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Oh, and don't read this if you haven't seen Ab Aeterno yet.
So, over the past couple weeks, as a way of defending Jacob, I offered up the explanation which, surprisingly, was given to us almost exactly as I described. And no, it's not because I read spoilers. I actually do check for spoilers sometimes, but I didn't see anything hinting to this even remotely. It was because this was taken straight from the Bible.
The Island Isn't Hell
Let's get this right straight away. The Island isn't hell and MiB isn't actually the devil. Nor is Jacob. I hope Jacob did a decent job of putting that to rest. Why did MiB say it was hell, then? Well, what would be the best way to control a 19th century Spaniard who feels like he has commited a great sin of killing a man. Convince him he's in hell. And we know MiB wants to kill Jacob, so tell him he's the devil and to get out of hell you have to kill him. Boom! You have your motivation. Jacob made sure to point out the reality to Richard, thankfully. I would take Richard's present day conviction that they're in hell with a grain of salt. He's disillusioned, thinking that Jacob's death undid the meaning of his entire life.
You Let Him Speak
The theory came up a couple weeks back that because Flocke said "Hello Sayid", that gave him the mystical power to cheat death. All because Dogen said to kill him immediately, and not let him speak. Well, here we get it again, though this time MiB says not to let Jacob speak and adds a clarifier "He's very persuasive". Also, Jacob spoke to Ben before Ben killed him, but Ben's knife still worked on Jacob. So, Dogen didn't want Sayid to let MiB speak, because he didn't want MiB to manipulate him. I hope this puts that to rest.
Jacob finally spelled the issues out. He's trying to prove to MiB that man is not inherently corrupt. People have a choice; they can choose to do what is right. Everyone that Jacob brings to the island he brings hoping that one of them, he only needs one, will prove him right. But MiB doesn't think he'll ever be able to prove him right. And it's impossible for MiB to prove Jacob wrong, no matter how many humans come and corrupt and destroy. There's always the possibility of just one out there.
Jacob also says that MiB is a darkness, an evil, that must not get out. The island is a cork keeping him there. Hey, I don't know about you, but for me this works perfectly well as "for the greater good". If that evil escapes it would be very bad for the rest of the world.
These issues are (almost) exactly as spelled out in Genesis and Job. In Genesis, God places before man the tree of the knowledge of good and bad and tells him not to eat of it. Satan, ever the liar and manipulator, tells man that God is keeping something back, that if they eat of that tree they will know good and bad. The tree symbolizes man's willingness to let God spell out for him what is good and what is bad. By eating of it they are actually telling him that they want to choose for themselves what they'll consider good and bad, that they can govern themselves.
In Job, Satan says to God that the only reason Job is faithful is because God protects him and blesses him. He says that "everything a man has he will give to save his soul (or life)". Satan thus extended his challenge beyond Job to all men. Essentially, Satan is saying that humans are selfish creatures. "They are corrupt." Job did end up remaining faithful, however, despite everything Satan threw at him, but that's another story.
So, this brings us to Lost. I hope Jacob made it clear enough that they're not in hell and he's not actually god or the devil. The "evil and malevolent" illustration is hard to explain. But the issues are very similar, and explains exactly why Jacob can't interfere, why God can't prevent the suffering we see on Earth despite being all powerful, because if he did, if Jacob stepped in and told people what they had to do and didn't leave it as a choice, he couldn't prove anything to MiB. If God prevented all suffering, much of which is caused by human's own actions, he wouldn't prove anything to Satan. Satan has to fail in his claim for God to be proven right. Hopefully in Lost, as in real life, Jacob will make up for it for the people that choose to do what is right.
Of course, God sent Jesus as a mediator, to give humans a perfect model for us to follow, and so Jacob also has now chosen a man who can guide our candidates, Richard Alpert. In real life, though, we are all fallable, we all descended from a sinful man, Adam. But that doesn't mean that we can't choose to do what is right. But I suppose that's a topic for some Other blog.
Jacob is Not God
I hope it's clear now that they're not saying that Jacob is God and MiB is the devil. Jacob didn't claim to create man. But how can Jacob and MiB explain things to Richard, a 19th Century Catholic(?), than with biblical references? And I like how Jacob and MiB are involved with issues that touch on topics and issues from the Bible; it's a great illustration and gives people something to talk about. But I certainly hope that's as far as it goes. I'll be disappointed if they end the series on that.
Thankfully, we have several episodes to go. They explained in the biblical way here, so later when our 21st Century Losties get caught up we'll get a more complete explanation.
MiB is Evil
I hope this episode put this to rest, too. MiB is not a good dude. He clearly lied to Richard here. He told him that that place was hell, he was dead, and Jacob was the devil. What is more, he told him that Jacob had his wife, when we see that is not true.
Now that we've had it hammered into our heads that MiB is evil, however, I'm sure we'll get more insight into Jacob and MiB's past and, perhaps, MiB didn't start out that way. Well, neither did Satan. He nurtured the desire to be worship and chose later to become Satan. But that's another story. So with MiB, we may come to understand how he came to be this way, why he is so evil now. But hey people, he's a bad dude! Team Jacob lives on!