Lost had its final episode on Sunday, so by this time I doubt if there will be any spoilers for the people who read this.
Update May 30, 2010: I don’t know how many people noticed this outside of hardcore Losties, but flight Ajira 316 doesn’t fit the numeric pattern of The Numbers. It does, suggest a famous 316, Jn. 3:16, “For God so loved the world….” In fact the Lostpedia site mentions that the verse is encoded into the Ajira Airways site, as is a fragment from page 316 of Joyce’s Ulysses. So if that’s a verse for leaving the island doesn’t Oceanic 815 encode a verse for coming to the island? Oddly enough there are no 8:15 verses in either the Old or New Testaments that are appropriate. However, 815 can be said as “eighty-one, five” as well as “eight, one, five” or “eight, fifteen.” There is a Bible verse that is appropriate. The New American Bible gives Ps. 81:5 as:
For this is a law in Israel, an edict of the God of Jacob.
So this would situate the events on the island in an Old Testament world, and the events that transpire after Jack’s death in a New Testament world. The island is the allegorical representation of the world of law, and the world that Ajira 316 enters is the world of freedom.
The events on the island represent a working out of the Christian message. This is accomplished through Jack’s overcoming of Smokie, who can be taken as representing Satan, and is finally vanquished through Jack’s death.
The resurrection would correspond to Jack’s trip to the church.
Jack’s father tells him that everything that happened on the island was real. He doesn’t say that about the sideways story, but the characters there think of it as real. The people are all dead, but again Jack’s father tells him that everybody dies, but they don’t all die at the same time. So the people in the chapel have all died, but they died at different times, so not in the plane crash. The sideways world then is somehow different from the world of the plane crash. St. Augustine, in dealing with the issue of God’s foreknowledge and predestination, contends that God sees all of time as present, while we experience it moment by moment. He sees without predestining. Something similar is apparently going on in the sideways world. The people are all assembled at Jack’s death, but they are in that eternal now that sees the present, the past, and the future simultaneously. Thus Jack dies in 2007, but the other characters, such as Sun, or Christian Shephard, either predeceased him, or will die in the future.
The sideways world has now been revealed as a sort of purgatory in which the people we’ve come to know and love work out their problems before coming together in a church/funeral parlor chapel. The chapel in which they all get together is decorated with religious symbols from the major religions. So is this a wishy-washy universalist all souls go to heaven spirituality, or is it something deeper?
Barring any comment from the show’s writers/producers I think it can be argued both ways, and the ending may be deliberately ambiguous in that regard so that “spiritual, but not religious” people and “religious” people can both accept it.
While the Catholic church has been criticized for holding that there can be no salvation outside of itself, which is really no different than the guy who asserts that your Buddhist friends can’t be saved because they don’t know Jesus, that belief hasn’t always been exemplified in literature or in traditional Catholicism. So in La Commedia we have the “good pagans,” Virgil, Homer, Aristotle and so on in limbo, and we have Trajan in either Heaven or Purgatory. Mohammed is put into Hell as a schismatic, for breaking Christendom, but not all pagans are in hell, nor are all pre-Christians. At the same time we have been taught about “invincible ignorance,” which is that not attributable to the person. We were also taught about the “baptism of desire.” Both of these traditional beliefs left a considerable amount of wiggle room so that a Catholic might be free to believe that his Buddhist friends, and possibly Buddha himself, made it to heaven.
Now there is probably at least a book or two that can be written about that last paragraph, but the point here is that while the Church has taught that there is no salvation outside of the church, which fits in with the strict Evangelical notion that “there is no other name” through which salvation can be accomplished, there has been wiggle room on that doctrine. It could probably be argued, and it might even be true, that Vatican II expanded our understanding of what Church is so that it is now more inclusive than we thought.
Bringing the characters together in the chapel emphasizes not only the commonalty of death, which happens to all men, but also the commonality of the religious traditions, what C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man referred to as the Tao, the common elements of morality that appear as universals. The characters, as a result of their experiences in both the sideways world and on the island have been able to work out their salvation.
Is that Pelagianism? It could be, but if the concurrence of both worlds is understood as an act of grace, then the problem may not arise. It should be noted that Philippians 2:12 advises us to work out our “salvation with fear and trembling,” not exactly a Pelagian sentiment, and one which may well be in accord with the events in the real world and in the sideways world.
The presence of Jack’s father, Christian Shephard, and the manipulation of the characters in getting them to the chapel, herding them suggests a pastoral, Christian approach that brings the characters to salvation.
Ben’s staying outside of the Church, despite Locke’s forgiveness, and despite echoing the words of the gospel when he tells Locke to get out of his chair and walk, suggest that Ben has not fully worked out his problems. His purgation is not fully accomplished. One may think of Dante’s Purgatorio in which the sinner’s embrace their purgation and race eagerly to the final destination. Their work needs to be accomplished by progressively traversing the various parts of Purgatory and ridding themselves of the vices. Ben’s refusal to enter could be lukewarmness, as in Revelations “neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm,” or it could be incomplete purgation. I tend to view it as incomplete purgation. At some point he will enter the church and move on.
So there is an inclusiveness in the ending, one which I think goes beyond mere political correctness and wishy-washiness, but which is compatible with Christian faith.
Given the nature of television, and the risk inherent in overt preaching, which can alienate your audience, I think the writers left much of the show deliberately ambiguous. We can argue over whether the show was Christian, or whether it was New Age twaddle till we’re blue in the face.