Suzanne Collins is a 50-year-old mother of two who wrote for children’s television shows such as Nickelodeon. One night she was channel surfing between reality shows and news coverage of the conflict in Iraq when she imagined a nation after a cataclysmic war. In her vision, a totalitarian regime enforces its despotic rule by making children fight each other to the death. The result was The Hunger Games.
Her novel spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. She was named one of Time magazine’s most influential people of 2010. She has written two sequels; the trilogy made her the best-selling Kindle author of all time. The movie version of The Hunger Games is expected to be one of the most profitable films in history.
What does its popularity say about our culture?
First, Americans live through our heroes, especially underdogs who sacrifice for others. The heroine of the novel is Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old who volunteers to fight in the Games in place of her younger sister. She is pitted against teenage boys who have been training for this event their entire lives, and must get by on cunning and skills honed by providing for her family in their impoverished village. We hope to be so resourceful in dealing with the trials we face.
Second, we sympathize with people who are victimized by forces larger than themselves. The Capitol is the evil empire behind the Games, controlling the lives of its subjects as far away as Katniss’ home in District 12 (formerly the Appalachians). She has done nothing to deserve the injustice she suffers at their hands. Many of us know the feeling.
Lastly, We value character challenged by adversity. In a conflict intended to turn children into mortal enemies, Katniss risks her life to save competitors who must kill her to survive. We wonder if we would act with such integrity when tested.
How does the novel help Christians engage our culture with biblical truth?
Katniss is not exactly a Christ figure—she can be devious, self-serving and morose. But her story closely parallels the Passion of our Lord—one who suffers in the place of another, victimized by evil forces, responding to persecution with honor. Her popularity is good news for those who seek to advance the Kingdom. If we can tell the story of Jesus in a way that connects with people in our post-Christian culture, they will resonate with his sacrifice, courage and character.
Jesus won the woman at the well by asking for water (John 4:7). John shared the “suffering and kingdom and patient endurance” of his readers (Revelation 1:9). Peter quoted Jewish prophets when speaking to Jewish crowds (Acts 2:17-21). Paul quoted Greek philosophers when speaking to Greek philosophers (Acts 17:28). His strategy for cultural engagement was simple: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
How would he use The Hunger Games to share God’s love in Christ today?
This article originally appeared in the Reading the Culture column in The Baptist Standard