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The Revelation of Hunger Games

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Revelation 16:12-21) transports me to the coal fields of District 12 in the fictional country of Panem, where Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her little sister Prim’s place in the annual Hunger Games. This is an annual event where a boy and girl from each of Panem’s 12 districts are selected to compete in a televised fight to the death, with only one survivor. The Hunger Games are Panem’s way of maintaining order and preventing the anarchy and chaos that had come close to ending civilization 75 years prior. The security forces are called, aptly enough, Peacekeepers. I just finished reading the trilogy, and am amazed at how quickly the story captured me, how involved I was in pulling for Katniss and Peeta and Gale and the rebels in their fight to destroy the Capital’s forces. Fiction writers are good at setting up these worlds of extreme evil in which violent rebellion appears as the only option. A world where children are tortured and sacrificed will severely test one’s values of love and grace and reconciliation. It is a world that severely tests the ultimate meaning and power of the cross.

It took less than 75 years for the early Christian community to be drawn into such a test. Toward the end of the first century, Domitian was administering the Roman Empire with as much cruelty as President Snow of Panem. Christian children were being publicly tortured and executed, burned in vats of boiling oil, fed to lions, with the stadium gladiator fights to the death providing entertainment for citizens of the Empire. The Capital was bent on all this violence so they could maintain order and keep the pax romana, the peace of Rome. It was in this context of real life Hunger Games that John wrote his fantastic drama, meant to encourage and shore up the faith of Christians who were seeing their families tortured and killed for sport. Here in today’s passage, John must have remembered writing about the Baptizer prophetically crying out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord. But instead of preparing a way for the Prince of Peace, here he writes about an angel pouring out a bowl of wrath on the great river Euphrates, drying it up to prepare a way for the kings of the east to come and enter into the final battle at Armageddon. Prepare the way of violence. And it comes with a vengeance, with all of nature joining in the rebellion to destroy the Capital, splitting it into three parts, with the surrounding islands fleeing away and the mountains crumbling to the ground. And then, the shocked citizens are greeted with round two of the bombing, as hundred pound hailstones crush them.

What is truly amazing about the history of this early group of Jesus followers, is that many of them did remain true to the values of the cross. What effect John’s pastoral drama had on them we don’t know. Perhaps they read it and found it capturing their spirits, just as The Hunger Games captured mine, and they resonated deeply with the satisfaction of revenge and ultimate destruction of the evil empire and all its minions. But history shows that they did not translate this resonance with a call to arms. The first and second century Christianity was marked by a deep commitment to nonviolent action and resistance, by the ethic of the cross and the Sermon on the Mount. Their faith did not get highjacked by the deeply human call to violent revenge. For me, John’s revelation is a revelation of our humanity and a revelation of what torture and murder can do to our humanity. It’s the revelation of Suzanne Collins, the limitless capacity of humans to inflict torture and evil on others, and the need deep inside us to respond and destroy such evil in our midst. But, if you read The Hunger Games, I think you’ll find at least one hero who, like those early Christians, ultimately refused to be highjacked, who found that the deepest part of one’s soul is inviolable, who understood the need to break the cycle.

How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to respond.



  • February 3, 2012 at 8:54 am

    I have railed against The Hunger Games many times–for its faulty metaphors, its blatant appeal to our voyeuristic society (while mocking it), and for it being mis-marketed to teens (which means pre-teens are all over it). You’ve given the seriers more credibility–and possibly more credit–than I think the books deserve. But, as always, you’re making me think, and that’s a good thing.

    Comment by Amy

  • February 3, 2012 at 11:15 am

    As always, I appreciate your creative interpretations of the books you read and the ancient scriptures as well. Thanks, Stan!

    Comment by Janet Davies

  • February 3, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Amy, there’s a lot to rail against in that trilogy, and it provoked a lot of discomfort in me as well. Would love to talk with you about it sometime. One thing it did for me was to remind me that children are suffering these cruelties and horrors of war around the world as we speak, in the Congo, in Burma, in Sudan. Sometimes it feels like we are part of the Capital citizenry, spending our time on silly pursuits, relative to what the rest of the world is like. And then occasionally I get jolted out of my comfort zone.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • February 3, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Thanks Janet, always good to know you’re part of the conversation!

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • February 3, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    Stan I am not familiar with The Hunger Games. As I read your post you stated that John wrote his fantastic drama of the book of Revelation..I dont understand what you mean. Revelation is not a drama The first verse says “The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place… and the chapter 22 ” 18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

    20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

    Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

    21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

    Comment by Bill

  • February 3, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Bill, to say that the book of Revelation is written in the genre of drama does not take away from its inspiration as the word of God. There are many forms of literature in God’s word – poetry, song, parable, etc. Drama is just one more vehicle God used, in inspiring the writers. I learned from a New Testament scholar, James Blevins, who wrote the commentary, Revelation as Drama, that the form of the book matches exactly the form of Greek drama that was well known in John’s day. He used a form familiar to his readers. I’ll be glad to loan you the book next time I see you.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • February 4, 2012 at 7:07 am

    Thanks again, Stan and other readers, for continuing to make connections, raise good questions, and give me new perspectives. I have resisted reading THE hunger Games b/c of the violence, but your analysis has given me reason to read it…with John’s revation on the other side…a sort of variation on Reinhold Niebuhr’s (or was it Karl Barth’s?) dictum to read the Bible with the newspaper in the other hand.

    Comment by Kathy Meacham

  • February 4, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Kathy – I think it was Barth. Maybe we need three texts in front of us, Bible, newspaper, and novel. One thing I gained from reading the trilogy was a reminder that there are children facing horrors and exploitation all over the world – the cocoa fields of west Africa so we can eat cheap chocolate, the factories of China so we can afford IPhones, sweat shops all over so we can have cheap clothes, etc etc. And children are forced into wars all over. We live in a pretty narrow slice of privileged life here. One idea I thought of for teens and others reading Hunger Games – also read Denise Giardina’s “Storming Heaven” about a real rebellion in the coal fields, the Battle of Blair Mountain, which is the only time in US history where our Air Force bombed our own citizens. Let the teens know it’s not just fantasy lit. And then have them read Revelation.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • March 27, 2012 at 9:43 am

    I took my kids without any prior knowledge of the movie.. and hated myself for it! I had a long talk with them afterwards and could not believe the violence! I am glad I saw your post. I am going to share it with my 11&12 daughters. GOD BLESS+++

    Comment by Elizabeth

  • March 27, 2012 at 10:32 am

    Elizabeth – I’ll bet it was a shock. Quite a disturbing story. Another resource you could check out to debrief is Julie Goss Clawson’s book, The Hunger Games and the Gospel. It uses the Sermon on the Mount as a lens to understand the story. Also, I’ve recommended people read Denise Giardina’s Storming Heaven, which fictionalizes a true story of America’s real district 12 – the coal fields of central Appalachia, and the violence the government perpetrated on its own citizens in the Battle of Blair Mountain. John Sayles’ movie Matewan is another good one to show the dynamics of race, class, and violence in the coal field wars. Blessings on you as you continue to process the movie with your kids.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

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