In the CaPC Water Cooler, our writers discuss the implications of the latest cultural events. These days, we’re discussing Lost.

Warning! If you are not completely caught up with Lost, you won’t want to read any further.

Richard writes,

Let’s start with what is, for our purposes, probably the most important few lines in Lost so far:

“That man who sent you to kill me believes that everyone is corruptible because it’s in their very nature to sin. I bring people here to prove him wrong. And when they get here, their past doesn’t matter.”

What Jacob is doing here is expressing a common theory of the nature of man: “Tabula Rasa” or clean slate, which claims that it is man’s nurture rather than nature that has caused him to sin. If he were given a fresh start away from the trappings of society and culture, he would at least have an opportunity to be sinless. This is a theory that Christians know better than. Ever since the fall, mankind has been born with a slate full of predispositions to sin, and children have told their parents “no” ab aeterno, or since the beginning of time… or at least, since the fall.

So the question is this: is Lost presenting a humanistic view of man, that he can improve himself on his own without God’s help? It seems to be the case. Then again, many of Jacob’s techniques don’t diverge too much from what many Christians view as God’s techniques: he guides and directs, but he doesn’t force man’s hand. It’s not exactly something I’m totally on board with, but I find it acceptable on a few levels.

Is Lost showing man’s redemption coming from within himself or from somewhere else? Is a second chance all we need? Are these even the right questions?

This episode has me all thrown off. Can you tell?

Drew writes,

I agree.  After watching last week’s episode, I commented on Twitter that Lost is in the midst of an identity crisis.  Ben’s episode was a very powerful show that seemed to really continue the theme of man’s struggle with God and Jacob seemed to be some sort of Judeo Christian God figure–then we find out this week that Jacob is much more hands off than we thought.

What concerns me more than Jacob’s theory on the nature of man is what Jacob’s theory says about God.  Assuming Jacob is some sort of god-figure, Jacob’s own statements would indicate that he is not really in control, that he cannot be sure that his plans will succeed.  Jacob gives such a high view of human free will that he cannot be sure that his prerogatives will succeed and it would seem that his plans have not entirely succeeded.

Furthermore how is it that the island is a bottle that is keeping pure evil from escaping?  That theory doesn’t seem to be working–grave evils are being committed outside the island–what good is this “bottling” of evil accomplishing?  If man is a blank slate what is the danger of pure evil escaping if man is capable of refusing such evil?

Lost is trying to address questions that the show is ill-equipped to answer.  The Man in Black seems to understand  human nature better than Jacob.

Lost is also in the midst of an identity crisis in that it cannot decide if it is dualistic or monotheistic.  Jacob, if he is indeed some sort of representative of God, was not espousing dualism so much as a historically “Christian heresy.”  Jacob came across as pelagian.

Further, to answer your question Rich, what bothered me most about Jacob’s comments was, his telling Richard–“I can’t forgive you.”  That seemed to me to indicate that the people on the island have to find redemption inside themselves.  Further this statement reveals that, if Jacob indeed represents God, he is by no means all powerful.  Thus Jacob is capable of failing.

Richard writes,

I suppose your complaints are valid, but I think we should back up and keep and mind that Lost is a work of art, and that as such it’s meant to do certain things, and not to certain other things. In particular, I don’t think Lost, or any TV show should be attempting to nail down a concrete view of God. Might they, behind the scenes, be trying to nail down a concrete view of “Jacob”? Sure. But Jacob, even if he is meant to represent God, is only a type of God and so is a fallible representation. In that light, I think it’s unfair to accuse Lost of espousing certain Christian heresies.

Sermons are meant for preaching, and art is meant for asking questions. You could even say that good art prepares the way for a good sermon.

So the question is whether Lost is asking good questions in ways that are helpful and beautiful. Because it’s a serial drama, we’re not really going to know that until the end of this thing. But of course, it would be just as dangerous to withhold thoughtful speculation as it would be to jump to conclusions. Let’s thing of it as wary preparation for the inevitable sucker-punch that is the last episode of Lost, aptly titled “The End.”

Drew writes,

Great point Richard.  I think I am probably expecting too much from Lost.  I think the questions Lost is asking are fascinating and they are questions worth asking.  So is Lost a worthwhile piece of art?  Well right now its asking some fascinating questions, so I would be tempted to say, yes it is.  Confusing–yes, but a show that has made me think perhaps more than any other TV drama.

I guess I wanted to point out that Lost is waffling back and forth between dualism and some form of monotheism. Jacob’s statements last week were not necessarily dualistic, some Christians would even espouse those thoughts about God.  Again to answer your question, it would seem that Jacob expects salvation to come from within the hearts of those on the island.  That is a fair thing for them to espouse, but I just think it is an inconsistent philosophy.  What is within the heart of man is what is wrong with the world, so salvation cannot come from within.

Previous Installments:

Pre-season: Lost’s Biggest Question.

Pre-season, part 2:  Lost’s Free Will Dilemma.

Season Premiere: ‘Lost’ Patience.

What Kate Did: Poor Jack.

The Lighthouse: Sawyer’s Choice

Sundown: Jacob is Good, All the Time

Dr. Linus: Did Ben Get Off Easy?


  1. I think the problem being overlooked is that at no point has LOST gone on to say that it is some sort of allegory to God or Christianity. Nor has it claimed that Jacob is God, or the man in black the devil, etc. It’s just a piece of television fiction. That being the case, I have no problems with its philosophy or “theology.”

  2. I think it’s a little reductionist to say it’s “just a piece of television fiction.” These stories resonate with people because they recognize that they have the same struggles as these characters, and there’s no secret that Jacob is being related to as one often relates to God.

    We’re not talking allegory, here. I’m not talking about some kind of post-modern Pilgrim’s Progress. We’re talking about a show that deals with all kinds of personal and worldview struggles, one of them being the way we relate to a supernatural being who determines our life for us in an effort to make us better and in an effort to use us for his purposes.

  3. I’m enjoying Lost as much as anyone, but I think it is going to unravel because, like it or not, Jacob and the Man in Black are viewed as “larger than life” characters, and rightfully so. That’s how they are portrayed. If you cannot see the intended references to the Yin and Yang, or the references to Judeo-Christian theology, then you aren’t watching very closely.

    So Richard, to say, I think it’s unfair to accuse Lost of espousing certain Christian heresies is disingenuous. If they are alluding to Judeo-Christian ideas, then it is right to judge the product from that frame work. The fact is that they are not just “asking questions,” they are promising to provide answers to those questions in a few more episodes!

    My problem is that I find Jacob’s view of humanity appalling, perplexing, and damning. I agree with the Man in Black’s assessment of human nature. Therefore, I am pulling for him for now. :)

  4. My biggest take from last week’s pivotal conversation was the notion of Richard as the Church. I have wondered ever since Ben Linus teased that Richard was “a sort of advisor” what, exactly, his role on the Island was. Putting aside the debate about whether or not Jacob represents God or not, follow my thinking…

    Jacob (God) wants to prove to humanity’s accuser (Man in Black) that His creation is not just good, but “very good”. But, God doesn’t want to intervene directly in human affairs anymore, like he did in OT times. He wants people to choose, of their own free will, to follow His will. But, as Richard pointed out, humanity needs God’s intervention and guidance. So what does Jacob (God) do? He places Richard (the Church) in the role of representing Himself to humanity.

    I absolutely love it when Hollywood manages to express a Biblical truth in a relevant, artistic way. I’m not saying that LOST’s portrayal of God, the Church, or anything else is spot on with scripture. I’m just saying that the next time I’m talking about the Church with someone who has watched LOST, it’ll be a lot easier to explain what the function of the Church is supposed to be.

  5. I actually hadn’t thought of that, Brad. On one level it makes a lot of sense to see Richard as the Spirit (he is immortal, apparently), but I think I’m going to stick with the Church analogy. Here’s why…

    1. Richard is not part of, or co-equal with, Jacob in any way.

    2. Richard is not fully aware of Jacob’s will, much like we are not fully aware of God’s master plan.

    3. That whole scene with Richard and Jacob (including Richard’s “baptism”) feels more like a conversion experience to me. Richard trusted and served the Man in Black (sinful nature) until he encountered the truth (God/Jacob). In the same way, we are born with a sinful nature, and must at some point choose to either follow it, or follow God.

Comments are now closed for this article.