Record breaking numbers of movie-goers will munch popcorn while watching The Hunger Games in theaters this weekend. Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, written for young adults, obviously resonates with people of all ages.
Why are so many of us drawn to this disturbing dystopian story? I suggest that we read it or see the movie in search of hope.
My husband and I listened to The Hunger Games during a long road trip last summer. Its extreme reality-show scenario of children fighting like gladiators in a high-tech arena, a compelling plot, and interesting characters made for excellent drive-time distraction. It was no less engaging on the big screen.
The Hunger Games creates a truly monstrous world in which children are exploited in a profoundly damaging way. They destroy their own souls as they strategically murder each other, and the hearts of those watching them do it must recoil even as they rejoice in one less threat to the children from their own districts. Yet in this dreadful scenario, Katniss and several other characters who exhibit human kindness prevail. They do not all live, but they overcome the temptation to destroy their own souls by ruthlessly killing others.
In a revealing scene, the malevolent President Snow asked his game-maker, Seneca, why the hunger games needs a winner. He answered his own question. “Hope,” he said. He described the power of the hunger games as offering a smidgen of hope, by anointing one winner, while keeping fear alive through the violent deaths of the other twenty-three tributes.
Our world is not so very different.
Maybe we feel a little manipulated and vulnerable these days, like pawns in a well controlled arena. The world is changing in ways we don’t understand. Our economy is floundering due to institutionalized greed and systematic failure, and there is nothing we can do about it. Sadly, there are also way too many children who live with the very real threat of violence in their homes or neighborhoods. Perhaps we are waking up to a cold new reality after enjoying a pleasant American Dream.
In The Hunger Games Katniss survives and therefore serves as President Snow’s instrument of hope, and maybe readers and movie-goers find hope in her victory as well. But hers is a weak and temporary hope, for the terrible games will be staged again, and again and again, and the world itself remains unchanged.
We need hope that will change the world, not just win a game that the world has staged.
Is such a hope possible? I believe it is.
Imagine Jesus, God incarnate, leaving the perfection of heaven to live for a time on an island in the universe called Earth. Imagine angels watching Jesus’s life on earth as we might watch a reality show.
Jesus understood that the people on the earth had lost track of their Creator and needed to be rescued from their fear and hopelessness. There were terrible and oppressive games being played. He loved the lost residents of the island of Earth, and he knew they were not strong enough to survive the arena.
So he volunteered to take our place.
Jesus didn’t compete the same way everyone else did. He refused to adopt the premise of the game makers, that power and domination and the ruthless destruction of one’s enemies were the means to victory. His weapons were truth and love and sacrifice. His strategy threatened the power structures and those at the top of them.
That made everyone mad, and they voted him off the island. The political and religious leaders killed him on a hill outside of Jerusalem. Jesus, that trouble-maker, was out of the way.
But the game makers had been out maneuvered. Far from defeated, Jesus emerged from the grave victorious over the Earth, and he demolished the violent and manipulative power games for good. He didn’t just win the game, he changed the world.
Earth’s game makers still try to get us to play along with their obsolete rules, but Jesus gives us hope and the power to refuse to play that false game.
In a way, our lives on earth are like a reality show. The earth is a temporary arena, and we don’t have the moral strength to survive the tests of life. But we don’t have to, because Jesus won the victory when he volunteered to enter the arena for us.
In Him we have real, world changing hope. He will bring us safely home.
If you read the book or saw the movie, what are your observations on The Hunger Games?
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23