Having lived in a cave all last year, I was unaware of the television sensation sweeping the nation … Lost. After months of my wife and best friend telling me how great it was, I knew that I had no choice but to research the phenomenon for myself. I turned the lights off, sat down on the couch and stared reluctantly into the television to catch the season premiere. First impression: This may just be the best television show I’ve ever seen! It’s like someone took The X-files, The 4400 and Survivor, threw them in a blender and hit the “frappe” button. What on earth was I thinking, blowing this show off all last season?
For those who still don’t know, the show is about a bunch of people stranded on an island after their plane crashes. The survivors come from all different backgrounds and must learn to work as a team to survive the perils now accosting them. Among them: struggles for dominance within the group, trouble finding food and water and the troubling presence of mist-like creatures that like to drag people off into the jungle. Sounds like every other drama out there, right? Why, then, is Lost the phenomenon that it is? Why do millions tune in every week to find out what happened to the castaways stranded after what was supposed to be only a three-hour tour? (Sorry, wrong show … but you get the point.) The answer lies not in the originality of the crazy things taking place on the island, but rather in the show’s structural genius: that is, its use of flashbacks.
Lost uses a series of flashbacks every episode to tell the story that usually gets left out of television dramas—the story of why we are who we are. The reason this works so brilliantly on Lost is because the characters are constantly having to make life and death decisions in which their past baggage plays decided roles. It is all that juicy baggage that makes the show so dang entertaining. Watching a young doctor try to save lives using only what items he can get in the jungle is one thing, but add the back story of lives that he failed to save in his past, and suddenly it’s must-see TV. Why? Because we know why he’s so desperate. We feel his pain as he works tirelessly to make up for sins committed so long ago.
Whether it’s Locke struggling to keep the faith after his father rejected him, Hugo having to remember how everyone he loved died after his post-lottery life was supposed to get better or Charlie learning how to deal with his drug addict past, it seems that everyone on Lost has something hiding in the closet.
Perhaps the show resonates so much because that is exactly how we all are. Every decision we make, every road we go down is chosen in part as reaction to the past. Our former selves haunt us like ghosts in an old, almost-forgotten graveyard, reminding us of past failures. It’s as though the “us” in the present has become a captive to the “us” in the past: forced to slave away in the hopes of a redemption that never comes.
While this makes for great television, it doesn’t make for a very good life. In Philippians 3:13-14 (TNIV), Paul writes: “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” It seems that Paul didn’t think too highly of letting the things he’d done in his past dictate what he would do in his future. Good thing, too, since Paul’s past included killing and persecuting those who loved Christ. How different would the world be if Paul had spent more time listening to the ghosts of his past instead of the leading of the Lord?
In a sense, we are all trapped on an island … at least for now. We all have decisions to make every day that will affect not only ourselves but also those around us. It’s a given that each one of us is going to make a ton of bad decisions in our lives (my list could fill a book or three). Each one of these choices becomes an opportunity for our past to haunt our futures as the voices of missed opportunities try to guide our new choices. Thankfully there is a better voice to listen to. In John 12:47 (TNIV), Jesus says, “As for those who hear my words but do not keep them, I do not judge them. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” Or how about the words from Jeremiah 29:11 (TNIV): “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Those of us who are hopelessly addicted to Lost will have no choice but to sit and agonize over how the characters may choose to let their past affect their future. Will Jack become the leader we know he could be? Will Locke ever be completely free from his father’s rejection? Will Charlie ever hook up with that really hot blonde? I suppose we’ll all just have to sit on our couches, lights turned off, and hold our breath to find out. Thankfully for us, God has made a way for us to relax regarding this issue in our own lives. We can save all of our anxiety for the next episode of Lost.