In this week’s episode of Lost, Benjamin Linus, who has been portrayed as a deceitful, manipulative character throughout the series, is faced with choices that provide him with a chance to change and reform his character. In both the U.S. and the Island story lines he is presented with opportunities to gain power. Power appears to be Linus’s highest value. In the U.S., he is an unappreciated, overqualified high school history teacher who is dissatisfied with the school’s leadership and wants to be in charge. He discovers a way to blackmail the principal into resigning and recommending him for his job, but when he tries this, the principal threatens to write a scathing (and false) recommendation for one of his best history students that would prevent her from getting a scholarship. Presented with a choice between gaining power, which he craves, and damaging his student’s future, he backs down and the principal writes a glowing recommendation instead.
Back on the island, the Man in Black (MIB) presents him with a promise of gaining control of the island by following him. But following the MIB necessitates killing his captor, who is a friend of Jacob, the god-like good character on the island. In the end, he turns from his lust for power, decides not to kill again, and receives welcome back into a community, who once regarded him as an enemy, in a humbled state.
I have written about how our nature and what we value shapes our will. This episode raises the opposite question: how can our will shape our nature and what we value? The modus operandi of the MIB is to manipulate people to come under his control by promising them what they value or what they believe they have a right to. With Claire, it is the promise of getting her child back; with Sayid, it is the promise of being re-united with the love of his life, Nadiya; and with Ben, it is the promise of power. The way in which Ben is tempted by power in this episode reminds me of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.
This story is recorded in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It happens immediately after Jesus is baptized and before Jesus begins his ministry of teaching and performing miracles. He retreats into the wilderness alone to fast and prayer, and there the devil tempts him three times: 1. To turn stones into bread; 2. To throw himself off the wall of the temple so that angels will rescue him; 3. To worship him in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world. In the first two cases, the devil tempts Jesus to use his power in a self-serving way: miraculously turning stones into bread to satisfy his hunger; gaining prestige with the people through a dramatic, public rescue by angels. In the last case, the devil offers him what is rightfully his as the Son of God – rule over all the kingdoms of the earth. Jesus resists these temptations, relying on Scripture to combat the lies latent in the temptations, and the devil relents.
Why were these things a temptation to Jesus? Why did the devil make these specific appeals? Jesus was sent to earth by God the Father with a specific purpose: to defeat sin and death not by using his power, but by giving up his power and humbling himself to a horrible, shameful death on the cross that he might reconcile men to God. He came to sacrifice himself, which required letting go of his power for others’ benefit. Using his power for self-exaltation would have be contrary to the purpose of his life. Though he rightly valued food, public adulation, and reigning over men, the manner in which he attained these things had to be legitimate, in accordance with God’s plans.
Ben is likewise tempted to gain and use power in self-serving ways. Instead he chooses to serve others (it is noteworthy that when he returns to the beach camp at the end, his first action is to set aside his gun and ask how he can serve). In doing so, he experiences a personal transformation: a new realization of what really matters in life (i.e. the people he loves) and a new role and sense of acceptance in a community. Thus, his choice to resist temptation does seem to bring about a change in character, or perhaps it merely reveals and strengthens the character that is already in him?
We, too, are faced with temptations which come in the form of opportunities to gain things we value, even good things, but by illegitimate means. The choices we make in response to such temptations both show “what we are made of” and strengthen either the good or evil aspect of our natures. So I think the choices we make are both a reflection of our nature (like the fruit from a fruit true) and also shape our nature by causing an aspect of who we are to grow or weaken. Please comment!