was not a sinner. He was and is different from us in that way. And he deserves to receive the credit He’s due for having lived a perfect sinless life. (For more on the importance of holiness, see “Lost in Translation 3” below.)

I understand that the idea of a Christ who was a sinner just like the rest of us is appealing, because it would seem to make Him more accessible. If Jesus was a sinner then we may feel as though we can relate to him better. No longer does He seem like the angry God, out to punish us for our sins. If Jesus is a sinner, then maybe He’ll be compassionate instead of judging us.

The problem is, a Jesus who sinned cannot save us. What good is He to us then? In that case, Jesus was just another one of us. He might be able to relate to us, but He can’t help us. If Jesus was a sinner, then we’re all still in our sins, and therefore still under the wrath of God.

Yet thankfully, thought Jesus was a person like us, he wasn’t a sinner but lived the perfect, sinless life, and therefore was a suitable sacrifice capable of being substituted in our place. On the cross He received the punishment we deserved for our sins. Because of this, we’re no longer subject to the wrath of God if we place our trust in Him. And this was God’s plan and purpose all along in sending Christ, to provide a way for us to escape the wrath we deserve because of sin. As 2 Cor. 5:19 says,
“…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (RSV) It was God’s plan all along to redeem us and save us from punishment for our sin.

However, if Jesus was and is sinless, and righteous, and holy, then it might seem as though he cannot relate to us who are sinners. How can He possibly understand us? Won’t He be harsh with us?

The Bible addresses this issue. We find these comforting words in the book of Hebrews:

Hebrew 2:17-18 ~ 17 For this reason [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers [that is, human beings] in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

And again,

Heb 4:14-16 ~
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Jesus never sinned, but He was made just like us, which means He was subject to temptation, and the Word says He was indeed tempted, “in every way, just as we are,” and is therefore able to “sympathize with our weaknesses”. Jesus is able to relate to our weaknesses and temptations. Yet because He never succumbed to temptation, He is also capable of saving us!

This is the good news of the Christian message, that our sins can be redeemed, because of what Jesus Christ did in his death on the cross and in His resurrection. This is why the fact that Jesus was not a sinner is so important. And yet at the same time, because Jesus was a human being like us, He is able to relate to us in every way. That’s very comforting news, I think. Don’t you?

Thanks for reading today’s blog. My next topic will be: Good, Bad, or Ugly? The Eclectic Spirituality on Lost. Till then, be blessed!

Lost in Translation: The Spirituality of the TV Show “Lost” and the Christian Faith – Part 4

Part 4 – Guilt and Grace

In my last entry about the Nov. 1 episode I mentioned I had more to say on that topic. For those who are actually following my comments, my apologies for taking so long to post this continuation.The November 1 episode was disturbing in many ways, as I described in the last post. I want to highlight one other aspect I found disappointing as relates to Christian faith.

In this episode we were given a series of flashbacks on the life of Eko, the African drug lord who became a Catholic priest. In these flashbacks Eko’s numerous “sins” were detailed, along with the grief and guilt he had carried around in the years since.

At first it looked as if the treatment of Eko’s sins might be redemptive from a Christian standpoint. His involvement with the drug trade and then his subsequent murder of some of the leaders of the drug smugglers were shown in painful detail, and we were made to know that Eko had suffered a great deal over these acts. It appeared that at last Eko might have a chance to finally find forgiveness and lay the past to rest.

At the end, though, it all took a bizarre turn. Eko tells the apparition (hallucination?) of his dead brother (who was also a priest when he lived) that in fact he (Eko) has not sinned after all, he only did what he needed to do to survive. I found this twist in the story extremely disappointing, though not especially surprising given the history of the show.

Now please understand: I’m not judging Eko–if I may speak about him for a moment as if he were a real person. Of course, Eko’s not real, he’s just a character on a TV show. But he certainly could be real. From news reports we know there are many children in certain African nations who’ve been through exactly what Eko faced as a boy–being forced to kill an innocent bystander in order to satisfy an invading band of marauders and/or to save one or more loved ones. So even though Eko isn’t real, he represents a type of person that actually exists. The life situations he’s experienced are not a great stretch of the imagination.

That’s why I say I’m not judging Eko. Nothing in my own experience even comes remotely close to the horrors he’s been through. I can’t say I would handle such things any differently than he does.

But for him to say he hasn’t sinned because he was just doing what he needed to do to survive misses the point. Eko speaks from a thoroughly post-modern viewpoint when he says he hasn’t sinned, and in doing so he makes the same mistake many make today. Many people believe the way to overcome guilt is to redefine sin until one’s actions are no longer understood as wrong. Then they think they’re absolved. Much contemporary psychology seeks to deal with the issue of guilt in just this way.

The problem with this approach, though, is that it doesn’t do anything to actually deal with guilt, which is the result of sin. Really it’s only a form of rationalization, which doesn’t remove guilt at all, it only buries it.

Our bodies have pain receptors whose purpose is to notify us when we’ve injured ourselves. Imagine the damage we could do to our bodies if we didn’t feel physical pain? What if you broke your leg but didn’t feel any different? You might be inclined to go around with a broken leg and never seek medical attention. The pain motivates us to care for our bodies.

Guilt is to our souls what physical pain is to our bodies. Just as pain lets us know we’ve abused our bodies somehow, guilt alerts us that we’ve injured our spirits by acting in a way other than we were intended to. This is the way we were made by our loving creator. He gave us a conscience that serves as an early-warning system notifying us that something is not as it should be in our souls.

We would think it was ludicrous to deal with a broken limb by merely redefining what a healthy one is. “Oh, our legs were meant to be broken, and all that pain is just something we can ignore. Never mind the fact that you’ll have to live with a permanent deformity, and that you’ll never be able to walk again.” No, we wouldn’t settle for this solution for a moment.

Yet somehow we (post-)moderns have fallen prey to notion that in the realm of the spirit, things are not as neatly defined as they are in the physical realm. This is probably because our bodies are tangible and follow obvious and unchanging natural laws, while things in the realm of the soul are not so predictable. Nevertheless, the same God who made our physical bodies also created our spirits and souls, so it’s not unreasonable to imagine that just as our bodies were designed to operate in a certain way, so also are our inner selves.

The Bible is our “user’s manual,” if you will, given by God to show us how we function in the mysterious realm of the soul. And the Bible lets us know there’s only one way to overcome guilt: Admit the sin(s) that caused the guilt, and make a decision to turn away from those behavior(s). One of the letters in the Bible written by the apostle John tells us “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1: 9, NIV).

To confess sin is simply to admit it–admit we did it (to “come clean” in other words), and admit it was wrong, and to admit these things to God, and if necessary, to any others who were affected by the wrong that was done. My pastor puts it even more simply–he says to confess sin is to “agree with God” about the action.

When we admit our sin to God it’s amazing how freeing it is! It’s like a weight being lifted off your shoulders! After experiencing this freedom, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would avoid admitting their sin to God!

There’s one thing that keeps us from being willing to admit our sins, and that’s pride. We don’t like admitting we were wrong. And we don’t like having to submit to Someone Else’s standard of behavior.

But confession and repentance (turning away from sin) are the only way to really be free of guilt once and for all. To come clean. Just let it out.

Yet even that wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the death of Christ. Jesus died in our place to take upon himself the punishment we deserve for our sins, so we wouldn’t have to be condemned. This will be the topic of my next blog entry, so please stay tuned.

I’m disappointed that Lost took the all-too-predictable post-modern approach to dealing with the guilt of sin by trying to redefine it. It’s so unoriginal, and in the end, completely futile. Perhaps even Eko’s bizarre death is a testimony to that fact.

That’s tonight’s blog. Check you next time.

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming….

After seeing this past Wednesday night’s episode of Lost (Nov. 1) I had to interrupt the series I’ve been writing on the spirituality of the show to comment on this episode. All I can say is, Wow. Or maybe it should be, “Huh??!!?!???” I thought it was very strange (weird would be a better word).

This episode was also related to spirituality. And at first I thought things were headed in a positive direction. At the beginning Ben (a.k.a. “Henry Gale”–someone on another blog jokingly referred to him as “Benry”), the leader of “The Others,” marvels that Jack, who is a surgeon, showed up on the island just when Ben needed surgery to remove the tumor on his neck. Ben comments that “if that doesn’t show there’s a God, then I don’t know what does.” (Of course, I’m wondering whether Ben really has cancer or is–once again–only playing with Jack’s mind. Also, a statement like this coming from Ben is replete with ironic undertones in light of Ben’s sinister actions towards Jack and the other castaways captured by The Others. But all that’s a discussion for another blog.)

Then later in the episode we’re taken once again back into the past of Eko, the African drug lord turned Catholic priest. At first I thought the story was going to move in a redemptive direction here. We’re shown more of Eko’s past sins (and the characters actually use that word to describe them), as well as the remorse he felt many years. Clearly he’s been wrestling with these demons for a long time. Perhaps he’s finally going to be able to lay them to rest and find peace?

But then toward the end it all takes a very dark turn. (If you haven’t seen the episode yet and you don’t want the ending ruined, you might want to stop reading here until you’ve had a chance to watch it….) Eko finally claims he hasn’t sinned at all, he’s just done what he needed to do to survive; so he claims he has nothing to repent of.

Next thing we know, Eko is confronted again by the strange black fog-entity that has appeared in a few earlier episodes. The last time it confronted Eko he was able to send it on its way through something resembling spiritual warfare. When the entity appears again this time, Eko tries to rebuke it again as he did before. For a moment I was wondering if this might provide a good example or symbol of spiritual warfare.

But once again, the expected (or hoped for?) outcome was not to be. The black fog-entity grows very large and then takes a shape resembling a huge black hand, picks Eko up, and begins to smash him violently against the ground, until he’s finally near death.

So what are we to make of this bizarre twist? Is this supposed to be some kind of judgment on Eko for his refusal to repent? I’m inclined to doubt it, since the show doesn’t normally move in the direction of traditional Christian interpretations on spiritual matters.

A friend tells me some Lost enthusiasts speculate that the black fog-entity is actually a man-made creation using nano-technology, and is perhaps being manipulated by whoever is still on the island related to the Dharma initiative. Could be, I suppose….

Then there’s John Locke’s statement at the close of the episode. Eko whispers something just before he dies, and John leans down to hear it. Another character asks him what Eko said, and John replies, “He said that we’re next.” This would seem to imply that whatever the fog-entity is, it’s an evil force on the island that’s out to harm (kill?) the people there. This would put the entity in the “monster” category….

I must say, though, that whether the show’s writers mean it or not, to me the black entity seems like a representation of the demonic, specifically in terms of how the devil would like to be viewed–powerful, life-threatening, unstoppable, and arousing fear. Is the message of Lost that evil is stronger than good and will prevail in the end, despite all the efforts of human beings to bring about good?

It’s too soon to tell. But I will say I’m starting to wonder. Every time it looks like something good is about to happen on the show, there’s a sudden twist and evil happens instead. Think about how many key characters have been suddenly and cruelly murdered so far. Is this what we have to look forward to? Is this the answer the writers have to the mysteries of the show–that slowly all the characters are going kill each other off one by one? Is this what we have to look forward to? As I said, it’s too soon to tell. But I’m starting to wonder. (From what little I’ve read on the internet, apparently others are wondering, too….)

I read part of an interesting blog about this episode by a couple of writers for the Washington Post, which you can access at this URL (you can copy and paste it into your web browser, just be sure to remove the hard return before the word “lost_” so it all goes onto one line):

The views expressed there are not necessarily my own. But it provides some helpful background in terms of better understanding the Nov. 1 episode for people like me who’ve missed some episodes along the way.

One interesting thing they point out is that one of the co-creators of Lost has ties to Tom Cruise, and that the teachings of Scientology may influence the spiritual themes presented in the show. If this is true, it might explain some of the things I’ve been pondering in my other blog entries….

Well, I have a little more to say about this episode, but it’s past my bed time, so I’m going to sign off for now. If you saw the episode in question feel free to post a comment so we can get your take on this bizarre plot twist on Lost.

P.S. – My work schedule has changed, so I may have less time to work on these posts, meaning they may become more infrequent. Please keep checking back, though, because I will continue posting. Also, I’m hoping to add a link on here soon where anyone interested can subscribe to my blog and receive notice when I make a new entry.

Blessings! ~ Morgan