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Stanley Kubrick’s classic film, Dr. Strangelove, features a rogue general ordering a nuclear strike on Russia. While the bomber moves closer to its destination, the president and his advisers attempt to recall the bomber before its payload. The incompetency and lunacy of the  council cannot recall the bomber in time. The film satirizes, among other things, the Cold War policy of the proliferation of nuclear arms as the greatest deterrent to war with Russia. Kubrick’s point was that the proliferation of nuclear weapons can only lead to their use and not to their non-use. To underscore this point, Kubrick uses numerous sexual references and symbols throughout the film signifying that we will eventually give in to our base urges and use these weapons.

That an event that would lead to the end of the world could be satirized in such way is simultaneously humorous and repulsive – and Kubrick is a genius for it. I’m sure you’re wondering what Dr. Strangelove has to do with The Shack.

I get that The Shack was intended to be read as a serious piece of allegorical fiction, and that the book supposedly aligns itself with the mission statement (at least at the time of this article) of Windblown Publishing, which published the book: “to provide creative and intellectually honest literature for those seeking a renewal of love and faith.” A noble goal that I believe The Shack fails to meet.

Yet, when interpreted along the same lines as Kubrick’s classic (i.e. as a satire), The Shack becomes a work of genius. If you’re repulsed by this point, I consider my case is already made. For those of you still unconvinced, I’ll designate this satirized version of the book with brackets – [The Shack] – and present my case.

I know that many of my friends have read The Shack, enjoyed it, and been impacted by its message. I’m not trying to diminish that impact. God uses many means to get a hold of us. You have been honest with me about your love for this book. Please let me be honest about what I feel about this book. Before we anoint it as a “Christian classic,” we ought to consider its message seriously.  It purports to break the mold of rigid religiosity and intellectualism to bring biblical concepts to a lay audience. I believe it does none of that.

But the Shack’s satirical alter ego does. Presenting us with a poorly thought-out theodicy encased in shoddily written narrative with little emotional depth, [The Shack]  is a beautifully composed, yet biting critique of the Contemporary Christian Subculture (CCS) that generates this type of media commonly represented in popular sermons, music, books, blogs, and magazines. By adjusting our lens to see the book behind the book, we will find that [The Shack] calls us to a higher standard, and we ought to get behind its message.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying…

I think the key point was the moment the main character described his view of Scripture. The letter that Mack receives from God flies in the face of what God was supposed to do:

[T]he thought of God passing notes did not fit well with his theological training. In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow Sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to  be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book.

Although many have argued that The Shack is steeped in Scripture and that it’s the allegorical nature of the book that enables the “unorthodox” pictures, I believe this statement from the main character is what enables Young to break from traditionally formulated doctrine in a way that doesn’t require him to tie whatever statements and caricatures he makes back to Scripture. The difficulty in writing allegory is making clear what real thing the allegory refers to. The Shack doesn’t do this. Whatever theological concept or Scriptural reference it has a backdrop for the allegory was extremely unclear. If the book isn’t establishing its ideas about God on heretical beliefs (I am always willing to extend grace), it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint which orthodox ideas the author is allegorizing.

Read from the point of view of [The Shack], however, the above statement takes a different significance. The CCS and its community, whether they acknowledge it or not, possess a shallow knowledge of Scripture. Any interpretation, philosophy,or theology is fair game as long as it matches the expectations of  CCS, which has become the interpretive grid through which to learn about ourselves and about God. Impersonal, irrelevant theological thinking and interpretations are perceived as generated by cold-hearted “intellgentsia” and are easily deposed because they limit God to the proverbial “box.”

[The Shack]  enables us to see how such views have become prevalent in the CCS. What follows in [The Shack] is a slightly less than heterodox presentation of the Trinity and the inner working of their relationship. The Father can be a grammatically-challenged African American woman, Jesus, a migrant worker from the Middle East, and the Spirit, an Asian woman who possesses the wisdom and clarity of a fortune cookie. The Shack intends these pictures to challenge our notion of God. [The Shack], however, challenges the lack of interest in theological thought by presenting the Trinity in highly stereotyped human forms. All the attempts of the CCS crowd to imagine a God “outside the box” are just skin deep. CCS’s God still retains the classic stereotypes that restrict him from acting in a way appropriate to his character as described in Scripture.

God does not “have” to punish sin, sin is its own punishment. Everyone is his child already. God really wants relationship with everybody with no responsibilities or requirements and no strings attached. The notions of penal substitution as the ultimate solution to sin and evil and the call to sanctification through the power of the spirit, both explicit in Scripture, are placed in a box and set aside. We might expect a Scripture-saturated allegorical story dedicated to exploring the problem of evil to make mention of these important points. [The Shack] leaves them out in a conspicuous manner declaring that if one has an inadequate view of God, theodicy naturally suffers.

The “bare-bones” story might have the potential to explore the topic of grief and pain as long as the details are fleshed out properly. Mack is a man who was abused as a boy by his Bible-wielding father. Although his faith is not the strong faith of his wife, he loves his children and is himself a decent father. He decides to spend some extended quality time with them by taking them on a camping trip through the Northeastern United States. Each day is better than the last until two of his children accidentally capsize their canoe. When Mack rushes to the water to save his children, his youngest daughter, whom he left to save the other children, was kidnapped and eventually murdered by a serial killer.

The story is not, however, well told. The characters have little depth. There’s almost no feeling. Mack’s struggle with grief, the “Great Sadness,” is portrayed linearly. He struggles early in the story. Mack then encounters a Mormonesque version of the Trinity, eats pancakes with God, plants a garden with God, walks on the water with God, and delves into highly questionable theological thought…with God. The “Great Sadness” is all but forgotten until the narrative decides that Mack needs to let it go. The Shack deals with the issue promptly with some emotional flourish. I thought the expression of grief was flat and inadequate especially in contrast to books like the Psalms, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Job which all deal with the concept of enduring grief and pain.

[The Shack] quickly and shallowly deals with Mack’s grief and thus demonstrates the inadequacy of CCS to deal with sorrow. Grief and pain have a weak presence in the life of the Christian who knows that God is “quite fond” of him or her. [The Shack] further underscores this foolishness by narrating the story in a poorly-written style: A Scripture-less culture is simply incapable of expressing grief and pain in a thoughtful and honest way. [The Shack] limits its expression for the sake of expediency – keep the story short and flat, keep the words small and the theology vague. The reader can choose to stop and think and confuse himself or move on quickly to find out “what happens next” – always moving from comfort to comfort.

…And Love The Bible

Obviously, I didn’t like the book. I didn’t like any of the book. I thought it mocked Christian thought, sold itself short on Scripture, and left me extremely confused. Don’t get me wrong though. I think we need more books like The Shack. Well, we need books better than The Shack. We need books that can actually be what the The Shack was supposed to be. G.K. Chesterton has said, “A great man knows that he is not God. The greater he is, the better he knows it.” We may never possess the brilliance or greatness of Kubrick or David, but let our work aspire to be great by making something worthy of God. Great Christian novels should not be characterized by weak storytelling and shallow theology. Learn the art of expression, and make it good. Most importantly, learn how the Bible expresses itself, and love it. The Bible expresses itself truly and deeply. Since that’s our first and best book, maybe we should start there.

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A few months ago, my pastor and I decided to read and discuss a couple of NT Wright books. He chose “How God Became King.” I read “Simply Jesus.” NT Wright is certainly a controversial name in many evangelical circles, and the subtitle of Simply Jesus (A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters) does little to quell the uneasiness about his writings. When he finished reading his Wright book, my pastor said that he believed that Wright was a Christian – something he wasn’t sure about based on what he’s heard about Wright. He also found Wright’s writing powerful and insightful.

We could say the same thing about Simply Jesus. Powerfully written, insightful, useful. The main differences between the book I read and the book my pastor read is that He God Became King focuses on the messages of the four gospels while Simply Jesus reads sort of like a short biography. Simply Jesus aims at telling Jesus’s story while highlighting the significance of Jesus’s life on earth. Wright tells that story in such a way that it pierces through Modern thinking of history: “I think, to be clear: writing about Jesus has never been, for me, a matter of simply ‘neutral’ historical study (actually, there is no such thing, whatever the topic…).” He defies the Bultmanian (I think that’s a word?) division between the Jesus of History and the Jesus of Faith. Wright makes no attempt to keep the two divided. His work is not merely academic, however. He writes for the person who wants to know the answer to the question: “Could you tell me about Jesus?” The question has no simple answer, but he tries to answer it as simple as possible.

He divides the book into three parts. The first part lays out what he calls “the key questions.” These questions relate to Jesus’s historical setting. We can’t think about history in a Modern, Enlightenment way (which even in the church tends to be deistic in nature). We must understand how Jewish people in the 1st century thought about God and his role in history, and we must understand what the role of the Roman government had in Israel at that time. We must do it in a way that is not biased against supernatural happenings. The second part is the meat of the book. This part attempts to answer: “What is Jesus doing?” Everything that Jesus does falls under the rubric of “God’s Kingdom Coming on Earth.” Jesus opposes the cosmic powers by casting out demons. Jesus fulfills biblical expectations of the Messiah by healing and forgiving sins – setting people free from all kinds of bondage. He defies improper thinking about the Messiah. They thought about the Messiah would inaugurate physical kingdom that would defeat the Romans. Jesus’s mission is concerned with much more than that. Jesus defeats the powers opposing his kingdom (political and cosmic, and sin and death) ultimately at the cross, that is, at his death. Evil is invited to do its worst and expends itself completely. Jesus conquers sin and diseases and opposing points of view with words and not swords. Jesus conquers death and the cosmic forces through humility and suffering and not with an army.  In the third part, Wright describes how Jesus is raised from the dead in victory and now rules the world through his people who are now tasked with carrying out the same mission to the world in the same way that Jesus did.

I think Wright’s work is valuable in that he corrects “Christian escapism.” Christians do not need bunkers. Christ is reigning victoriously, and we need to live as if that were true. The old phrase “Kingdom Living” applies here. How does my life right now reflect the fact that Jesus is ruling this world, and that evil is already (although not yet) defeated? We preach that Jesus is Lord and restoring all things in himself. We are ministers of reconciliation – loving God and neighbor in ways that were impossible without Jesus.

The biggest thing I wish he emphasized more was that living Kingdom lives means living holy lives. Thus we follow Jesus’s lead in obeying God. On the cross, Jesus deals with our first and biggest problem. Jesus graciously bore our sin on the cross. This fact makes the gospel so good and makes the ministry of reconciliation possible.

Consider reading Simply Jesus. I’m curious as to what you might have to say!

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I just began reading Steven Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament. I just want to list several points that I thought were significant:

1. Runge’s work is both cross-linguistic and function-based. Runge does not just focus on Greek alone but looks more broadly at the nature of languages in general to formulate rules that all languages follow. His work is function-based in that he focuses on what each discourse piece accomplishes.

2. Choice implies meaning. How one decides to communicate and the choices one makes in the words he or she uses can communicate meaning beyond syntax and semantics. To draw on an example from the book, if you ask your wife how her day was and she says “Your kids…” she is not just employing the 2nd person pronoun as a stylistic variation in her speech. She is communicating something about her day and it relates to the children by distancing herself with the use of that pronoun.

3. Not all word choices reflect a “special” meaning over and above the semantic meaning. Runge calls the form that does not communicate “special” meaning default, and the form that does, he calls “marked.” Runge explains from the previous example:

Consider the aforementioned example of “my” children compared to “your” children. I could organize the various options for referring to my kids into a qualitative set. When I have no special task to accomplish, I most typically use “the kids” as a referring expression. Taking this expression as the default, using expressions such as “your kids,” “my kids,” or “Ruth and her sister” would be expected to signal the presence of some quality or discourse feature that “the kids” would not have signaled. Using “the kids” does not explicitly signal whether I am distancing myself from them or not, whereas “your kids” does.

Thus, we need to pay attention to what is default versus what is marked. We also need to know what is idiomatic in a language since such expressions may seem strange to us but normal to the speaker of that language.

4. These types of devices give a story its texture. Using these discourse devices can bring prominence and contrast to features in a narrative and draw the reader’s attention to what the main point is.

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Ellis Brotzman’s short introduction to Old Testament Textual Criticism lives up to its title. The book provides a glimpse into different areas which the textual critic would be concerned with while providing the intermediate student the tools and the “how-to” of the field. His thesis is:

This book is written with those bewildered students in mind. It aims to help them understand the textual transmission of the Hebrew text and, even more, to actually involve them in the critical study of the Old Testament text.

The book is broken up into eight chapters an introduction and a conclusion. Chapters 1-4 introduce the reader to the writing, history, and texts of the Old Testament. Chapters 5-8 show the reader how to use the methods of textual criticism to discover the “best” text. Each chapter except for 8 is about the same length.

OTTextCriticismBrotzman

Chapter 1 deals with the type of writing used in the ancient Near East tracing the development of writing from the non-Semitic language of Sumerian to the Phoenician alphabet which ancient Hebrew used. Chapter 2 talks about the transmission of the Old Testament from its close at the end of Micah through the period of the printing press. In this chapter he discusses important issues like continuous writing (which he says the scribes did not practice), the consonantal text and the addition of vowels, the tendencies and traditions of the Masoretic scribes, and the main extant Hebrew texts of the Old Testament (not including the DSS). Chapter 3 is an excellent introduction to the different versions, how they developed, and their value to the textual critical enterprise. He discusses the different Targums, the Septuagint and Old Latin, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Vulgate. Chapter 4 contains Brotzman’s discussion on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He notes the different types of scrolls (biblical and non-biblical) and their value to textual criticism.

The remaining chapters focus on the task of textual criticism. In other words, where should we start and how should we do it? Chapter 5 is a brief introduction to BHS. He simplifies the complex notations and presentation of information in BHS by through the use of a nice two-page graphic – a copy of two pages from the BHS text with a diagram overlaid on top of it. He describes the purposes of the different margins, explains how BHS presents textual critical information, and gives some of the meanings of the major abbreviations found in BHS. Chapter 6 describes scribal textual errors in three categories: material defects, unintentional, and intentional changes noting that the second category is the culprit for the most number of errors. Chapter 7 lays out the theory behind the practice of textual criticism.  The three principles he provides are: determining which reading best explains the rise of the others, identifying the more difficult reading, and identifying the shortest reading. Chapter 8 is the longest of the book. He steps through all the textual notes in the BHS on Ruth briefly describing the type of error and which reading is the best one. Have your BHS handy for this chapter. Finally, he concludes with a short summary and steps forward for the intermediate and advanced students.

This book is a fine introduction for one who is not familiar with some or any of the areas his book discusses with maybe an exception to his chapter on ancient writing. I think that he could have strengthen the chapter by providing a little more information to explain the development of the ancient Near Eastern languages and how that directly affects textual criticism of the Old Testament. The chapter seemed like a defense of a position (Moses was in fact literate) rather than contributing to the overall thesis. I was a little confused how that chapter fit in with the rest of the book.

His chapters on the texts and versions are excellent, and his guidelines and classification of errors are extremely helpful. I thought his chapter on the versions was his best. Personally, the chapter helped me chart the development of the different ancient translations of the Old Testament. The chapter on the layout of the BHS filled gaps in my knowledge of the masorah parva the masorah magna. His chapter on Ruth introduces the reader to the complexity of some of the textual errors that the reader will encounter in the Old Testament and very appropriate given his overall purpose in providing a practical introduction to Old Testament textual criticism.

I’m glad he wrote a separate chapter on the DSS. His conclusion in that chapter is worthy of a quote:

The finds at Qumran have provided actual manuscripts with which the text critic can work. The great majority support the Masoretic Text, but there are also manuscripts that support the readings of the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch, as well as others that are not aligned with any previously known text type. It is fair to say that the Qumran finds have revolutionized the field of textual criticism. (96)

The chapter rightly draws attention to the significance of the Qumran texts especially as it relates to the field of textual criticism although it could have been a little more in depth. I know that the Qumran texts largely confirm the antiquity of the MT, but how does the presence of other non-MT aligned manuscripts impact textual criticism? I would like to know more concretely how the Qumran finds “revolutionized” the field of textual criticism as well.

I also think he could have explained better the concept of what the “original” or “acceptable” or “best” text of the Old Testament is. He only really dealt with the subject on a page in the introduction. Given the scope the work, I understand why he did not go into a full discussion on the topic, but I am still confused as to what his definition of “original” is.

I love that he goes through each textual note in Ruth. I think his brief commentary is one of the most helpful parts of the book. One can see how everything comes together in the practical application of everything Brotzman had been saying in the previous chapters.

Ultimately, I do recommend this book as an introduction. I think it provides the reader a grammar to enter into some of the difficult discussions of texts and translations and lays the foundation for the student to do textual critical work on his or her own. The book purports itself as a practical introduction, and it does not fail to be less than that.

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Franke’s concern with inerrancy as formulated in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) is that it has been used in such a way to silence the plurality of voices in Scripture in order to formulate a central system in which one must resolve all incoherent or seemingly contradictory statements in Scripture. He explains:

I have often been dismayed by many of the ways in which inerrancy has commonly been used in biblical interpretation, theology, and the life of the church, as though it served as some kind of panacea for resolving difficult and complex questions related to Christian faith and life in the world.

He is further concerned by the way inerrancy has been used to judge who is “in” and who is “out of” evangelicalism. He also does not think that inerrancy does not express “the core idea of the authority of Scripture as a witness to the mission of God.”

He says that inerrancy should:

[P]reserve the dynamic plurality contained in the texts of Scripture by ensuring that no portion of the biblical narrative can properly be disregarded or eclipsed because it is perceived as failing to conform to a larger pattern of systematic unity.

Franke’s argument rests upon his doctrine of God. He maintains the creator-creation distinction. Who God is cannot be ascertained without knowing what God does. God is therefore a being-in-act. God is love; the Trinity has eternally existed in a relationship of mutual love. God is missional. He demonstrates his love by the Father sending his Son and the Father and Son sending the Spirit.

Language is a social-cultural construct and is not able to completely describe the eternal, universal God.

As such, each language, is a particular conceptual scheme that lacks the capacity and universality required to provide a description of God or ultimate truth that can be thought of as absolute.

Since God is wholly-other, the language used to describe God is perspectival in nature. Scripture contains many voices, in their unique social cultural construction, describe God’s revelation. Scripture is a witness to that revelation.

Scripture is not static, however. Scripture, as Franke cites Goldingay, “calls a new world into being.” Franke caveats with this statement:

However, the point needs to be stressed here is that this capacity for world construction, while bound closely to the text, does not lie in the text itself. Instead this result is ultimately the work of the Spirit speaking in and through the text as the instrumentality of world creation.

The Spirit through the means of Scripture seeks to transform the world into the ideal world.

Inerrancy, as cited above, ought not to transform the text into something that it is not. Scripture is a collection of witnesses to God’s revelation. One voice is not allowed to dominate: “Inerrancy means that none of the texts of Scripture should be forced into conformity with others for the sake of systematic unity.” No one should try to construct a single system of theology since such an idea runs counter to the way the God revealed himself to humanity.

While I think Franke is right in that we must be careful not to subordinate the voices of Scripture to each other. Proof-texting is one the ways in which Scripture has been take captive and put into service in a foreign context in which it was not born to serve. Such hermeneutics have created a “diaspora” of verses to elucidate systematic formulas.

I do have two major concerns. First, I do not know how we judge when a witness is faithful or not. I don’t see how we are allowed to say “true” or “untrue” if truth does not have some relationship with, for lack of a better term, “the real world.” Secondly, Franke does not really define inerrancy. I know what it should do, but I don’t know what it actually is. I would like to know!

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Vanhoozer formulates this definition of inerrancy:

I propose the following definition: to say that Scripture is inerrant is to confess faith that the authors speak the truth in all things they affirm (when they make affirmations), and will eventually be seen to have spoken truly (when right readers read rightly).

His understanding of inerrancy is based, in part, on Augustine’s famous assertion about the biblical text:

And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand.

Vanhoozer maintains that one must hold to a “well-versed” inerrancy – an inerrancy that places emphasis on the communicative acts of Scripture: “Well-versed inerrancy acknowledges that biblical truth involves form as well as content.” His form of inerrancy requires that the reader, from a position of faith (a right reader), seek to understand the form of the literature (read-rightly) in order to properly understand what Scripture is communicating.

Scripture communicates artfully; it employs irony, rhetoric, metaphor, and various other literary genres to communicate to us. We are not properly understanding the Scripture’s communicative act, if, for instance, we take irony literalistically. Such reading is naive.

Vanhoozer’s analogy of the map is a great illustration of the point:

Truth is indeed about reality, but there is more than one way to render reality in language. We have truth ‘when what is said is that this is how things are.’ The map of the Paris metro is about the Paris metro – is says, ‘This is how the Paris metro is’ – but ‘the way the words go’ (if maps could speak!) is not like the way a picture corresponds. The tracks that take tourists to the Eiffle Tower are not really orange, as they are on the map, nor are they only a centimeter wide. Most users understand the convention. Truth is the ‘fit’ between text and reality, between what is written and what is written about, but one can speak about (map) the same terrain in many ways.

Thus, one can speak about reality in different ways. If I may borrow from Moberly to add to Vanhoozer (I don’t think I am mixing threads here), fiction is not necessarily synonymous with false. Fiction also communicates truth even if it not historical. Coming back to Scripture, Scripture, especially the narratives do more than just communicate historical realities. To limit those historical narratives to the genre of Modern historicism is to turn a deaf ear (Vanhoozer’s analogy) to Scripture’s communicative act. Thus, determining the historicity of the narrative as false does not necessarily break Vanhoozer’s formulation of inerrancy.

I think Vanhoozer’s formulation is helpful because it pays close attention to the “literariness” of Scripture and lets Scripture be what it is: God’s speech-act defining, rebuking, exhorting, teaching, etc. The only question I have is does Scripture’s communicative act require that originating narrative be historically true? Michael Bird asks, “How much hyperbole or artistry would disqualify the account from being historical?” How closely must the “artistry” be tied to a historical referent?

Vanhoozer’s definition is a right-adjustment for evangelical reading. Historical questions should not be allowed shout out Scripture’s own communicative act.We must not give up on determining historical realities. We must begin, however, with hearing Scripture speak instead of assuming what it is speaking about.

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Grace and I just finished the Hunger Games trilogy. Suzanne Collins writes a story from the 1st-person perspective of a 16 (17) year old girl by the name of Katniss Everdeen. Katniss lives in Panem – a country divided into 12 (13) districts situated in a post-global warming North America. Panem is ruled by a despot from a territory called the Capital. Collins reveals little about the history of Panem. The effect of limiting the reader’s knowledge of the history of Panem focuses their attention on the present. What happens is what matters.

Panem experienced a revolt 75 years prior to Katniss’s story. In response to the revolt, the Capital instituted the Hunger Games as punishment. The Hunger Games gathers 24 youth, 2 from each district, in an arena to fight to the death. The Hunger Games also serves as entertainment, mostly for the residents the Capital whose shallowness is poignantly displayed by the way they alter their bodies, the way they talk, their tendency toward excess, and their lack of sympathy toward those who are truly suffering.

This dissonace of cruelty and entertainment creates a conflict of interest in the mind of the reader. The physical feats of the tributes (the participants in the Hunger Games), the delicate politics they must play with audience in order to receive aid, the exotic, yet dangerous arenas all create a tense story that keeps you on the edge of your seat: “This is good! I want more!” Yet, Collins does not allow you to escape the cruel world the Hunger Games takes place in. No one ever wins the Hunger Games. No one. They just survive. One poignant example is Haymich Abernathy, Katniss’s mentor and champion of one of the Hunger Games, who chooses to escape the pain he experiences through the bottle.  Haymich’s advice to Katniss sums it up: “Stay alive.” The Games has a lasting effect on the participants – they are tortured for the rest of their lives. At the end, you just want it to stop. In the last book, Mockingjay, the Games do stop, but the game does not. The cruelty of the world Katniss lives in endures til the end of the series.

Katniss is in constant turmoil, both physically and emotionally. Momentary relief is met with enormous trials each occurring in surpassing measure. Katniss takes personal responsiblity for every death that happens under her watch whether it was by her hand or not. She is impulsive, always defying orders, and yet she is always acted upon – manipulated, tortured, commanded, rescued. She goes through a tremendous amount of suffering. She has to endure the loss and torture of friends and family. She has to continually sift through lies and half-truths and is often confused. Her moral compass always spins; her conviction often leads her right, but she always questions whether or not she did right. She always endures. I want her to be rewarded for her endurance – to experience redemption, but she never triumphs. She just survives. No one wins the Hunger Games.

Collins plumbs the depth of human depravity and suffering. Nobility and goodness come out on top, but I wonder if it was only because the “odds were their favor.” Very little can be redeemed from suffering in Collin’s world. Makeup and medical advancements can heal the physical wounds of war (Katniss’s deaf ear is healed in the book). War and cruelty leave deeper scars that cannot be fully healed. Nightmares persist for Katniss even 15 years after the main events of the book take place. Collin’s books encourage us to fight past the superficial (Are you not entertained?). Emotion and psychological damage can last a long time too. I am reminded, though, of another truth not contained in Collin’s trilogy. We live in a world where redemption is real. Suffering is short in comparison to the joy that comes from God. God’s word steadies the moral compass and provides wisdom to understand and act appropriately.

“May the odds be ever in your favor” is a common phrase throughout the trilogy, but I think Paul’s benediction in Romans is more appropriate: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

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