Friday, May 15, 2009

Lost and The Closedness of Time

Hollywood and time travel. The two go together like peas and carrots. But most specifically, time travel and the ability to change time have been the dominant thematic pairing. Whether it be Marty McFly and repairing his parents' sad marriage or Superman flying back in time to stop Lex Luthor's earthquake from ever happening, Hollywood loves the idea of an open concept of time where past events may be altered and a different outcome may be achieved.

This may be why I've been so impressed with the television show Lost, as of late. Anyone who has been watching the show will know that there is a great deal of time travel happening; in fact it is more and more becoming a central focus of the show. What sets the time travel of Lost apart from all the other time travel we see on television and in movies is that the time travel in Lost presupposes a closed universe; one that more than fits with the Christian concept of time. In Lost, when characters travel back in time, they not only find that they cannot change the past events that they are witnessing; instead they often find that they are the causes of the very events that they were planning to foil.

At one point in the show, a man comes out of the jungle and nurses a wound for time-traveling character John Locke. Later in the same season after John Locke's wound has healed and he has jumped back in time, he sends the man out to nurse his own wounds. We discover that John Locke was the cause of his own healing. No matter what the characters do, they quickly realize that they cannot change what has happened; they can only act to make them certain. The reality of predestination is only a hairs-breadth away in every minute of the show. This is obvious upon further consideration because if the future cannot be changed by acting differently in the past, and the past cannot be changed by any actions performed in the future, and our actions in the present cannot change anything that will be, well baby, that's a universe where predestination is no longer objectionable.

For the thinking person who is watching Lost but has reservations about believing in Biblical predestination on the basis that predestination would make our actions meaningless, they should consider that though the actions of the characters in the show who have traveled back in time are already decided and certain, the acts themselves are still nevertheless meaningful and important. In fact all our actions, though predetermined long in advance, pave the way for what is to come. Even though God may have predestined Bobby Jo to become a Christian, he has predestined for Dave to talk to her about Christ. God does not only determine the ends, but also the means to those ends.

From a Christian perspective, the fictional idea that time is open and may be changed does indeed conflict with the truth we know about the universe. Specifically, just because God knows the outcome of an event (after all, he has decided it beforehand), we do not believe in any universe where things could ever have been other than they are. We do not believe in contingency, for there is nothing contingent in all the Universe. We are not open theists who regard man as central and God as peripheral in the picture of the unfolding universe.

God is the center; we are peripheral. This is the Christian worldview, and I commend Abrams and company on restraining their god-complex long enough to recognize that time is not open and cannot be changed.

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