I finished the second season of Lost last night, and it got me thinking about pride, relationships, faith, and true virtue.
1. Let’s first talk about pride. Charlie Pace loves Claire, who has a baby boy named Aaron. Well, Charlie made Claire mad when she discovered he was using heroin. Add to that Charlie’s abduction of Aaron and his attempt to baptize him, and you can see that Charlie’s lucky if Claire ever speaks to him again!
Enter John Locke, a philosopher-type who seems to know everything about everything (he must have done a lot of reading during his period of paralysis). He keeps hanging around Claire, even going so far as to sleep near her tent to protect her and the baby. When Charlie abducts Aaron, returns him, and tearfully apologizes, Locke punches him. As Sawyer tells Charlie, “That’s like Gandhi hitting his kids.” Charlie is humiliated by the macho pillar of the island community, John Locke.
And so Charlie participates in a con that Sawyer sets up. Sawyer’s goal is to get all the guns for himself. Charlie’s motivation, however, is to make Locke look stupid. Both are successful.
I can sympathize with Charlie. I don’t like to look foolish, especially in front of a girl I happen to like. And when there’s an admired person who totally humiliates me, I want revenge. It’s only natural.
It takes a great deal of self-crucifixion to let bygones be bygones. Charlie would really have to trust in God’s love to forgo seeking revenge. But it’s hard to do that, especially when life stinks. In Charlie’s case, everyone on the island didn’t like him, including Claire, the love of his life. It takes a great deal of faith to look beyond one’s present surroundings–to believe in something good, even when one’s external reality seems to scream the opposite.
This overlaps with my weekend quiet time, which is on Judges 15. The Philistines get their revenge on Samson, and Samson gets his revenge on the Philistines. And innocent people suffer as a result. Forgiveness or non-retaliation looks like weakness or timidity to a lot of people, which is why many seek revenge in the first place. But revenge only escalates the conflict. Again, it takes a lot of self-crucifixion to do the right thing!
What’s ironic is that Locke has the same kinds of issues that Charlie has. He’s not a heroin addict, mind you, but he has a lot of pride. People treated him like garbage for most of his life–his dad, his workplace, etc., etc. He didn’t like others telling him what he couldn’t do. And he has somewhat of a rivalry with Dr. Jack, the leader of the island community. Locke sees himself as a co-leader, so he doesn’t like Jack giving him orders.
One would think that Locke’s issues would lead him to sympathize with Charlie, but they don’t necessarily. Maybe that’s because pride tends toward isolation, not community. In general, it’s not always the case that people who suffer have compassion for others who suffer. There are people who have struggled socially, as I do, but I don’t necessarily connect with them, nor they with me. Shared experiences must not be the only necessary ingredient for a social connection.
2. Now onto the topic of relationships. As we saw, Claire became mad at Charlie. In one of Locke’s flashbacks, we see that Locke and his girlfriend, Helen, had a falling out. Locke and Helen were going to get married, but that whole plan deteriorated when Helen discovered that Locke valued his dad’s love over hers. Charlie and Locke both apologized profusely to the women they loved, but the relationship was still over.
Can relationships be healed? A few months ago, I had a conversation with a young woman on my Christian dating site. Things were going well for a couple of days, as we had some good banter. But then I said something that offended her. I didn’t mean to cause her offense, mind you, for I was actually trying to make her feel better. But the damage was done. My apologies didn’t appease her. We’ve not had contact since.
But there have also been times when my relationships have been restored. I may be estranged from someone, but then we encounter each other after a long period of absence. We start talking, and we end up bonding over a shared topic of interest. I’m not always sure if I’m ready to dive back into the relationship, since I don’t want to be hurt again. But I find myself having a good time with the person.
Sometimes, giving a person space is the right thing to do. Time can be conducive to healing. Meeting a person after a long period of absence may be a way of letting a relationship start anew. That’s why I don’t need to walk around with grudges about the past. I can allow each social situation to be a fresh and new experience.
3. Now let’s talk about faith. At the beginning of the season, Locke wants to get inside a portal, and he doesn’t know how to do so. He believes that the island has a special destiny for him and the community, since it healed him of his paralysis. In despair, he cries out to the island and hits the door of the portal. Suddenly, there’s a bright light, and the door opens.
Inside the portal, Locke encounters Desmond, who is part of the Dharma Initiative, a research project that encompasses the government and various universities. Desmond feels he has to type a code into a computer every 108 minutes to save the world. Dr. Jack denies that the world is in danger, for he views the whole exercise as a psychological experiment to see if Desmond will go along. But Locke is convinced that Desmond is truly saving the world every 108 minutes, and he assumes Desmond’s task as his own–as if it’s part of his destiny.
But Locke discovers that it was all a psychological experiment, or at least he concludes that when he watches a Dharma Initiative video in another portal. And he learns that the ominous “bright light” was actually Desmond turning on a lamp to identify who was pounding on the portal (Locke). Locke then has a crisis of faith. What he initially viewed as a mysterious sign turns out to be ordinary. And he feels that his life is meaningless, devoid of any purpose.
But, sheesh, the island took away his paralysis, didn’t it? Did he forget that little detail? It’s amazing how quickly we’re willing to dump our faith, just because not everything turns out as we had hoped or expected. I have a whole list of expectations of things that should be true if there is a God: I’d have a pretty Christian woman, God would be blessing me left and right, someone would stumble on my blog and offer me a lucrative writing contract, people would come to Christ on a massive scale through my “brilliance.” But life’s not like that for me; actually, it’s rather ordinary, and I often wonder if anyone’s minding the store. And yet, there have been times when God has helped me, so maybe he still has a plan for my life. And perhaps God can work through the ordinary and not-so-glamorous.
4. Finally, true virtue. Michael’s son, Vic, is abducted by the Others. The Others tell Michael that he’ll get his son back if he brings them four people from his island community: Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley. In the process of following these instructions, Michael kills two innocent people, one of them Hurley’s girlfriend (who keeps popping up in flashbacks, for some reason). He also deceives his friends. But he gets his son back in the end, and the Others show him how to get back home (off the island, that is).
I had to admire the depth that Michael was willing to go out of love for his son. He would do anything for that boy! But his situation reminded me of something I read in Jonathan Edwards’ Nature of True Virtue. Edwards was trying to explain how non-Christians could do good things, since he believed in the total depravity of human beings apart from Christ. His conclusion was that the “good” that unbelievers do is not true virtue. For Edwards, true virtue is disinterested love for God and neighbor. There’s a part of his book where he says that unbelievers may love their family, their friends, or their clan, without really giving a rip for the larger human community. As far as Edwards is concerned, that is not true virtue, for true virtue values the whole, not just individual parts.
And that’s what I see with Michael: he was willing to do anything out of love for his son, but he ended up hurting everyone else in the process. Of course, that raises other questions, such as the whole Star Trek dilemma of “Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one?” Would I have wanted Michael to tell the Others, “Go ahead and kill my son–I will not compromise my morality!”? How would I feel if my dad approached the issue in that way?
That reminds me of a motif that I’ve seen on TV and in movies, in which a parent tries to save the world and ignores his own family in the process. In an episode of Touched by an Angel, a man owns a large taffy company and tries to implement a grand vision for all kids. But his own son feels left out of his father’s life. In The Third Miracle, Anne Heche plays a woman whose mother was a saint. But her mom was so busy saving the rest of the world, that her very own daughter felt neglected. The TBAA episode and the movie portray the saintly parent in a positive light, but I wonder: “Shouldn’t the parents have focused more on their own children? Does God require me to care for the entire world, or only for those he has placed in my life?” But maybe there was a way they could have had their cake and eaten it too: they could’ve worked with their children to help others, making social justice a family activity. It’s something to think about!
I’ll go to the library to see if I can find Lost: Season 3. Stay tuned!