Ben Linus and I have a lot in common. And anyone who is a fan of LOST knows that isn’t a flattering comparison. But before I get there, I’ll give some background. Ben was the leader of the “Others”, the island’s original inhabitants, whom were believed to be bad to the bone. Ben was ruthless in his quest to “protect” the island, and maintain his power over the group. He gained his power through the mass extermination of the people who were living on the Island as part of the Dharma Initiative, including his own father (who was a total jerk, by the way).
Ben’s adopted daughter Alex was the only person he ever loved. And he watched her be killed, in order to keep his power, and “protect” the Island. Ben manipulated, lied to, bribed, and conned every person he came into contact with, in order to maintain his hold on the Others. He claimed all along that he did all he did on the orders of “Jacob” the mysterious god-like protector of the Island. Yet Ben had never seen or heard from Jacob. Ben grew angry and disillusioned; he had allowed his daughter to be killed for “the Island”, but Jacob still gave no answers.
In a fit of rage, spurred on by UnLocke, an evil entity who is the enemy of Jacob, Ben murders Jacob with a knife to the heart. Then he lies about it, telling everyone that UnLocke did it.
Illana, Jacob’s most devoted follower, doesn’t really believe Ben’s story, and asks Miles (a man who can sense how a person died and their last thoughts) to tell her the truth. He tells the group that Ben killed Jacob, and when Ben claims that Jacob didn’t even care that he was being killed, Miles tells him, “Oh no, he cared. Right up until the knife stabbed his heart, he hoped he was wrong about you.”
Illana is very, very mad and makes Ben dig his own grave. When he is done, she will kill him. Suddenly, UnLocke appears, and makes an offer to Ben: come and follow me. UnLocke promises to restore Ben to power, to put him back in charge of the Island. He just needs to make a run for it. So he does. Then Illana chases Ben into the jungle, where he has found a rifle. The following scene shows what happened next:
Ok everyone, deep breath. I’m convinced that if that didn’t choke you up, you might not have a soul.
What you didn’t see in that scene, was that Ben had spent the entire episode denying that he killed Jacob, trying to make a deal, scheming to save his own hide, and refusing to admit what he did. In other words, he was being himself.
I have been thinking about that scene since last night, playing it over in my mind, and a few things stuck out to me.
(1) Jacob (and his followers) are ultimately good, despite being flawed. When Illana is faced with the man who killed her mentor and closest friend, and he finally admits to it, she forgives him. At least enough to not kill him or make him leave. She lets him remain with the group.
(2) We are all a little bit like Ben. Over the course of the series, I have developed a soft spot for Ben. Don’t get me wrong, he has done terrible things. But he has also been wounded deeply and early, and those wounds did not ever really heal. Ben is prone to lie, to manipulate, to treat others with contempt if they do not factor into his plans. Ben is cold and calculating. Ben represents the side of our nature we’d rather not think about. Ben represents fallen humanity. Which leads to…
(3) This scene is the story of how redemption begins. When we’re the ones in Ben’s shoes, digging our own graves, as a result of our selfishness, our manipulations, our desperate grab for power, it’s God who comes to us and says, “What do you want?”
Ben says to Illana, “I don’t expect you to forgive me, because I can never forgive myself.” and she replies, “What do you want?”
Ben says, “Just let me go.” He says he will return to UnLocke, and when she asks why he would want to go to him, knowing that he is evil, Ben responds with tears in his eyes, “Because he’s the only one who’ll have me.” Oh Ben.
My heart breaks for this broken man, because I’m just like him. So often, trapped in myelf, God stands before me and asks, “What do you want?” and I respond with, “Just leave me here God. Just let me keep doing what I’ve been doing. Just let me go.” When we are before God, and our excuses, our manipulations, our grab for power falls apart, we finally have to admit to it. All of it. And all we can do is ask for forgiveness, even though we know, as Ben did, that we don’t deserve it.
Even when I am spared, I think that total reconciliation is not possible (maybe for others, but not for me!), so I just hope I’ll be let go, and go to the one who I think will still have me. That is, the enemy of our soul.
And just like Ben, I am surprised by grace every time. God simply says, “I’ll still have you.” and then He turns and continues on, beckoning us to follow. But it’s for us to decide. We must choose, just like Ben had to choose.
What this scene doesn’t show is what happened after Illana walked away. Ben was free. He could stay with Illana and the followers of Jacob, or he could go and join with UnLocke and his group. He had to choose between power and goodness; UnLocke promised him power over the Island again, if he joined him. But in that moment Ben felt the freedom of forgiveness, and the lure for power did not sway him. He followed Illana back to camp. The beginning of redemption.