Friday, June 18, 2010

LOST and sensus plenior

I pretty much waited till after LOST was over to start watching it. Right now my wife and I are near the end of the second season. But I have read a couple spoilers, especially Witherington's, so I have a little sense of what's really going on. If you want to watch the series sometime without knowing, then you should stop reading this post now.

I don't know much, except that they're all dead. Fairly often, one of them will say something that's a double entendre in that light. In the last episode I watched, they have a guy they suspect is one of the "others," whoever they are (I know my lack of knowledge will be painful to the faithful). Sahid has tortured him. Anna what's her name has used her police interrogation skills. At the prospect of them keeping torturing him until they know whether they can believe him or until they kill him, he indicates that they will never find enough reason to believe him and says, "I'm dead already."

Last night I was teaching Biblical Interpretation in Indy, and this line struck me as a good way to communicate the notion of "sensus plenior" to the students, the idea that God implanted hidden meaning in the words of the Old Testament prophets that the prophets themselves did not know but that would leap out to New Testament authors who had seen the rest of the storyline.

The man does not know, presumably, that he is dead. When he says, "I'm dead already," he is speaking to an immediate situation. So Isaiah is speaking to an immediate situation when he tells king Ahaz God wants to give him the sign of a young woman giving birth to a son, probably an heir to the throne, perhaps Hezekiah, whose birth will symbolize "God with us," the fact that God is not going to let the kings to the north defeat him.

But those who have seen the rest of the story hear in these words something else. They hear words about the birth of an heir to the world who will be born of a virgin, a king who will be "God with us" in a much more universal and eternal sense. Isaiah does not know the words will take on this meaning in the light of the rest of the story, but those who know the ending do.

And of course, LOST had writers who knew, just as Christians think of God inspiring the prophets. I've at least started writing a good deal of fiction, the creation of dialog and plot is a kind of mystery. I can imagine that lines like this one were a mysterious mixture of knowing where the plot of LOST was headed and a funny double entendre that jumped out of an author's mind. I bet he or she smiled when they found those words flowing from their fingers, almost as if they were not writing them but were carried away by the characters they had created.

And this is something like what someone means when they speak of divine inspiration that is directive in some way and yet preserves the personality and gifts of the human authors.


Steve said...

Good post, Dr. Schenck, with one major correction: they're not all dead. I didn't read Witherington's post, but I would have expected a little better understanding from him, although I have read many other people bewildering harboring the same conclusion.

I'm not going to spoil you by telling you where this misconception came from, but maybe this will serve as a useful example of the dangers of eisegesis based on faulty premises. ;-)

Ken Schenck said...

Steve, you've ruined my perfectly good sermon illustration with the facts :-)

I may have misread Witherington's post. I've taken them to be in a kind of purgatory (from a Christian standpoint). I'll look forward to knowing the rest of the story.

James F. McGrath said...

This provides a really good illustration of something, although it may not be what you need for this particular illustration!

Ben Witherington has simply missed some very clear statements in the finale (as well as what the writers and producers have said, assuming one thinks authorial intent matters).

I won't say more because it would spoil things to explain what led Ben to give these mistaken spoilers.

You might want to try to watch the rest really quickly. There's going to be a conference about LOST in Hawaii in January... :)

Ken Schenck said...


Bill said...

Ditto James. The events you're watching in seasons 1 & 2 are definitely 'real'. ;-)

Jeremy said...

Ya, what you are watching now is definitely all real... Henry Gale in the hatch is one of my favorite parts of the series... such good acting :)

Bob Jones said...

I appreciate your take on sensus plenior. Not only is biblical sensus plenior double entendre, but it is riddle as well. It is the methods of first century Midrash when applied to the riddles of the OT and the answers in the New.

Why is it a sharp three prong flesh hook? Because is is the same Word of God as the two-edged sword, giving a different aspect of it. The three prongs are the trinitarian authors, and the two sides are law and grace.

Hidden in the narrative of Samuel is the same picture of Gen 2:20 of the bride being pulled from the side of Christ. In Genesis it was done in his sleep/death. In Samuel it was done in his tribulation. It was a flesh hook ripping pieces of the body of Christ (flesh) whenever someone's sin's were 'covered' with a sacrifice... the fork being wielded by the Holy Spirit himself.

Only those knowing Christ can discern the sensus plenior.

Robert Jones said...

Merry Christmas in sensus plenior: The Christmas story in Gen 38:

And the rules which contrain it from being free-for-all allegory: