The Theology Of … is a series in which we tell parents about the overt or subtle spiritual worlds of various popular media. Each article will explain the theological landscape of a relevant series, and when appropriate, we’ll provide ways for parents to use said content as a way to teach their child about Christian theology.
Lost in extremely interested in theology. In fact, Lost is so deeply spiritual that we decided that the series would be the first TV show we would cover in our Theology Of series. And so we did in our first blog on the show.
But because there’s just too much to cover for one blog, we broke our talk on Lost into two parts so that we could cover as much as possible.
In our first blog, we covered the show’s basic supernatural backdrop and gave you some ways to connect that backdrop with the Christian faith. In this blog, we’re going to dive deeper into the spiritual topics that dot the show’s landscape throughout the whole series—the ones that, even though they don’t make up the skeleton of the show, are still important topics. And then, we’ll take a quick look at the show’s few explicit references to Christian theology and dissect them for truth or error.
Lost’s Spiritual Topics of Importance
Destiny and Free Will:
Many characters, particularly John Locke, are convinced that they are destined to do various things. Some characters who believe in destiny lose their belief later on, while skeptics in the show later start to believe in it. In some ways, it is confirmed that the characters are destined to do things: some are destined to die, others are destined to fall in love, for instance. When time travel becomes a key element in Season Five, the survivors eventually conclude that it’s impossible to do anything that changes the past. Other characters eventually learn that they cannot die until they fulfill their destiny. As antagonist Ben Linus comments on one character’s death: “There she was—handpicked by Jacob, trained to come and protect you candidates. No sooner does she tell you who you are, then she blows up. The island was done with her. Makes me wonder what’s gonna happen when it’s done with us.”
Indeed, while not invested with godlike power, Jacob seems to have many abilities that allow him to, as he puts it, give people the little push they need to arrive where he wants them. It is notable that he’s frequently seen weaving a tapestry. It brings to mind the Fates of Greek mythology, who are said to have cut and measured thread to determine the fate of men.
Other characters reveal that, while destinies can be temporarily avoided and pushed off to a later date, they cannot be ultimately avoided. In some way, the characters were “destined” to come to the island, as we discover that Jacob has been planting seeds throughout their lives that would inevitably cause them to end up there. In fact, the Man in Black tells this to Sawyer.
“He manipulated you,” the Man in Black says. “Pulled your strings like you were a puppet. And as a result, choices you thought you made were never really choices at all.”
Though the show ends with a heavy slant towards destiny, we also see characters being told that they can make choices. Jacob frequently says that he only wants a replacement who is willing to choose good and replace him. And one physicist believes that while some events are constants that cannot change (destiny), there are some variables that may be altered between them (free will).
Through the various candidates brought to the island, Jacob is ultimately trying to prove to the Man in Black that humans aren’t inherently evil. “That man who sent you to kill me believes that everyone is corruptible because it’s in their very nature to sin,” Jacob tells one man. “I bring people here to prove him wrong.”
But we could interpret Jacob’s statement in two ways. One, he wants to prove that man is inherently good; or two, he wants to prove that while everyone does have a sin nature, not everyone needs to be corrupted by it. We have a desire to do bad, but we can choose to do good.
If it’s the former, Jacob’s theology strays from biblical teaching that none are righteous before God (Psalm 143:2; Ecclesiastes 9:3; Matthew 15:19; Romans 3:9-12).
But Jacob seems to be struggling to prove the latter rather than the former, as he states that he brings people to the island to obtain a clean slate, implying past sins. Jacob’s annoyed that everyone he’s brought to the island eventually becomes corrupted by the Man in Black rather than choosing what is right. It is only when Richard, one man who was brought to the island, tells Jacob that he needs to first intervene in order for people to change, that Jacob realizes this truth—that people need a nudge to do what’s right, especially when his brother is pulling people the other way. Indeed, the Bible tells us that without God’s intervention (specifically the Spirit coming to dwell within us), our mind does not and cannot submit to or please God (Romans 8:6-9; Jeremiah 13:23). While Jacob is not indicated to be any sort of god, it seems that a similar version of this concept is explored here.
Part of Jacob’s reason for bringing flawed people to the island is because he wants to see them redeem themselves from their pasts. He operates under a principle of tabula rasa—giving them a “clean slate” with which they can decide who they want to be. It doesn’t matter who they were or what they had done prior to the island—all that matters is how they use this new life. Throughout the show, we’ll see countless castaways struggle with their pasts: One, Sayid, was a torturer for the Iraqi Republican Guard. Sawyer spent his whole life trying to track down the man who killed his parents, and Charlie, a former rock star, was a heroin addict. Others, likewise, have moments in their pasts that they regret.
And when they reach the island, some of them eventually learn to forgive themselves and to move on from their pasts. Others, however, don’t—at least, not completely. Regardless, I identified with this struggle. As Christians, we have been declared as righteous before God because of the justifying blood of Jesus. He has taken our sins upon Himself and suffered the wrath of God for them in our place, and He has imputed us with His perfect righteousness that we are seen as blameless before the throne of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). But even though Christ has paid for all of our sins—past, present and future—it can still be hard for us to move on from the things of our pasts that we regret. But in those moments, we can rest on the forgiveness of God, who has removed our sins from us and has redeemed us (Psalm 103:11-12; Isaiah 44:22; Romans 8:1-2).
Science versus Faith:
Another prominent theme is the relationship between science and faith. Main character Jack Shephard is a spinal surgeon who has no time for faith, while his counterpoint John Locke (a man who, as we saw in our last blog, miraculously was allowed to walk again) is a man who is all-in on faith. The two frequently clash over their interpretations of events, as Locke believes that everything happens for a reason while Jack believes there’s no meaning for anything. However, throughout the show, Locke begins to lose a lot of his faith as he goes through struggle, while Jack gains it. Lost likewise has some scientific explanations for things that characters have faith in, and it often has spiritual explanations for things that cannot be explained scientifically. For instance, those who crash on Oceanic Flight 815 are there because Jacob pulled them there, but the plane crashes because of a strong gravitational pull due to electromagnetism (which itself is a result of the supernatural Heart of the Island). So, the plane crash was the result of both the supernatural and the scientific.
Many events occur that are purported to be miracles. Locke is paralyzed from the waist down before the crash but can walk after it. Another survivor, Rose, has cancer before the crash, but the disease vanishes on the island. Primary antagonist Ben develops a tumor on his spine, and only a couple days later, a spinal surgeon literally (as he says) “falls out of the sky.”
“If that’s not proof of God, I don’t know what is,” Ben says.
Like Ben, these events cause many of the characters to believe in some higher force—whether that be the island, Jacob or God. But others, like Jack, dispute these miracles as coincidence or based in scientific naturalism.
There’s some merit to Jack’s position: some of the issues and miracles on the island do end up being the result of the island’s large amount of electromagnetism. But some of these miracles are beyond scientific explanation, such as Jacob’s ability to physically heal people with a mere touch and how people tend to heal much quicker on the island than anywhere else. In the final analysis, a lot of the supernatural elements of the island seem to be powered or otherwise connected to the source of light in the Heart of the Island.
The concept of a person’s soul isn’t fully explored until the final season. At the end of Season Five, the survivors (in the past) go to drastic measures in an attempt to prevent their future selves from ever crashing on the island. And ultimately, the plan only sorta works. The result appeared to be what fans called “flash-sideways,” in which we see the survivors living the lives they would have lived had the island never brought them there. However, that’s not entirely accurate. By the end of the season, we’re told that these sideways flashes aren’t an alternate timeline at all; it’s actually a sort of “waiting room” purgatory that the survivors had “all made together so that [they] could all find one another” before they moved on to the afterlife—that is, from this purgatory world to allegedly heaven.
With that in mind, that means that these flash-sideways are the souls of the characters. Likewise, the Man in Black dies when Jacob throws him into the Heart of the Island, but his soul is mixed with darkness into the Smoke Monster and lives on.
Somewhat mixed with this are those who see people on the island despite them not being there. The vast majority of the time, this is actually the work of the Man in Black, since he has the ability to take the form of those who have died on the island. However, some characters see or talk to people who are still alive elsewhere, or they see such visions off the island where the Man in Black cannot go. In these cases, Lost confirms the existence of a soul, albeit in a more ghostly format.
Religions and Beliefs:
There are many spiritual beliefs that pop up throughout the series. In John Ankerberg and Dillon Burroughs’ book What Can Be Found in Lost?, which covers the theology of the first three seasons, the two make an interesting observation. In it, they write that they “find in Lost an attitude that is certainly open to God, but often lacking in specifics regarding who God is.”
Indeed, most of the major players in the show seem to be searching for God. Many characters are Catholic or Protestant, and some Christian themes pop up throughout (including false ones that we’ll address in the next section). Two characters even recite Psalm 23 during a funeral. Sayid is a Muslim, and we see him perform the Salat at one point. Additionally, Buddhism and Taoism naturally pop up as part of the DHARMA Initiative from the name alone, and we hear some talk about reincarnation, too. Locke uses a sweat lodge to commune with the island, and for some time he seems to believe that the island itself is sentient. And on the island, we find that ancient Egyptians built a giant statue to Taweret.
Likewise, the struggle between Jacob and the Man in Black indicates a form of Dualism, where neither good nor evil is ultimately in control, but that the forces are rather engaged in a cosmic battle. And while Ankerberg and Burroughs are right in that Lost does not ultimately tell us its final idea of “God,” that dualistic viewpoint becomes more and more prominent throughout the show.
Likewise, it should be noted that the vast majority of the characters are named after famous theologians, philosophers, scientists and authors (such as John Locke, Anthony Cooper and Mikhail Bakunin) that can sometimes give insight into the character’s worldviews.
False Christian Theology
As I’ve shown, Lost deals with some heavy spiritual themes. And, as I foreshadowed before, while some of them come right out of Christianity, they’re not always theologically accurate. In Ankerberg and Burroughs’ aforementioned book, they write a warning on this:
Lost opens doors into subject matters that are sometimes difficult to talk about otherwise with those who do not read or care about the Bible. However, a word of caution must also be cast. Lost is not attempting to communicate accurate theology or provide a persuasive message for Christianity. The series sometimes misinterprets biblical teachings to fit a given episode’s plot.
In one such example, one survivor recounts the story of King Josiah discovering the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22:3-20), and he uses the story as a cheap way to introduce a plot point that has nothing to do with the actual biblical story.
Another instance occurs when one character accidentally kills someone in a scuffle. He is thrown in jail, and a priest comes to hear his confession. But when he confesses, the priest tells the man that he will go to hell because he will be hanged the next day and doesn’t have enough time to complete the penance required of his sin to “return to His grace.” From a Protestant perspective (from which I am writing), much of this is incorrect, as we believe that God’s grace has fully paid for all of our lifetime of sins through Christ’s death and resurrection. But it’s also at odds with the general Catholic belief that the penitent man’s contrite heart would absolve them of a mortal sin even if they could not complete the Catholic sacrament of penance.
The worst instance, however, deals with the baptism of Jesus. In the Season Two episode “Fire + Water,” Mr. Eko, a Catholic priest, recounts Jesus’ baptism to another survivor. Pay particular attention to the two highlighted areas.
“It is said that when John the Baptist baptized Jesus, the skies opened up, and a dove flew down from the sky. This told John something—that he had cleansed this man of all his sins.”
The first improper thing that Eko says is that “a dove” flew down from the sky. In fact, it was not a dove. Matthew 3:16 states that “he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove.”
The second theological error is infinitelymore serious. Eko states that Jesus needed to be baptized in order to be cleansed of His sins. The Bible is very clear that Jesus was without sin (1 Peter 2:22, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, 1 John 3:5). If Jesus had sinned, then He could not have saved us from the wrath of God, as He would have no perfect righteousness to satisfy God as our eternal High Priest (Hebrews 7:11-28).
Why was Jesus baptized? It was not because He needed to repent and be cleansed of sins; that’s why John the Baptist was confused when Jesus came asking to be baptized—he knew that Jesus didn’t need it and should be baptizing him (Matthew 3:14)! Jesus was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15), identifying with His people, revealing his anointment as the Christ and foreshadowing His sacrifice on the cross.
Lost captivated audiences for years because of its large roster of characters, its mysteries and its interest in theology and philosophy. But because millions of people have watched the series (and because we at Plugged In believe that entertainment can and does contain messages that shape our worldview), that means millions of people have likewise engaged with Lost’s spiritual hermeneutic. We hope that this summary of the major spiritual themes within the show will help you navigate Lost’s interpretation of the supernatural and provide you with the resources you need to approach the series.