The popular ABC television series Lost
will conclude with its final episode this Sunday, May 23rd. The series is a potpourri of esoteric and philosophical ideas, physics and metaphysics, all packaged as a fantasy science fiction adventure drama. In other words, since its debut in 2004 there has been an awful lot happening on Lost.
The story commenced with a plane crash on an uncharted tropical island. There were 71 survivors from which 14 characters would emerge as the primary participants in the plot. Because of this relatively large ensemble, multiple story arcs, the use of flash backs and flash forwards, Lost
is more that just a little difficult to summarize. The series creates a fully imagined world and one must enter into this peculiar world in order to fully appreciate its detail. The storylines immerse the characters into the deeper questions of human existence: Why am I here? Is there a purpose for one’s life? How does one discern good from evil? Insights in regards these and other questions of significance are expressed in relation to an underlying meta-narrative which is best described as dualistic or dialectical- destiny versus free will, faith versus skepticism, individual versus community, metaphysics versus physics, nature versus nurture. All the featured characters are finding their way through this world and in the process discovering their identities in relation to a context and mission that they had, before the plane crash, barely considered, if at all.
There has been considerable speculation over the years in regards to the “meaning” of the series. Early ideas, such as the identity of the island as a kind of purgatory, from which characters could only be liberated by accomplishing a redemptive act were dismissed by the show’s creators. If the island upon which the characters are languishing is not purgatory (or hell) it did seem to be a place charged with spiritual significance. The show’s storylines were occasionally overtly religious, but the series seemed most theologically deep when the current of religious faith remained just beneath the surface, appearing only in climactic moments and remaining for the most part unexplained. Self- discovery seemed to always be linked to the many times harsh revelation of a purpose that was more important than what a particular character either expected or wanted. The island seemed to have an intentionality of its own that facilitated this transformation. If I was pressed to describe the spiritual atmosphere of the show, I would call it “generalist,” meaning that what was presented as the show’s underlying metaphysics were a sampling of theological ideas and cultural symbols that indicated a spiritual power active on the island and in the lives of the characters that was both transcendent and immanent, but never clearly named.
This lack of specificity was revealed recently to be a strategy by the show’s creators.
The island is an image of God and the characters' relationships to the island are all in some way about a relationship, not just to a place, but to Him. The creators of Lost
thought that speaking in specific terms about God and the characters' relationships to him would have been off-putting to the secularized demographics who find overt religious messaging to be out of bounds. However, before we become excited that America has been delighting in a televised hour of theology and spirituality for several years, what is this God that is presented on Lost
? It would seem, that the God of Lost
may be more unlike the God of Christian Faith than like him, as it appears to be a being in the world (a strange species of light and electro-magnetism), who, if the impressions of one of the principle characters in a recent episode are right, seems to need us. All this means two strikes against the God of Lost
being the God of Christian revelation. We might see glimpses of the mysterious ways of the Biblical God in Lost
, but in the end, it seems that we are seeing the divine only in a glass darkly, rather than face to face.
Father Steve Grunow is the Assistant Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.