Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lost: Jack and John

As some of you may know, friends, "Lost", the popular television production about plane-crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island, started it's anticipated sixth and final season last night. For die-hard Lost fanatics the premiere had a semi-Super Bowl Sunday status. I myself only see it online so I had to wait till tonight to see it. I started watching Lost not long ago as a sort of project, to spot out the theological overtones in the secular media. For the most part it's far from as educational as I thought it might have been, but when listening to the hour-long recap of the previous seasons, the narrator said something which rekindled my original perceptions a bit. And I quote:

"Most believe that what's done is done, you cannot change fate, no matter how hard you try. And those who challenge what is destined will always be met with disappointment, for fate has a way of charting it's own course.

But before one surrenders to the hands of destiny, one might consider the power of the human spirit, and the force that lies in ones own free will."

To me these two paragraphs represent two differing viewpoints, and it is precisely this ideological difference which splits the two main characters for most of the shows duration. The leader of the group, Jack, is a young agnostic surgeon, who judges things only by their physical realities. His rival is an older fate-driven cripple who recovered upon landing on the island. One big way their differences are manifested is that Jack's main concern is to get everyone off the island and back home, while John does all that's within his power to keep them all on the island (again, since he sees their arrival upon the island as their fate.

Personally, I don't think either of them are necessarily harbor heretical notions in the subject of Divine Providence. These are two theologically legitimate ways to view life. Obviously John's is the more orthodox approach, the "Boy does G-d have something in store for you!" approach, which supposes that belief in Providence suggests that G-d micro-manages every individual, to lead them to the future that's most suitable for them.

But Jack's approach is also religiously sound; it is the opinion of the religious philosophers, who say that our duty is only to fulfill G-d's will on this earth, and that we must do all that is within our power to do what's right, even when it seems to us that the Divine would have us do otherwise. For example Jack could have said, like John, that if G-d brought us all to this island it's a sign he wants us to be here, but instead he felt that his duty to G-d to save his fellow man from peril superseded any speculations as to G-d's hand in their fate. We see that this is a very legitimate approach in Talmudic Judaism, as in the passage about the תנור של עכנאי.

Even so, I've still found John's approach to be a lot more helpful. Just doing what's right doesn't cut it sometimes. Sometimes we need to feel that G-d put us where we are for a very specific reason, and that we have some sort of earth-shatteringly important mission to fulfill in our lifetimes. John himself is often plagued by doubt, frantically praying to G-d to show him a sign that he's going in the right direction. And many times there is none, or he misunderstood them. The irony of it is that John dies in the fifth season alone and confused. Is it true then? That G-d is leading us to our destinies? It's hard to say, but if thinking in those terms is helpful to us then I think we should.

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