What is it with this show? I’m still obsessed with it. By the time yesterday rolled around—the day that Season 4 premiered—I and many of my co-workers, friends, and family were referring to the day as “Lost Day.” On “Lost Day,” we spoke mainly of Lost, made sure not to call each others’ houses in the evening (Lost is back, you heathen!), and we visited sites like thefuselage.com before airtime to brush up on the latest Lost theories and speculation . . . well, at least I did. Today? The day after? Just as bad. All of us, basking in the post-Lost glow like worshipers fresh from church, did more talking, more theorizing, more speculating, more “Wow, did you see the part where . . .” “You know what I think it is?” “Man, Lost is still cool . . .” We may as well be saying, “What a mighty God we serve!”
And yeah, it makes me a little uncomfortable—this obsessive, cult-like devotion to just a TV show, after all—but I’ll get back to that. I don’t want to miss the real question. The question I started out with: what is it with this show? How has this show so captivated me, those close to me, and millions of other people around the world? And I’m talking captivated here. Yes, it’s still popular. Yes, it’s award winning. But it’s more than just that. Lost, for the uninitiated, has a true cult following. A Twin-Peaks, X-Files style cult following. So, why? And, seeing that this show can inspire something like religious devotion, is there some connection between the essence and allure of this show (and other cult shows for that matter), and the essence and allure of God? In bowing down to this story, are we really bowing down to some even deeper story? Tough questions. But they also seem important, relevant, and just plain fun to think about. Well, as one of the happy ones who has religious devotion to both God and Lost (I hope still in that order), here are some thoughts:
Lost is mysterious . . . so is God and life with God
4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42. If those numbers mean nothing to you, then you probably haven’t tapped into the mystery that is Lost. Regular viewers know that these numbers are connected to the people and events on the island (you do know that Lost is about survivors of a plane crash on an island, right?) in a myriad of strange ways. They’re winning lottery numbers. They were periodically entered into a computer to stave off . . . something. They were engraved on one of the infamous hatches. But the numbers are just part of the mysteries of the island. There’s the monster. Desmond. Rousseau. Dharma Corp. The Others. Ben. Jacob. Whoever just parachuted in last night. On and on. And to me, it’s this sense of mystery that really drives the show—this need to find the connections between “random” events, to find out what will happen next, to find out why things are the way they are, to shamelessly engage in what unimaginative people call “magical thinking.”
Mystery, we shouldn’t be surprised to find, is also essential to God and relationship to him. His ways are “above our ways,” his “paths beyond finding out.” He is paradoxical, speaking with a “still small voice,” yet having universe-creating power. And isn’t the Bible, God’s revelation of himself, the record of an unfolding mystery? Paul seems to think so, describing things he calls “mysteries” in the New Testament—things that God has kept hidden, only to reveal them bit by bit, until the time has come for all answers to be given. Just like the plotlines of a show like Lost.
Lost is exotic and novel . . . so is God and life with God
Personally, I’ve never been deserted on an island. I’ve never been attacked by a shark while sailing on a handmade raft. I’ve never bathed in a waterfall, never been in a gunfight or plane crash, never seen a monster, never found a crazy bomb-shelter thing hidden in a jungle. Of course, this kind of stuff is commonplace on Lost. The very title of the show implies the exotic and unknown. Another reason that the show attracts such a crowd, I think, is the fact that viewers can vicariously participate in these exotic and novel things on a weekly basis.
And God is way more novel, exotic, and unknown than anything on Lost. God is “wholly other,” as it’s been put before. The Bible calls him “holy,” which ultimately means he is supremely special and different from us. He is unique. The thing is, we are invited—as we are invited onto the mysterious island—to have a relationship with this “wholly other” person. He calls us to a great, supernatural adventure, where even the seemingly mundane is seen to be exotic in its eternal importance.
Lost creates community . . . so does God and life with God
My co-workers, friends, family, and I are part of a special group. We share a common value, we have our own language and buzzwords, we participate in a weekly ritual—all centering on being Lost-watchers. We are members of what I’m calling the “Cult of Lost.” Members of this “cult” are “in” by virtue of knowing about, talking about, caring about, and doing certain things. And the sense of belonging this creates feels good. It’s good to be “in the know” and to fellowship with other people that are “in the know” too.
Clearly, God calls people into a similar kind of fellowship. He calls everyone to become part of his church—his people that are “in the know.” But the Bible says that we are even more than members of a group if we are believers in Christ. It says that we become adopted children of God himself, and parts (somehow) of Christ’s body. Is it possible that the need for this radical kind of belonging may be at the root of why we enjoy belonging to smaller groups—groups like fans of TV shows?
Lost’s characters are complex and redemptive . . . so is God and life with God
Jack’s a doctor struggling with having greatness “thrust upon him” by the other survivors, all the while trying to deal with his own issues: his recently dead, alcoholic father, his wife who left him, his feelings for Kate (and Juliet?). Kate, on the other hand, is a fugitive—she actually was in handcuffs when she boarded the plane. Sawyer? A con-man. Jin? A hit-man. Michael? Trying to reestablish a relationship with his son. Locke? He couldn’t even walk . . . until the crash. And these are just a few of the many diverse characters in Lost. All of them, through flashbacks and now flashforwards, are given fascinating and complex back (and forward?) stories, all of which inform the present (and future? nevermind) drama on the island. And all of them are characters living out redemptive themes—trying to move past issues, receive forgiveness, come to terms, fulfill destiny.
Again, we see an obvious spiritual connection. Many characters in the Bible also have fascinating pasts and futures—lives leading to and from moments of revelation and redemption. And the Bible also, of course, has a redeeming God who is there to understand our complex lives and offer forgiveness. The Bible has a redeeming God who actually became a human being like us so as to better understand our lives, and give us a model. Lost even seems to sense this spiritual nature of its characters’ redemptive struggles. It continues to abound with religious imagery and story elements, and has on several occasions connected scripture or prayer with the resolution of character issues.
Lost is about big universal themes . . . so is God and life with God
Beyond dealing frequently and specifically with redemption, Lost is, without fail, always about big themes. It’s about good triumphing over evil. It’s about the need for our problems to have solutions. The need for a leader, for safety, for hope, for meaning. It’s about life and death and faith. About love and hate. About destiny and chance.
God also is about these big, bold, epic themes. The Bible also is a book about good overcoming evil, finding peace, finding a leader, having faith and hope and love, overcoming hatred, finding our purpose. But of course, you may say, tons of stories and books contain this kind of thematic material. So what? So Lost might be able to be connected to the Bible, or whatever . . . so what?
Here’s where we get to the point: Lost’s allure—which is made up of at least mystery, exoticism, a sense of community, complex characters, and big and redemptive themes—is not only similar to the allure of the God of the Bible, but it is alluring because it’s similar. I believe that cult followers of Lost (me included) get a type of spiritual sustenance and inspiration from the show because of these biblical echoes, this spiritual truth smuggled as television. We get sustenance and inspiration because Lost gives in kind to what we’re all really seeking. In fact, I’d say that the story of the Bible explains why so many of our favorite stories can create the kind of cult-like devotion I’ve described. It is because all stories are variations of an original. Because all human needs can be boiled down to spiritual ones. Because, deep down, every human being has the gospel of the Bible inside.
So, getting back to where I started, now that the “Cult of Lost” appears to be some deep, inner-need-driven attempt at getting close to God and life with God, am I still uncomfortable with my level of devotion to the show? No. Not really. As long as I keep in mind that it is what it is: just a show (albeit a show that can tap into my heart—anyone’s heart—for big, biblical reasons). In fact, I might even like the show more now. I might recommend it even more to people I know, strangers on the street, random passersby. I might advise anyone who still hasn’t embraced this wonderful drama to tune in to ABC on Thursday nights, to get on the internet and become part of the Lost community, to find out what all the darn fuss continues to be about, because it isn’t too late. I might say, proudly, happily, finally, with a satisfied heart, that being a member of the “Cult of Lost” really is similar to being a member of the church after all, and that maybe that’s what it is about this show.