The Theology of the Hunger Games
As we approach the release of the second film in the Hunger Games series, you may hear people talk about how the dystopian world dreamed up by Suzanne Collins is too violent, how it's cruel and un-Christian, something good teenage girls should not be reading or watching. Don't listen to them.
We all have those books that strike us emotionally and spiritually at certain times in our lives. For me, they're the Hunger Games. I read the young adult trilogy during a heartbreaking time when my husband and I found out we were infertile and began the long process of adoption. One day I picked up a copy of the first book in the series and, like so many, couldn't put it down. I read the Hunger Games books everywhere—at work, walking my dog, sitting at red lights in the car. I stayed up late reading them. I lost sleep. It was like I was physically hungry for the story and couldn't get enough.
Unlike in most books and films today, the violence in Hunger Games serves a greater purpose than entertainment; there is no glory in it. Though the premise of the book is enough to make your stomach turn—main characters Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are forced along with 22 other kids to compete in a televised fight to the death—their story exposes political injustice, oppression, the depravity of human nature, and the frightening insensitivity to destruction that we see glimpses of in our culture today.
But more than anything, Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss' own heart—the story of a young girl who endures a traumatic event, who has every excuse to crumble inside, yet finds courage to do the right thing, and sacrifices everything she has for a cause that's greater than herself. It's the story that we are all in the middle of, the battle between good and evil, between the Creator and the Destroyer—the battle for souls. Christians are called to fight. But like Katniss, we will succeed not by our own strength or ingenuity, but by our weakness. As the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:10, "For when I am weak, then I am strong."
Katniss didn't want to be the "Mockingjay," a bird hybrid that became the symbol that rallied her people to fight for freedom. But she had no choice. The games, the physical pain, the psychological torture she had endured—all these things had shaped Katniss into the Mockingjay before the leaders of the revolution asked her to play the role. As readers learn in books two and three, the true story of the Hunger Games is not how Katniss and Peeta survive the arena, but how they handle the emotional and physical impact after the games are over. They suffer nightmares, humiliation, and isolation. Many times, Katniss ends up hiding somewhere, crying, an absolute mess. Yet she uses and redeems her painful experiences for good work.
I am Katniss in her weakest moments. I know nothing of archery and warfare, but I know the evil workings of my inner heart, of my battles with selfishness and pride. I was crushed by infertility, by the months of waiting to adopt, by the weight of my desire for a child—but God allowed me to be broken so that I could be healed. Again and again, he taught me to trust him; after each new heartbreak, I surrendered. And even after our beautiful daughter arrived, I had a hard time adjusting to being a mother. I've come through the battle now, but I am not the same. In Genesis 32, we read that Jacob wrestled with God, and walked away with a limp.
There are only a handful of books besides the Bible that have really made me love Jesus more, but I've added the Hunger Games to that list. When I read about Peeta, I feel Christ—not because Peeta is divine or has any special power to save the world, but because he exemplifies sacrificial love.
Peeta is always there for Katniss, even when she rejects him. He protects her in the arena, plays the capital's games in order to save her, takes blame and torture in her place. Peeta is the rock that Katniss falls on, the only person who truly understands what she has gone through, because he went through it too. And he is the only one who can give her hope. As I read Hunger Games, I wanted to crawl into Jesus' arms the way Katniss crawls into Peeta's on those nights on the train, tormented by nightmares. Peeta is the only place she can feel safe.
In the third book of the Hunger Games, when Katniss is recovering from the trauma of the arena, the doctors suggest that she start with the simplest things she knows to be true. "My name is Katniss Everdeen," she repeats to herself. "I am 17 years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped."
Sometimes I find myself needing to do the same thing. Though I've come through my darkest hour, there are still challenges to face, still flashbacks from the past, and there are days I get so tangled in my emotions that I'm almost paralyzed. It's then that I must go back to what is true: "My name is Laura. I was lost in sin. Jesus saved me. I can trust him."
I must remind myself, as the Bible does, that God has a purpose for me, that he will use me in his war, even when I feel like a total mess on the inside. That this life is just a short period of time, and there will be an end to this battle, and like Katniss and Peeta in all their brokenness, we're going to win.
Laura Snider graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Memphis. She lives in Memphis with her husband and two children.