There’s a good chance that one of my favorite shows of all time may also be one of yours. It was a little project designed by ABC with the original intention of being a cross between Gilligan’s Island and the reality show Survivor, and entail elements of the movie Castaway and the book Lord of the Flies. The tv show was called LOST. During its run on tv from 2004-2010, most television critics also recognized it as one of the best shows on tv (particularly during its first 3 seasons), as it garnered about 15 million viewers/week and accumulated numerous critical awards.
The premise of LOST was that a group of individuals survived a plane crash somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, landing on a mysterious island. But it seemed destined to happen. Over the course of their journey on that mysterious island together, the characters encounter such supernatural elements as a “Smoke Monster,” a group of other mysterious island inhabitants whom they call “the Others,” the remnants of a secret scientific organization called the Dharma Initiative that had researched the supposed powers of the island, a sequence of numbers that frequently appeared in the lives of the characters in the past, present and future, as well as synchronic personal connections between the characters that they are often unaware of. All of these characters arrive at the island with sordid pasts filled with dysfunctional families and often strained relationships with fathers, and from episode to episode they appear to shift from black to white so often in their decision-making that we can never really tell who is good and who is evil. Eventually, working together in hope of getting off the island at some point, they, in essence, find out who they really are.
The excitement and mystery of the journey and the character growth are really what the show is about. On the surface, it looks as though the show is about a magical island that holds the keys to the secrets of the universe and possesses the power to start, stop, fast-forward, or rewind human existence. It’s not. And this is part of the reason why LOST lost about 1/3 of its viewership after the third season. While the ride was exciting and the characters were evolving, questions continued to be raised that were never really answered. Many people got frustrated and gave the show up. Last spring, the series finale ran, the show concluded, and many were still disappointed when satisfactory answers were really never given to all of the big questions. Viewers really never had the right to be disappointed though. If they were looking for answers, they should have jumped ship with the other disgruntled viewers 3 seasons earlier. The show never really intended to offer answers. It was about the journey and the character evolution.
I’ve noticed this somewhat maddening trait of LOST in the other projects of writer, director, producer J.J. Abrams as well. My wife and I weekly watch another one of his shows, a science fiction mystery-drama that feels like an updated X-Files, called Fringe. Having just concluded season three of Fringe, it’s the same situation – a preposterous amount of questions that will never be satisfactorily answered. They were really never intended to be though. Abrams has flat-out said in interviews before that his theory on storytelling is about taking a mystery and enjoying the journey as you grow with the characters. If you want to hear it from his own mouth, here (particularly minutes 4:00-6:30) is a fascinating seminar speech he gave several years ago. (please note: Abrams language falls into the PG-13 category).
One of the reasons that Abrams, one of the more acclaimed writers/directors/producers of the past 25 years, has been so incredibly successful in his career is simply that he is a very talented storyteller. However, another reason for his success is that he fully identifies with and embraces the thought process, paradigm, worldview of our culture today – that life is more about the journey and personal evolution than it is about the actual, big answers. This is one of main tenets of a philosophically postmodern world. That approach to life, however, will ultimately lead many to become like LOST viewers after a series finale party – scratching their heads and wishing they had answers.
It amazes me how many people are currently content with not legitimately pursuing answers in life. These people range from happy to miserable, young to old, wealthy to needy. If life is going well right now, people conveniently push thoughts of death or the next life out-of-mind because they’re only concerned with trying to fill their bellies with happiness now. Even those who are unhappy often seem more interested in complaining about life and perhaps playing the various lotteries of life in hope of circumstances becoming better rather than actually investigating the book that promises answers. Young people are too busy for God. Elderly…let me share one personal example…I have an 80-year-old gentleman that lives in my apartment complex whom I care about dearly. He’s outgoing, a little rough on the exterior, but very warm and generous and friendly. I’ve invited him to come to worship with me and my church numerous times, but he often changes the conversation. He talks about how much he’s grown over the years and how his perspective on life has changed. But while he’s enjoyed the journey of life along with its ups and downs and while he feels he has evolved as a person, he currently doesn’t really want to invest himself in finding answers. Many don’t.
Many Christians fall into this mentality as well. We’ll put tons of time and energy and money into seeking to improve this life and grow as people (better degrees, fitter bodies, more socially involved families), which is all great, but we don’t really come with the same passion to understanding our purpose or place in this world. In such cases, Christianity becomes a family tradition, a societal average, and a label that we categorize ourselves as on social media, instead of a continual and growing relationship with an Almighty God (who governs the circumstances of our lives – the journey) and our Risen Lord (who transforms the hearts and characters of his followers – personal growth). More than that though, the other end of this relationship (i.e. Jesus) saves us from all of the mistakes we’ve made throughout life.
What LOST was missing was a bottom line that tied everything together and made sense of everything. And that’s what many in this world in general are missing. Christians have access to that bottom line though. It’s Jesus. Our purpose in life is not to produce, achieve, or pursue excitement or health or happiness or wealth or status or anything more or less noble sounding. Our purpose is to glorify Jesus. Our place is with Jesus. Our fight is for Jesus. Our sense of being is in Jesus. Our God is Jesus. Our joy is Jesus.
Look at the Apostle Paul’s words from the great “Resurrection Chapter” of the Bible: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) What Paul refers to here as “of first importance” is not the journey or personal improvement, it’s the end result of Jesus’ work, the “big answer” of life, the bottom line of spiritual welfare. Our sins are paid for by Jesus’ sacrifice and we are right with God eternally and will live in paradise with God eternally. That bottom line truth shifts our pursuits in life, our pleasures in life, and our perspective of life.
To borrow a quote from one of my favorite Christian writers, Marc Driscoll, “the central point of the New Testament is that we are more wicked than we ever feared, yet more loved than we ever dreamed.” No one in this life is currently living their dream. Not a single person. You are not. I am not. I just read yesterday that Arnold Schwarzenegger is getting a divorce after 25 years of marriage. He was a Mr. Universe winner, at one point the biggest box office draw in the world, the governor of the biggest state in our country, and now he’s getting a divorce. Something went wrong. Life is not perfect. This life will never be perfect. So if pursuing this world’s successes – an exciting journey or personal growth – is your primary goal, you will end up dissatisfied. If you pursue Jesus, you will not end up dissatisfied. He is life. Out of his own mouth, Jesus said, “My purpose is to give (my sheep) a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10 NLT) Regardless of what your question in life is right now, there’s your answer. If you look in Him, you will find what you’re looking for and more.