Thoughts on Lost

Well, by now everyone has given their take on the Lost finale. I personally thought it was superb and expected nothing less from what I think is the best show in television history. I am also glad it didn't answer every question. I think it would have been much less interesting if it had. Certainly there were plot lines the producers simply dropped, but I think for most of the characters, there was closure. If you haven't watched the finale yet, you should probably stop reading here because there will be plenty of spoilers to follow.

For me the biggest surprise of the finale was how much I related to Ben. So instead of talking about the show in general, I want to focus on him and how I feel more of a connection to him than the other characters (even if I like the others better). Ben has always been one of the most intriguing characters on the show, but the writers took him to a new level last season. We saw him at his darkest moment (murdering Locke), taking responsibility for his actions (his judgment at the Temple), and questioning himself and his faith. His most harrowing moment for me was in the finale of last season when he killed Jacob. The conversation between the two of them resonated with me (more on that later). This season, Ben's flash sideways episode was one of the most satisfying. We saw him redeem himself and resist the temptation to become powerful again, yet by the end of the season, we were still unsure of what "side" he was on. While I was never convinced he would help the Man in Black, I was surprised at how easily he murdered Widmore (showing his vengeful nature had not yet been conquered). His conclusion, however, was beautiful, becoming Hurley's second in command, sitting outside the church as the others gathered to move on. I found all this really compelling given my own spiritual journey.

Ben's spiritual journey is not too different from mine although I never lied or manipulated like that, and I certainly never killed anyone. Ben is isolated and insecure. His relationship with his father is horrible due to his father's distance and abusiveness. He is looking for a reason to be special, and he finds it with the Others. Looking back on the show from the perspective of the finale, the Others seem to be a sort of religious order dedicated to serving Jacob and protecting the Island. They don't know why. They have never even seen Jacob, yet they follow this list of rules and are very selective about whom they choose to join them. In my own journey, they seem to represent the legalistic side of Christianity. They blindly follow rules that have no real purpose, and they exclude others. I can understand why Ben is seduced by this lifestyle. It offers him a place to belong and to be special. Furthermore, it offers him an opportunity to be in control given how out of control his life has been (with the loss of his mother, the abuse of his alcoholic father, and his isolated life on this strange island).

Legalism certainly is seductive. It allows us to think we are special and allows us to exert power and judgment over others in order to reinforce the idea that we are special, even superior to others. I certainly spent a long time thinking I was special because I was so much better than others. I followed the rules. I manipulated others into following my interpretation of the rules. While I never sunk to the depths Ben did, many do. Had I been given the kind of authority he had, I don't think it would have been to unlikely that I may have been capable of the kind of actions he was. Certainly, it happens to many people in power (especially in the church where that power takes on a sense of divine authority). However, deep down this legalism cannot offer real security. We are all human and bound to make mistakes. No one follows the rules perfectly, and we are always afraid someone better and more special will come along and replace us. For Ben, this person is Locke, someone else who is chosen, who seems in fact to be favored even more by the Island (or in the spiritual sense, God). Ben becomes jealous and wants to eliminate this threat, which he eventually does. I can recall that same jealousy when someone seemed more "spiritual" or more "gifted" than me. It eats you up inside as it does to Ben. Legalism is ultimately a very self-centered religion, one that demands that I be special, that I be superior, but because it is so self-centered, it is ultimately very hollow and consuming.

Ben becomes so consumed with his mission (to be the most special forever), that he sacrifices his "daughter," the person he loves most. For this, he feels he must be judged, another unfortunate aspect of legalism. It is interesting that the one who judges him is the Man in Black (in many ways an allegory for Satan, whom the Bible refers to as the Accuser). The judge then deceives Ben into following his lead, but really Ben has already been following him all along. Ben never spoke to Jacob. Instead, he followed a set of rules, for fear he would be judged not special, not fit to lead. When he finally confronts Jacob face to face, he questions, "What about me?" This is the ultimate question in any self-centered lifestyle like legalism. Jacob's response sounds very close to God's response to Job's similar question: "What about you?" In other words, it's not about you. Ben's entire mission in life is shattered by that question, and I can relate. In my most legalistic days, the book of Job was a source of great frustration. How could God be so dismissive of such a faithful servant? What I later came to understand was God's response is meant to rescue us from the destructive cycle of selfishness because he truly loves us, not because he doesn't think we are special. However, we can never understand how truly loved and special we are until we stop obsessing over it, until we "let go" of our own self-loathing and insecurity.

Ben doesn't understand this, so he angrily stabs Jacob. I have been there. I have blamed God for all my problems. I have lashed out at him in total anger. Like Ben, I was blind to the fact that God was not the source of my problems, rather it was my own misunderstanding of God and Christianity. Ben finally begins to realize this after Jacob's death because ironically, he is now free from the legalism he created for himself. Maybe we all have to have a moment where we "murder" the god of legalism in order to see the true God. I almost walked away from the Church altogether. In that moment of abandoning what I had known, God stepped in and showed me a better way.

That way is illustrated for Ben in the final season, first through Ilana, who forgives him for killing Jacob, the man most important to her. Forgiveness, not perfection, is the true key to Christianity. It is at this moment that Ben decides to follow (for the first time because he was always the leader in his selfish legalistic religion), much like me, always seeing myself as better than everyone, refusing to submit to the leadership of others. In his flash sideways, Ben is given the opportunity to redo his past mistakes. He is able to sacrifice his own benefits for the love of Alex. I found this to be one of the most touching moments in the entire series. Even the most desperate and evil of characters has a chance to find redemption. Isn't that what Christians claim to believe, even though legalism refuses to acknowledge it?

Even in this new state of grace, Ben stumbles. He is tempted to return to his old ways, leaving the group with Richard so that they can blow up the plane, making it impossible for anyone to leave the Island. He even kills Widmore, the man who is responsible for Alex's death. We see that Ben does not instantly become a perfect or even that much better of a person. I can say the same for myself. Just because I have been rescued from legalism doesn't mean I don't have relapses or that I am really a much better person than before. It takes time to heal from those wounds and grow into a loving person. That is why Ben's ending is so perfect.

Ben stands there beside Hurley as he is anointed the next "Protector" of the Island (like Jacob, a God figure). He can now accept his place and agrees to help Hurley. Hurley fears he does not know all the rules, and Ben says to him that Jacob's way with the rules is the old way, and that Hurley has a chance to start a new way in which he just loves people and takes care of them. Ben's recognition of this crucial truth is his final turning point, when we know he is going to be okay. Now he has a second chance to lead people in a new "religion" based on love, rather than rules, just like Christianity is supposed to be. This has been my own spiritual journey, moving from serving a god of rules (myself ultimately) to a God of love.

In the end, Ben cannot join the others in the Church. He tells Hurley that he has some more stuff to work through, and Hurley reassures him that he has done well as his assistant. What comforting words, exactly what Ben needs to hear so that he too can eventually find forgiveness for his past sins. I feel like I am in a similar place, working through my past brokenness on the road to complete renewal. I am not there yet, so I can sit with Ben outside the gates of Heaven, seeking to be renewed by love.

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