(Editor’s Note: Back at Christmas my Frank Page hitting wife bought me a Kindle Fire, and my spoken Word poetry genius daughter got the book “The Hunger Games” for me. Since I tend to do what my daughter tells me to do, I read the book. Immediately, I got Kindle copies of the rest of the trilogy, then devoured the movie last week. So, I’m a fan.
Alan Cross, who blogs at Downshore Drift, wrote this great article and I asked him to publish it here. He said yes. Here it is.)
I found a lot of Biblical truth in The Hunger Games trilogy. I finished reading it yesterday and think that some of the story does a better job of depicting Biblical truth than much that passes for “Christian” literature or film. It is not a shiny, neat, tidy story. It is full of violence, treachery, pride, oppression, greed, indifference, tyranny, and the misuse of power. It kind of looks like parts of the Bible that way. It displays what happens when an individual/group tries to create a perfect society using power, fear, and violence as their means to control others. It also shows what happens when people have no hope, how they can turn on one another, and how the desire for personal success, safety, and survival can cause us to do deplorable things to one another and how that evil can drive us mad. Basically, it is a picture of a world without any good news, without any Gospel. It is exactly the world that we would be living in, and that some do live in, if Jesus had not come.
Most Christian “art” presents us with a problem and then rapidly moves toward a solution which usually has something to do with the problem being presented to Jesus or the person becoming a Christian. It is “Sit-Com” theology that presents the problem and resolves it in a tidy 30 minute episode (including commercials). Unfortunately, serious problems do not resolve easily and in providing simplistic solutions to the evil that besets us through encouraging people to “pray a prayer,” we actually tell a less than truthful or realistic story. Evil is persistent, even among those who have turned to Jesus, and while Christ’s salvation is complete, the rooting out of evil from both the world’s systems and our own hearts requires more than we might initially expect. But, The Hunger Games, while having no intention whatsoever of being Biblical that I am aware of, actually approaches being a truthful story. It does not resolve the problem of human evil that is both individualistic and embedded in systems. It shows how this evil is entrenched in our systems of government, industry, and entertainment and how it also warps our best motives. It is a treatise on human depravity.
I could not help but think of Ephesians 6:12 as I read this: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” There are forces of evil that establish themselves as authorities and rulers over us. They embed themselves in human systems and tempt us to live warped and twisted lives focused on the exaltation of self. When you see the extravagance and excess of the citizens of the Capitol as they feast on the resources of the Districts while cheering on the violence of the Hunger Games where innocents are left to war against one another for their own survival, you are left to wonder if the story is not intending to target real people in a real place and time. I read somewhere that the author, Suzanne Collins, was motivated to write these books while seeing the invasion of Iraq where civilians were dying and flipping the channel to see reality shows where people were cheering on banality in its highest forms. It seems as though she is saying that we have been desensitized to the violence and death going on around us because we have filled our lives with entertainment to numb our own boredom and shut out the voices of the oppressed. We just don’t want to deal with our meaningless lives or the problems that our abundance has either created or ignores.
Are we entertaining ourselves to death with things that do not matter while we cheer on wars and economic policies that protect our way of life? What if our “way of life” is immoral and selfish? What if we are enriching ourselves at the expense of others? What if our economic system, our entertainment, and our political and military decisions are actually hurting people? What if the things that benefit us actually damage others? Do we care about others or just about ourselves? These are some of the questions that I see Collins asking through these books.
Ultimately, redemption in The Hunger Games, if it exists at all, is found through self-sacrifice, which does approach the way that Jesus brings redemption to humanity. It is only through laying down your life for others that life has any meaning or purpose at all. But, in this trilogy, even that has consequences and things never quite work out the way the characters want them too. Even self-sacrifice is flawed. Our motives are mixed, our best intentions are questionable, and we cling to survival and our own safety and comfort at the expense of others – even those we love – even without meaning to. The Hunger Games would feel very hopeless if it was not so human – so Real to our everyday experience. The story isn’t hopeless, however, because we live in a version of it and yet, we feel hope and love and meaning coming from Somewhere – even if we don’t understand where. I think that we read our own sense of hope into an otherwise hopeless story as we wait for deliverance to eventually come.
Even though there is no religion or a Savior (Katniss Everdeen, the main character, is not a Christ-figure) I see many Biblical parallels in The Hunger Games because it is a REAL story. I do not think they are intentional. I would not use it for Bible studies or a sermon series. The Gospel is not present. But, if you read Ecclesiastes or Judges in the Bible and you see the meaninglessness of wealth and power and the presence of human depravity and violence on display, you will recognize what Collins is saying in her novels. She is telling our story of lostness and it is one that we are intimately familiar with. It is a REAL story and because of that, people are drawn to it. The Bible is nothing if not realistic in describing the human condition.
Maybe people are not drawn to the stories we tell as Christians because our stories are not real – because they are shiny and sanitized and because people intuitively know that they are manipulative and false. They are too simplistic. We should tell the real story of our human condition and then display the good news that there is a real Savior who has broken into our oppressive and deadly story to rescue us and establish a new way of living through His own sacrifice as He invites us to join Him. Jesus makes sense of all of our Lesser Stories, but we cannot experience His freedom if we keep clinging to the myth that life would be better if we could just be in power or have abundance or live in the Capitol or win the Hunger Games, whatever they might be.
Millions are going to read these very depressing stories and see these movies, not because they give a shiny, happy picture of life, but because they hint at something that all of us know to be true – that in our shiny, plastic world we are craving the REAL. There is evil and greed and violence and oppression in the world and we are all conflicted and we are all to blame. Deep down, we all know this. But, there is also love and sacrfice and hope, even if it struggles to break through.
I am glad that, as Christians, we have the full story. That Hope does indeed break through and that the REAL is more beautiful than we ever imagined. We will be talking about that on Easter Sunday at our church – and every day after.