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May 2020

The Cult of Lost

For the longest time I have been hesitant to revisit a show I invested 6 seasons in, over almost 6 years of my life. Hesitant because I just knew it wouldn’t live up to the bromance I had with it almost 10 years ago now. And now, thanks to the coronavirus, I am introducing it to my three boys. That show is Lost. Living in Colorado at the time, I even purchased cable, just so I could watch Lost, and another show I had a bromance with, Batttlestar Galactica. Once both were over, I promptly cancelled my cable, as TV after those two shows was never the same.

About a month ago, the Murphy family began (re)watching it together, and I was curious how the boys would respond. Would they feel the same mystery and devotion I had to it when I was watching it? Would I feel the same heart tugs it gave me back win the day? Well I’m happy to report they are hooked, and I instill feel as strongly about it as I did then. We are about halfway through season two currently, and the mysteries keep piling up for them, as well as the bewildered looks and conversations after each episode. However, the boys have something today that I never had when I originally watched it: Hulu. Watching it now, we can watch two or three episodes at a time, completely skipping over any cliffhangers I had to endure. In fact, they are skipping over a large part of what made the show special for me: that week (or longer) between episodes.

I’ve tried to communicate my obsession with this show to them, but a lot of it is simply lost on today’s non-network tv watching habits. How I would bask in that post Lost glow, like a worshiper, fresh from church. How I would log into my favorite Lost websites between episodes to check and see what the latest theories and speculations were. How my co-workers and I would talk, and theorize, and speculate about the latest episode.

  • “Wow, did you see the part where…”
  • “You know what I think it is?”
  • “Man, Lost is so cool…”

We had might as well had been saying, “What a mighty God we serve!” And yeah, it makes me a little uncomfortable thinking back to it now. All that obsessive, cult-like devotion to a TV show. What was it about that show? Why did that show so captivate me, those close to me, and millions of other people around the world? And I’m talking captivated here. Lost, for the uninitiated, had a true cult following. A Twin-Peaks, X-Files style cult following. So, why?

  • Is there some connection between the essence and allure of that show, and the essence and allure of God?
  • In bowing down to that story, are we really bowing down to some even deeper story?

Tough questions. But now as I rewatch it with the boys, they all seem important again, relevant, and just plain fun to think and talk about. Well, as one of the happy ones who has religious devotion to both God and Lost, here are some thoughts I’m working and talking through with the boys as we make our way through the Lost universe.

Lost is mysterious…so is God and life with God

4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42. If those numbers mean nothing to you, then you probably haven’t tapped into the mystery that is Lost. Regular viewers knew that these numbers were connected to the people and events on the island in a myriad of strange ways. They were winning lottery numbers. They were periodically entered into a computer to stave off…something. They were engraved on one of the infamous hatches. But the numbers are just part of the mysteries of the island. There’s the monster. Desmond. Rousseau. Dharma. The Others. Ben. Jacob. On and on. And to me, it was this sense of mystery that really drove the show, that continues to drive the show now. This need to find the connections between “random” events. To find out what will happen next, to find out why things were the way they were. Mystery, we shouldn’t be surprised to find, is also essential to God and our relationship to him. His ways are “above our ways,” his “paths beyond finding out.” He is paradoxical, speaking with a “still small voice,” yet having universe-creating power. And isn’t the Bible, God’s revelation of himself, the record of an unfolding mystery? Saint Paul seemed to think so, describing things he calls “mysteries” in the New Testament. Things that God has kept hidden, only to reveal them bit by bit, until the time has come for all answers to be given. Just like the plotline of a show like Lost.

Lost is exotic and novel…so is God and life with God

Personally, I’ve never been deserted on an island. I’ve never been attacked by a shark while sailing on a handmade raft. I’ve never been in a gunfight or plane crash. I’ve never seen a smoke monster. Of course, this kind of stuff is commonplace on Lost. The very title of the show implies the exotic and unknown. Another reason that the show attracted such a crowd, and continues to (at least in the Murphy househould), is the fact that viewers can vicariously participate in these exotic and novel things. And God is way more novel, exotic, and unknown than anything on Lost. God is “wholly other.” The Bible calls him “holy,” which ultimately means he is supremely special and different from us. He is unique, and calls us to a great, supernatural adventure, where even the seemingly mundane is seen to be exotic in its eternal importance.

Lost creates community…so does God and life with God

Back in the day, my co-workers, friends, family, and I were part of a special group. We shared a common value. We had our own language and buzzwords. We participated in a weekly ritual, all centering on being Lost-watchers. We were members of a “Cult of Lost.” Members of this “cult” were “in” by virtue of knowing about, talking about, caring about, and doing certain things. And the sense of belonging this created felt good. It’s good to be “in the know” and to fellowship with other people that are “in the know” too. My boys are slowly starting to realize this as they are introduced to the Lost landscape. Clearly, God calls people into a similar kind of fellowship. He calls everyone to become part of his church, his people that are “in the know.” But the Bible says that we are even more than members of a group if we are believers in Christ. It says that we become adopted children of God himself, and parts (somehow) of Christ’s body. Is it possible that the need for this kind of belonging may be at the root of why we enjoy belonging to smaller communities? Groups like fans of TV shows?

Lost’s characters are complex and redemptive…so is God and life with God

Jack’s a doctor struggling with having greatness “thrust upon him” by the other survivors, all the while trying to deal with his own issues: his recently dead, alcoholic father, his wife who left him, and his feelings for Kate. Kate, on the other hand, killed her step-father, and is a fugitive on the run from the law. Sawyer? A con-man. Jin? A hit-man. Michael? Trying to reestablish a relationship with his son. Locke? He couldn’t even walk…until the crash. And these are just a few of the many diverse characters in Lost. All of them, through flashbacks, and pretty soon now flash forwards, and down the road flash sideways, are given fascinating and complex back and forward stories, all of which inform the past, present, and future drama on the island. And all of them are characters living out redemptive themes, trying to move past issues, receive forgiveness, and fulfill destinies. Again, we see an obvious spiritual connection. Many characters in the Bible also have fascinating lives that lead to and from moments of revelation and redemption. And the Bible also has a redeeming God who is there to understand our complex lives and offer forgiveness. This redeeming God of the Bible even became human in order to reconcile us to Himself. Is that complex enough for you?

Lost is about big universal themes…so is God and life with God

Beyond dealing frequently and specifically with redemption, Lost has, without fail, always been about big themes. It’s about good triumphing over evil. It’s about the need for our problems to have solutions. The need for a leader, for safety, for hope, for meaning. It’s about life and death and faith. About love and hate. About destiny and chance. God also is about these big, bold, epic themes. The Bible also is a book about good overcoming evil, finding peace, finding a leader, having faith and hope and love, overcoming hatred, finding our purpose. But of course, you may say, tons of stories and books contain this kind of thematic material. So what? Here’s where I get to the point: Lost’s allure, which is made up of at least mystery, exoticism, a sense of community, complex characters, and big and redemptive themes, is not only similar to the allure of the God of the Bible, but it is alluring because it’s similar. I believe that cult followers of Lost (me included) get a type of spiritual sustenance and inspiration from the show because of these biblical echoes, this spiritual truth disguised as television. We get sustenance and inspiration because Lost gives us what we’re all really seeking. In fact, I’d say that the story of the Bible explains why so many of our favorite stories can create the kind of cult-like devotion I’ve described. It is because all stories are variations of an original. Because all human needs can be boiled down to a spiritual one.

So, getting back to where I started, my boys are currently being initiated into a cult I was initiated into over 15 years ago now. A cult whose tenets seem to have a deep, driven, devoted, inner-need to get close to God and life with God. Yes, I realize it’s just a TV show, but it’s a show that at its best, can tap into my heart – anyone’s heart – for big, biblical reasons. I want to make sure my boys see that, and understand that.

  • Why do they feel certain ways about certain characters?
  • How are they wrestling with the characters decisions on the show?
  • How are they processing all the mysteries being presented?

Working through these questions isn’t just about making them more discerning critics or viewers, but about helping them be better devotees of God, better worshippers. About being a member of the church, which is what this show is ultimately about.

Shelby Out!


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