Watch Ruth Rosen’s introduction to the article.
Most of you know exactly what I’m talking about when I ask what you think of The Hunger Games. Granted, if you haven’t read the books or seen the movie you might be tempted to scoot to the next article. But wait! This is too good an opportunity to pass up.
In fact, The Hunger Games provides all kinds of opportunities for thinking, caring people to reach out, to engage with fans of the books, the movie or both. And that’s a lot of people! Supposedly, the first Hunger Games trailer (launched November 14) was viewed 8 million times within the first 24 hours. And the number of copies of the book sold since that trailer was released? Would you believe 7.5 million? Maybe you’re like me, cynical about the hype and thinking it’s got to be a little, exaggerated but even if it is, The Hunger Games is a mega hit. The number of people reading the books and seeing the movie is enough to make a significantly sized city population. On a personal level, people I know and care about have been riveted by the three-part story by Suzanne Collins. What about you?
This isn’t an advertisement for the book or movie, or even a review pro or con. I’m just sending up an alert for the opportunity to do what Jesus did: use the buzz—whatever people are currently talking about—to draw attention to the truth. Jews for Jesus has always valued that principle as part of what it means to be on the creative and cutting edge of communications. The Hunger Games provides a great example of how that can work—the plot is like a highway with plenty of “exits” pointing to spiritual issues.
The “Games” are a savage throwback to the days of the gladiators, made even more terrible by all kinds of high-tech twists. In the epitome of cruelty, selected teens are pitted against one another in a fight to the death from which only one will survive. The heroine, Katniss, offers herself as a substitute when her younger sister is chosen to participate. She is willing to die so that her sister can live. Sound familiar? Without drawing too close a parallel to the gospel, how easy is it to ask a fan of this story how realistic he or she thinks it is for someone to offer to die in the place of a loved one? How far a leap is it to mention that some of us have staked our lives on the belief that someone not only would, but did, do that for us?
The Hunger Games is a love story on a few different levels; the storyline makes it pretty easy to drop a few tidbits about what it really means to love or be loved, and the kind of sacrifice that love can inspire. But love is not only shown in the sacrifices it inspires the various characters to make… it is shown as a power that can actually beat the “game” or the “system”— which is to beat death itself.
I’m not suggesting that the entire plot is a parallel to the gospel, just that it contains numerous possibilities and talking points. Even the fact that in real life people are entertained by the story can become a point of discussion. In the book, we see how evil it is to view people killing one another as entertainment. What makes those who read the books or watch the movie different from those spectators in the story? The fact that we know the book/movie isn’t real does not adequately answer the question. If the books and movie are simply consumed as entertainment, we’re not much better than the fictional characters who find the Hunger Games so riveting. What can make reading or watching the story a redemptive experience is to understand the themes. Including recognition of the evil in human hearts. Those of us who have been delivered from that evil (sin) should have a passion to see others delivered—because though the story is fictional, the evil it portrays is very real.
I actually think that the story can be a launch pad, not only for reaching out to unbelievers, but also for challenging ourselves as followers of Jesus. If you happen to be a fan of the books/movie, here are a few questions I hope you’ll find worth a moment of your reflection, and maybe use as talking points with other believers. How is your experience of the story different from those who don’t know the Lord? Does it need to be? Why or why not?
When we are in the world but not of the world, we are aware of what’s going on around us, but in a different way than those who don’t know Jesus. People who don’t know God are hungry for something they can’t quite figure out. Being in the world but not of the world gives us the insight to talk about things that are of interest to others in a way that just might point them to Jesus.
Whether or not you are a fan, I hope you’ll keep your eyes and ears open to the many people who are talking about The Hunger Games. And if you want to join the conversation in a way that might point to something more important than a popular book or movie, blog or tweet your thoughts … or join in the conversation on one of our blogs, like this one.