In this age of fragmentation with regard to entertainment choices, it is increasingly rare for a single television show to stir up as much conversation as has Lost. Likewise, when most television shows specialize in serving up a great big dish of fluff, it is rare to see a show address the philosophical and spiritual dimensions of life’s biggest questions.
Lost was groundbreaking in many ways, and it will certainly take its place in history as one of the most thought-provoking dramas to grace the airwaves. It was not perfect (remember the sluggish pace of Season 3 or the introduction of Nikki and Paulo?), but I’m confident that it will be remembered for setting a new standard for television drama.
What are some lessons that Christians can take away from this pop culture phenomenon?
1. People are interested in the big questions of life.
Though many strategies for growing the church have recommended that preachers shy away from deep questions in favor of practical advice for daily living, Lost demonstrates that a large segment of the American population (particularly in the age range 18-39) hungers for answers to deep philosophical and spiritual questions.
- Is there good and evil?
- How do human free will and divine sovereignty work together?
- Are people basically good or evil?
- Is there hope for redemption?
- What happens when someone dies?
- Do our present choices affect our future decisions?
- Is there an afterlife?
Lost didn’t answer these questions well, and often, the answers given were contradictory. Nevertheless, the show was bold enough to ask these questions and expect the audience to think. Surely the church must not sit back and allow the convoluted worldviews of Hollywood to be the primary formative influence regarding these questions.
2. People are looking for the purpose behind pain and suffering.
One of the central questions posed by Lost was whether there was a reason for the plane crash and for these particular people to be placed on this particular island. Ironically, though the show was quite postmodern in its sensibilities (especially in the way it was often difficult to decipher who was good and evil), Lost continued to appeal to audiences by offering “answers” to questions about the purpose behind the main characters’ travails.
Can what is intended for evil be turned to good? Lost tried to demonstrate how multiple “bad events” could bring about good consequences. The church, however, has the incomparable cross of Christ, where – within the greatest evil ever committed – God the Son provides the sacrifice for human sin and becomes the catalyst for cosmic restoration.
3. There is a crisis of fatherhood today that has caused immeasurable pain, sorrow and anger.
Lost often centered on the “daddy issues” in the back stories of many of the characters.
- Jack and Claire’s father was a perfectionist who drilled inferiority into his son and eventually became a philandering drunk.
- Kate’s drunken father abused and terrorized her mother.
- Locke’s father was absent for most of his life, reappearing only to take advantage of him in a sickening way.
- Hurley’s father was absentee.
- Ben’s father blamed him for his wife’s death.
- Sun’s father was a hard-working tyrant.
- Eko’s father instilled violence in his children.
Most disturbing was that, in some cases, the main characters’ anger toward their dads led them to patricide (Kate, Locke, Ben). Lost presents a frightening picture of what takes place when the biblical vision of manhood and fatherhood is abandoned. Suffering, anger, pain and violence are left in the wake of a father’s abdication of responsibility.
4. People long to be part of a story bigger than their personal story, but which is able to incorporate and add meaning to their individual experiences.
Lost was known for including hundreds of seemingly insignificant details, which merely encouraged fans to try and put the pieces together to see how they might fit into the big picture. Even when our favorite characters died or the show’s plotlines turned bizarre, fans believed that there was a purpose behind all the pain and suffering.
Lost didn’t always succeed in this area. As the seasons progressed, the complexity of the storyline often dwarfed the individual plotlines. Character development suffered. Yet fans continued to watch, hoping that the characters’ stories would make sense within the overall picture that the Lost writers were creating.
Why did Lost strike such a chord? Because this desire for meaning and purpose behind our individual stories is very much wired into us as humans. Lost never fully succeeded at satisfactorily tying the stories together into the show’s meta-narrative. But there is one Story that will.
The Christian faith teaches that we are part of a Story that is about Jesus Christ, the King of the universe. The slain Lamb is the conquering king – through whom and for whom our world exists.
Ironically, when we live as if our personal story is at the center of our universe, we struggle to find meaning and significance. But when Christ is at the center and we are pushed to the periphery, it is then – in that place of seeming obscurity and insignificance – that we find true worth and value, by giving glory to the King with whom we can become united through faith.
At the great finale of the history of this world, when the King returns and subdues everything under his feet, when God becomes all in all and sums up everything in Christ, all of this world’s suffering and pain, all of our unanswered questions will be resolved in light of the God who comes to dwell with man and wipe every tear from every eye.
Now that is a finale worth waiting for!