Sunday, May 23, 2010

The End of LOST - And Why It Matters

Questions. Monsters. Numbers. Polar Bears. Lottery winners. Cons. And constants.

Tonight marks the end of Lost. It has lasted a strong six years. Critically acclaimed. Fanatic approved. It has been an addiction and fascination of mine for four years. I watched seasons 1-4 by myself, and even re-watched them with my wife. It became OUR show. Our pastime. Our conversations. All the way to the end.

The show is my obvious favorite for a number of reasons.

1. Characters. I've often said that the most real people I know are on Lost. Ok, so that may not technically be right, there is some truth to that statement. The characters act irrationally because of the baggage of their past. Daddy issues. Drug addictions. Incompetence. Arrogance. Bitterness. Betrayal. But more fascinating than their baggage is how they eventually develop and overcome their problems. Addict to hero (Charlie). Savior complex to servant (Jack). Coward to protector (Desmond). Overprotective to sacrificial (Michael).

2. Literary illusions and references. My favorite character is Desmond. I realized this when I realized that my favorite episodes were Desmond's episodes. His episodes would always step into the science fiction. Time travel. Precognition. Parallel universe. But there is more. His story reflects Odysseus' story. In Homer's epic, Odysseus travels the world, separated from his lovely Penelope (or Penny), and is stranded on an island for several years. While gone, Penelope's hand is requested for marriage by suitors. Do you remember how many? 108 (the sum of the Lost numbers. 4+8+15+16+23+42=108). The Lost writers are notorious for intertwining literature into their characters, stories and dilemmas. Stephen King. Charles Dickens. Wizard of Oz. Star Wars (and I LOVE the Star Wars references).

3. Those brilliant cliffhangers. Every episode. Almost anyway. Just about every episodes ends with a "Wait, what? WHAT?!" Sometimes cliffhangers for the sake of cliffhangers (Jack playing football with Tom). And others show masterful storytelling (an entire season built up on getting a hatch open, only to have the last few seconds of the season shot from inside the hatch looking out).

To contrast, I love hearing people talk negative about the show. Those who don't 'get it'.

"I turned it off after I saw the polar bears."
"They don't actually answer any of the questions."
"Jack was my favorite character until season 3. Then he became a jerk."
"The characters are lost? More like the audience that watches the show. They're the ones who are actually lost." Clever. How original.

I've even heard a handful of individuals Christian-ize the show.

But to Christian-ize the show is to lose what the writers had intended. The show is not about any one religion or one people group. It is about all of humanity.

Grecian mythology.
Character connections.

But most of all, central to the show, is the question that underlines all of humanity's ideology. The question of fate or free will. Are our steps our own? Or have our destinies been prewritten?

Do I have a soul mate? Or do I choose the most compatible person?
Was it her time to die? Or was she cheated with a short life?
Are some destined for greatness? Or do we make our own luck?
Are we in control? Or are we puppets on strings?

And so this fictitious television program asks the question that hits all too close to home. Is it fate or free will? Even several charcter names originate from philosophers who prominently debated on fate and free will (Jack Shepherd, John Locke, Jeremy Bentham, Desmond David Hume, Edmund Burke, Mikhail Bakunin, and Danielle Rousseau, C.S. Lewis, Anthony Cooper).

So to us, who are followers of Christ, how do we approach this question? Well, we have our own form of debate: Calvinism and Arminianism. And to be honest, I am unspeakably tired of this debate. I know that many people are. Calvinism is the idea that certain people are ordained and predestined to be saved by grace, and others aren't (fate). Arminianism is the response to Calvinism. Everyone freely chooses to accept or reject God's grace (free will).

You may already have a strong opinion on the subject. Or these terms may be new to you. Where do I stand? I'm glad you asked.

In theory, I don't know. I don't know which theological idea is truer or more biblical. But in practicality? In the everyday in's and out's? I fully trust that God is in control (fate). I believe that God has a great plan for my life (fate). Yet at the same time, I believe it is my responsibility to pursue wisdom, applying godly knowledge to make choices (free will). I constantly ask God and myself, 'What is the wisest and smartest thing to do in this situation? What is the wisest and smartest thing that I should pursue?' (free will). I believe that God is sovereign. Nothing that happens catches him off guard or surprised (fate). But I pray as if everything is depending on my prayer to change things (free will). I treat people as if my influence helps them decided if there is Jesus is real or not (free will).

I don't think it is either/or. I believe it is both/and. That may sound like a cop-out or simple answer to a complex question. But I believe otherwise. I think it is more challenging and complex to see the world this way. There is constant tension. A constant dissatisfaction of not knowing which.

It is fascinating to watch Lost characters Jack Shephard and John Locke live out this tension. Jack is rational, scientific and makes his own choices. Locke is driven by faith, superstition, instinct and fate. Fans know their catch phrases by heart:

Jack, "I have to fix this."
Locke, "This is my destiny."

Free will.

As the series comes to an end, the writers are not going to answer the question for us. "You thought it was fate, but look, it was free will the whole time." or "Gotcha, fate wins again!" Rather, they have put into words the question that so many people spend our lives asking.

Even those of us with the strongest opinions, when truly pressed, admit that we don't know for sure. So that tells me that truly knowing doesn't truly matter.

I can't wait for the finale. Sad to see my favorite show end.


1. How do you see fate and free will?

2. Did you like the finale?