I just watched the LOST season 1 episode “Deus ex Machina“. It was great to finally see the other end of the transmission I heard soon after I started watching the show, when the “tailies” heard a voice on the other end of a transmission, claiming to be survivors of Oceanic flight 815.
What is the reason for the title? What is the “machine” and what deity arises from it? The plane? The dialysis machine? Is the island itself a dialysis machine for the world, taking out the evil and enabling goodness to survive?
We witness John Locke having two crises of faith in this episode (one in ‘real time’ one in flashbacks), but how much light does the one shed on the other? On the one hand, John’s unfortunate experiences with his mother and father ultimately result in his getting to the island, so we get to ask the same questions one might ask about religious ideas of providence: Is it worth it? Is the suffering justified as means to some end in the divine plan? Or is confidence in there being a plan, faith that everything happens for a reason, just a coping mechanism to deal with mishaps, or the guilt that accompanies survival or good fortune?
So why did the island kill Boone? To spare John, who needed to find the plane but would himself have died climbing into it himself had he been able to walk? Is this akin to the slaughter of the innocents in Matthew’s Gospel, where a divine hand is said to place others in harm’s way while in the process sparing the chosen one? Or was this to save Desmond, who would have killed himself had John not banged on the door because of what had happened – and if Desmond had killed himself rather than turning the key, who knows whether the whole island and perhaps the whole world might have been affected. Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one?
And which, ultimately, is preferable? A happy ending that comes about through a divine plan that determined that end be achieved through such a process? Or the same happy ending that comes at the end of the same series of unfortunate events, but with no purpose having ordained that it be so?
One thing seems clear. Often history will reach the same point no matter what any one individual among us does. And so we excuse ourselves for not being stronger, not being more courageous, not taking risks and paying a price that might not ultimately accomplish anything. But if we can make the arrival of the good happen faster, or make the path that gets us there less painful, is it worth it? When Christian Shepherd referred to himself as being too weak, what sort of weakness did he mean? Perhaps the strength to grab the wheel of history (to use a phrase made famous by Albert Schweitzer) and turn it, even though it will in all likelihood crush us in the process. Did the makers of LOST have Schweitzer in mind when they introduced the wheel which Ben turns at the end of last season?