When there is no freedom, no God, and no food, people go nuts.
My wife and I saw The Hunger Games last night. I don’t normally review movies, but as far as movies go, I thought it was good. My wife had recently read the book, so she explained that the violence of the movie was scaled back many times over, probably to achieve the PG rating.
Leading up to seeing the movie, I had read and heard quite a bit of chatter from the Christian community about the story – much of it negative. Katniss should have taken a stand and refused to participate. Instead she’s made the hero in a game of gratuitous violence. Granted, the value system of this futuristic society, and even of Katniss herself, is a bit warped. But sometimes Christians tend to view pop culture through the wrong lens.
If you evaluate The Hunger Games, or almost any other story, from the perspective of a Christian, using Scripture as the only infallible guide to right and wrong, it’s easy to pick out all the errors. We tend to assess the values portrayed by the characters as if Scripture is their guide too, and make our judgments accordingly. I think we may be missing an important point, however.
When Angie was reading the book, she continually reported on the story’s progress to me. The Hunger Games is set far in the future, in what was formerly America, now fallen in some kind of war and controlled by a dictatorial regime and divided into districts. Katniss’ district is located in the Appalachian region, reflecting the poverty of a coal-mining village with little food to spare. What is noticeably missing from the setting, however, is religion.
I grew up in Kentucky and am quite familiar with the history of the region, and if one institution is synonymous with it, it’s the church. Granted, some churches in Appalachia have represented a rare and unique, snake-handling, shouting, and foot-stomping brand of Christianity. But no church is to be found in Suzanne Collins’ depiction of District 12, or in any other for that matter, which leads to my own conclusion about the genius of the story.
Where there is no worship or recognition of God, there is no value of human life. In a society without the witness of the church to the Creator and Savior of humanity, people go nuts. The Tributes, or players in The Hunger Games, are pawns. The entire nation cheers as they are pitted against each other in a fight-to-the-death matchup. One lone victor is intended to emerge from the arena with 23 dead children left behind.
The story sounds eerily similar to the dark spot in the history of the Roman Empire when traitors, such as Christians who were falsely blamed for the burning of Rome under Nero, were pitted against one another and against lions and other wild animals in a coliseum while Rome’s upper class cheered on. This is the product of a society that has rejected the story, the love, and the redemption offered by its Creator. This is the story of a Christ-less people. And as Winston Churchill said, “It is Christ or chaos.”
Humanity is depraved and sinful. In The Hunger Games, the President, sick with power and cold to life, is pleased to continue this game along with most of the culture. Katniss, the hero, who demonstrates bravery, selflessness, and a willingness to put others before herself, is still willing to harm others to save her own skin in a desperate situation. She plays along, somewhat unwillingly, but participates in the madness in crucial moments. In other words, the good, bad, and ugly among us are all infected with the same disease – depravity, inherent sinfulness, which is the thing that separates us from God for eternity unless we embrace the truth of the Good News.
Sadly, the odds are not in our favor.
God has loved us, even in our depravity, so deeply that He gave His only Son Jesus to die on a cross as our volunteer, our stand-in, and our sacrifice. He alone was worthy to take the penalty of our transgressions agains our Creator and pay the ultimate price for our freedom. In Christ, we are truly free. And what is required of us in the story of redemption? Nothing. That’s the nature of grace. We need make no sacrifice of ourselves or pay any penance to earn the restored favor of God. It is undeserved. It is grace. And it is ours when we simply come to Jesus, trusting fully in Him as our only Savior and turning to Him from our sin.
I walked away from The Hunger Games glad for my God, and glad for a Savior who so valued humanity that He paid the ultimate price for us. If Collins’ story teaches us anything, it is the dark reality of what people do when God is removed from the equation. Simply put, to avoid becoming a world that consumes itself, we need Jesus Christ.