LOST – Fate or Freewill? part 5

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.

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4 comments on “LOST – Fate or Freewill? part 5

  1. Jason says:

    Do you think that Jacob is a Calvinist who is sovereignly changing the will of those who end up making decisions that defy their old nature or do you think Jacob is a semi-Pelagian who simply draws people to the island and provides them with a choice to make up their own mind about the defiance of their old will…lol?

    Seriously, I don’t see anyone who has defied their nature in the Reset timeline yet:

    Jack was a good guy on the island and he is a good guy off the island. Granted he isn’t an alcoholic anymore and his issues with his dad are resolved. But those things haven’t changed who he is most essentially.

    Locke doesn’t seem to be very different in the Reset timeline. He seems to still be a good guy.

    Kate wasn’t a bad person even though she was a criminal…the Reset continues to show her tender heart towards Claire.

    Claire is a wild-card I grant. She turns out evil on the island, yet she seems nice in the Reset. Of course we have over 10 episodes left…

    Ben seems like a good guy in the Reset and I am convinced, I have been for 2 years, that Ben has always been a good guy on the island…yeah he had to do some morally questionable things, but always for an ultimate good.

    Sayid turns bad in the Reset and he is also depraved on the island as we just saw.

    Maybe the creators just plan to show that we can’t change our will, even with the “help” of the island. Maybe the island is simply a way for Jacob to test who is pure at heart and who can replace him as the guardian of the MIB.

    Maybe the interesting thing about this last season is seeing how the characters whom we have come to love end up morally. For years we have seen tons of ambiguity about who was good and who was bad. Now we get to see the resolution, both on the island and in ‘real-life’ after the Reset.

    I spend way too much time thinking about LOST.

    • I doubt the writers are theologically educated enough to design such distinctions into the plot!

      I think Jack is on the verge of acting contrary to his nature or other deterministic forces. For instance, he takes a step towards reconciliation with his son and acts to be a different kind of father his father was, though he had been that kind of father up ’til that point.

      I don’t think it’s as simple as whether they are good or bad at heart: they all have character flaws, even the ‘good’ ones, and are presented with opportunities for change.

  2. Jason says:

    After looking at the LOST Last Supper I had to change my mind on Claire…she will go dark. I think that Sawyer will intice her to join Flocke. We have yet to see how her evil side will come out in the Reset but we will…

  3. Jason says:

    I meant Kate – not Claire.

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