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.

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