Sayid Jarreh is one of the more intriguing characters on Lost. A former interrogator (i.e. torturer) in Iraq’s Republican Guard who fled the service after he set a prisoner (a woman whom he loved since childhood) free, Sayid is portrayed as a steady, calm, and competent leader and uses his unique skills to protect and provide for the survivors in many ways. His “dark side,” the sin he seeks atonement for, is the suffering and death he caused as an interrogator. In this episode, Sayid is presented, in both time-lines, opportunities for redemption from his sordid past. He is asked to murder in order to protect people he cares about. Each request, though, appeals to a opposite dimension of his character. In the U.S. timeline, his brother (who is married to his childhood love) asks him to “deal with” his menacing debtors, appealing to his past transgressions, saying “I know what kind of man you are.” In the island time-line, the head of the temple asks him to kill the Man in Black (MIB). But he appeals to Sayid’s good side, saying that he should kill the MIB because there is still good in him. Though Sayid is seeking atonement, “trying to wash my hands of all the horrible things I’ve done,” in the end he chooses to kill and his heart becomes fully corrupted by evil.
This episode raises a central question in the philosophical and theological discourse about free-will and fate: how is our will influence by our nature? A corollary question is whether human nature is essentially good or evil. Scripture reveals glimpses into the complex, mysterious relationship between nature and will. Perhaps the clearest metaphor used to illustrate this relationship is a fruit tree. Jesus teaches:
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” – Luke 6:44-46
In the plant world, an obvious, inescapable observation is that the nature of a plant determines the fruit a plant produces. Some plant products are good for food, healthy and tasty; others are toxic, even deadly, or distasteful. Jesus says here that a person’s “fruit,” the product and influence of a person’s life, comes from his nature or heart. The biblical concept of the heart means the center of a person, our essence. Jesus links the heart to what a person values or treasures: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). So, according to Scripture, our choices are not “free” in the sense of completely autonomous and not contingent on other influences, but follow from our nature and what our nature values.
This raises the question, then, of what determines our nature and whether we can change our nature by our will. In LOST, the characters are presented with opportunities to change who they are, as revealed by the past, through redemption. These moments of redemption present them with choices to act in-line with who they are or to defy the past and change. Some characters seem make choices that are contrary to who they are (or were) and thus experience redemption; others seem to make choices that are consistent with the past which leads to self-destruction. Yet these choices are only made possible by the island, which they did not choose to come to, but were called to (brought there by “Jacob”).
These are difficult questions which the show does a better job raising than answering. An in-depth study of Scripture, aided by philosophers and theologians who have wrestled with these questions, can illuminate the answers while maintaining a profound sense of mystery.