The Hunger Games, Theology, and Western Culture


hunge games_theologyCatching Fire, the second installment of The Hunger Games is a film I have been excited to see all year. My level of anticipation to see the film was high, though not quite as elevated as my excitement to continue my journey within Middle Earth and see the continuation of the film adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit. While I still have a few weeks of waiting to see if my own imagining of The Hobbit even faintly resembles that of director, Peter Jackson, I did have the enjoyment of seeing Catching Fire this past weekend.

I finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy in early 2012. Like most people who read the books, I could not put them down. I then saw the first film after having freshly read the books. The first installment was good, but I nitpicked many of the missing details and story changes, mostly because the books were so fresh on my mind.

With Catching Fire, things were different. The film appeared to follow the novels more closely, and some of the details were a bit hazier to me because it has been over a year since I read the books. Thus, I was able to concentrate more on the film, take in the story, and process what I was watching with greater clarity. I had always known the books were special due to the unique plot set within a dystopian society, but as I watched this second film I realized that it is, whether Suzanne Collins intended for it to be or not, a documentary on where we are in western civilization, especially within the United States.

It is interesting as we stare at the people that occupy the capital in the Hunger Games, with their strange dress, lack of emotional intelligence, and opulent lifestyles. The scene that takes place at a lavish banquet particularly struck me. The guests are enjoying the many varieties of delicacies available at the party. There is such an abundance of various foods to try that one simply cannot try them all. So the solution is to swallow some frothy pink liquid in a champagne glass that will make you vomit what you have eaten so you can be free to keep shoveling food down for the mere taste. Sure, it is a slight over-exaggeration, but this screamed America to me. We seem to know no limits. We consume. We waste. We indulge. We discard. We don’t want any restrictions placed on our lives. We don’t want any external moral restraints to govern our lives. The way of western society is to live a cavalier life of pleasure, sensuality, and indulgence.

What if we could step outside our culture and take an objective look at ourselves. What would we see? Would we take pride in our ways, or would we look just as ridiculous as the painted people in the capital of Suzanne Collins imaginary world?

I believe in an objective moral standard that is external of us as individuals. I believe that God’s very nature defines what is acceptable behavior for us as people. When we step past those bounds and live a life of pleasure, sensuality, and indulgence we will eventually pay for it. Because these divine moral prescriptions are for our own benefit.

In the film, we would also do well to notice how effective “big government” is. In America, so many seem to welcome the government’s long and intrusive arm into their lives, and big government is happy to oblige and thus becomes bigger government. We see how well that worked out in the Hunger games. We cannot place our individual responsibilities into the hands of a debauched government. Human nature, mine included, is too corrupt to give away that much power. It is why the founding of America had checks and balances to keep the government from becoming an all powerful machine, but we have gradually allowed government to remove these limitations. Could we be gradually sliding into dystopia?  Could we be? We are! As British historian, Lord Acton, put it, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Government is not our messiah. Could the Hunger Games be a subtle reminder that we need to take responsibility for ourselves and also help those around us? If we are living as good Samaritans and giving to those in need when we have extra we would not need special government funding for every little thing.

Last, and perhaps the most glaring disturbance as we peek into the world created by Collins, is the copious amount of violence and the lack of concern by those living in the capital. Now, don’t get me wrong. Do I think we could stoop so low as a culture to be entertained by watching children kill one another? No, I do not. Yet, we have as a culture a flagrant disregard for life.

We are entertained by death. I know you may be thinking that this is the pot calling the kettle black. I watched the Hunger Games and was entertained by violence, so who am I to condemn violence in entertainment. Yet, we should consider the fact that some violence has a redeeming quality. Some stories, movies, video games, etc. portray violence that paints evil with a black brush in order for us to see its depravity. Then there are some art forms that celebrate and glamorize death and destruction. The video game Grand Theft Auto comes to mind.

Our disregard for the sanctity of life is also visible in our public policy. We have murdered fifty-six million babies since 1973. Why? Because we want to pursue our pleasure, sensuality, and indulgence devoid of any restrictions. Sounds an awful lot like the inhabitants of the capital in the Hunger Games, doesn’t it? We can all see the hand writing on the wall as well. Eventually, the geriatric population will lose its privileged status as life. Why? Because old people will die anyway. Why should we use our precious resources saving a life that will not exist for much longer? That is where we are headed. Will it be the same with young people that have terminal diseases? Chances are good. Life is no longer sacred.

So how have we gotten to the point as a society where life is no longer sacred? Naturalism. Now, don’t get me wrong. If a person accepts the tenets of naturalism that does imply that they no longer view life as innately valuable. I know many atheists and/or naturalists that live incredibly moral lifestyles and care about many of the same issues I care about. The problem with naturalism and becoming a society that no longer places itself under external, objective morality is that we have nothing to anchor morality to other than opinion. So, under the framework of naturalism right and wrong are matters of preference and opinion. Some will see violence and killing as a great evil and others, though hopefully a minority, will see it through a positive lens. If nature is red in tooth and claw and there is no God to tell us how to live, how can we fault a person for living out the logical implications? We can’t, and that is why life is no longer scared in western culture.

Have you seen Catching Fire yet? Did you enjoy it? Did you see any parallels with our society? I would be curious to hear your thoughts!

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.

The Most Important Thing About You


Most ImportantA.W. Tozer once stated, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” As of late his words have become embedded in my mind. Several times daily this sentence is conjured up within my conscious thought. I have not been able to escape his words.

How right Tozer is. The single most important thing about us as human beings is what we think about God. Yet, how often do we think about God? In Luke 10:27, Jesus reminds us to Love the Lord your God with all your mind. To do this, we must spend time thinking about God, reading about God, learning about God, and obviously employing logic to defend and articulate what we think about God to others; so they might come to know the hope we have.

So the question is not only what do we think about God, but also how often do we think about it and how well. Much of Christianity focuses only on the practical aspects of the Bible. What can I find in scripture that is immediately applicable? I have heard countless Christians say, “I just need something from scripture to help me deal with my daily problems.” That is definitely a part of Christianity. The Bible is full of practical teaching that is directly applicable, but we must not limit our intellectual diet to what is immediately practical.

Theology is also of great import. What is Theology? It is the study of God. It asks, “What is God Like?” “What is God’s nature like and what are His desires?” “How is God involved with mankind and what does he expect of us?” You see, Theology, though many do not see it’s immediate importance, is the foundation for what we think about God. Poor Theology leads to an incorrect or damaging picture of God, and the most important thing about us is marred.

Maybe you ask, what does it matter? Why is what I think about God the most important thing about me? Our view of God drives every other facet of our lives. What we think about God is the foundation of our beliefs about life, morality, family, identity, ethics, purpose, and our future. Then our beliefs, in turn, set the course for how we live our lives. Our Theology, affects every decision we make and every action we take (sorry, that sounded like a cheap rip off of the police).

What you think about God is the most important thing about you. How often do you think about God? What are you learning? How are you growing? Are you expanding your Theological understanding?

So what do you think about God?

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.

Apologetic Wednesday: Lessons From A Boring Book


Lessons from a boring book“Leviticus is my favorite book in the Bible to read”, said no one ever. In fact, Leviticus has been responsible for the demise of many a person’s intention to read through the Bible in a year. Genesis starts off interesting. The world goes to hell in a hand basket thanks to the original couple, Noah takes an intense cruise, and Abraham receives several amazing promises. The stories continue to be interesting through Exodus. Then the reader hits the wall known as: Leviticus. Dry. Technical. Foreign. It is hard to push through (This is one reason I never recommended starting in Genesis and reading straight though, balance it with some readings from the New Testament).

Recently, my devotional reading landed me in Leviticus. Drat. I wanted more of the good stories. As I was reading through this dizzying book, I noticed that I was just trudging through. Yea, yea, yea. Specifications, skin diseases, sacrifices, clean foods, etc. I got it. No reason to really linger here.

While I was reading, I decided to step back. I know there is a lot here. I have just never taken the time to really dig into this book. I chose to slow down and stop speed-reading through the text. I asked myself, what are some of the big themes presented here, and I was really struck by what became so abundantly clear.

First, the Hebrew people had a daily, physical reminder of the price of sin. There was no doubt that sin demanded a high premium be paid. They would witness the slaughter of an innocent animal, in gory detail, due to their sinful actions. They continually were reminded that death and sin are inextricably linked. Death is always on the heels of sin. The Israelites also felt the cost of sin in their pocketbooks. Depending on their social standing and income, sacrifices to atone for sin were costly.

Can you imagine living in this culture? It seems so foreign to our modern minds. When we sin, we simply confess it to God and repent, and we are relieved from the burden of our transgressions. Rarely, are we reminded of the price that sin exacts. Sure, we see sin cost us with the consequences we often pay. We see it ruin relationships, mental and emotional health, and our finances, but we aren’t reminded daily of the death that follows sin.

The Hebrew people had to endure the ordeal of sacrifice and witness the bloodied animal as a result of their sin. Yet, we often casually confess our sin and then give it little thought. We have cheapened grace. Jesus Christ humbled himself to endure the most painful death imaginable for our sins, but how often are we reminded of it? How often do we remember the high price of our sins and the willingness of the Son to pay our debt?

Being perfection, he was able to atone for all of humanity, my sin in the present and the sin of Adam and Eve in the past. He offered his life for the thousands of people sinning during his execution. He endured the cross for the ones that crammed the thorns into his skull and hammered the spikes into his wrists. How can we let a day go by without remembering His sacrificial love?

Second, we are reminded from Leviticus that God is Holy, and he expects holiness out of those who serve Him. He calls us to “Be Holy, as He is Holy.” That is, he calls us to be set apart. Different. Not common. People should look at the believer and see something novel, captivating, and inspiring. Our lives should continually grow in Holiness.

It has been said that God got Israel out of Egypt in one night, but it took forty years to get Egypt out of Israel. Growing in Holiness is a lifelong process, and we never max out our potential. Yet, we should continually strive to be set apart from the world around us. We should monitor what enters our lives. We should pay attention to the thoughts we entertain. And above all else, we should be guarding our hearts. We should strive for our lives to be a Holy sanctuary, as fit as possible for the habitation of Christ.

There was a man down in Haiti, that wanted to sell his house. He was asking $2,000 for it. Another man wanted to buy it, but because he was poor he couldn’t afford the price. After a lot of bargaining, the owner agreed to sale him the house for half of the original asking price, with one condition: He would still retain ownership of one small nail protruding from just over the door.

After several years passed, the original owner wanted the house back, but the new owner was unwilling to sale the house. So the first owner went out, found a dead dog, and hung it from the single nail that he still owned. Soon the house became unlivable due to the stench, and the family was forced to sale it back to the original owner.

If we leave the devil with even one small peg in our life, he will return to hang his rotten garbage on it, making it unfit for Christ’s habitation in our lives.

Let’s be reminded of the high price of sin. Let’s be thankful for the One that endured death in our place. Let’s not cheapen grace. Let’s strive to answer the call to be Holy.

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.

Does God Hide from Us?


If God is real, and He wants people to have a relationship with Him, then why doesn’t he reveal himself in a more magnificent and compelling way? Why doesn’t he take His cosmic finger and write across the sky that He desires to know everyone in a personal way? Why doesn’t He pull out a megaphone and with thundering voice pronounce, “Hey, you. Yea, you that doubts and questions me. You that doubts my very existence, I am here to tell you that I do in fact exist and that you should worship me.”

Some wonder, does God hide himself? Why is He not more overt? Skeptics often cite this as a reason for disbelief. If God were real, He would do more to communicate that fact to us. But it isn’t only skeptics that struggle with the supposed hiddenness of God, at times Christians often want to see God manifest himself in a more visible way.

So, does God hide himself? Are we immersed in a metaphysical game of hide and seek, with God having found a hiding spot that is difficult for us to ferret out? Before we address this question, let us first be reminded that God is not subject to our demands. He owes us absolutely nothing. He is not required to give us any sort of explanation. So where is God? Is He hiding? Is He difficult to find? Why isn’t he more apparent?

We must remember, when God created mankind he walked among them. Instead of a game of hide and seek, we find in Genesis that God “walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day.” So apparently, at the onset of creation, man and God enjoyed fellowship in a direct sense. Then sin entered the world, and who is it that we find hiding? God doesn’t hide. God doesn’t remove Himself. Instead we see Adam and Eve have made the decision to hide. It was man that hid initially and broke this extremely intimate connection between God and humanity. This in and of itself is quite fascinating.

In a general sense, man has kept God at arm’s length. So often, we hide our faces from God due to various reasons, not from a lack of God making Himself known. If we decide to look for God, we do in fact see that He does reveal Himself. We are reminded in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”

God reveals Himself expressively in His written word. “Beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). God also revealed Himself explicitly to mankind through Jesus Christ. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14). We also see God make Himself known through nature.  “For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world,being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). We also see that God communicates through His Spirit to us if we are willing to hear. “He will give you another Counselorto be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17).The Spirit of God draws us to Himself. We also find that believers in Christ also reveal God to those around them, as we see in Acts 1:8 that Christians, “Will be My witnesses.”

God definitely reveals Himself, yet to some, He does not do it according to their choosing or cater to their demands. As Carl Sagan once said, “If we had one message from outer space, we would believe there is intelligent life out there.” In response, it is interesting to note that a single human strand of DNA will fill up 600,000 pages.  If I walk into my home and see a letter on my table that says “Hello Josh”, I will be forced to assume that some willful intelligence placed that there. Mr. Sagan would also agree, yet he turns a blind eye to the thousand volumes of information written on a single strand of DNA.

Some people do not want to see God, so they hide their face. As Blaise Pascal once brilliantly pointed out, “God has given us evidence sufficiently clear to convince those with an open heart and mind, yet evidence sufficiently vague so as not to compel those whose hearts and minds are closed.” Those who look and want to find God will see this evidence as satisfactory. God draws everyone to Himself, and those with an open and sensitive heart will find Him.

“He who has ears, let him hear.” – Matthew 11:15

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.

Don’t Judge Me!


We often hear the phrase “you shouldn’t judge.” Most people are familiar with Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” This passage is often used as a justification for our own actions. “Who are you to judge me?” Recently, I was discussing a minister’s teachings that I believe to be inaccurate when held up to the rest of scripture, and was told “judge not.” Is that accurate? Is it wrong to judge? Well, that depends on what you mean by the word “judge”.

When someone tells us not to judge, are they not judging us for judging? Essentially they are saying, you are doing wrong for saying someone else is doing wrong. Evaluating the correctness of what others say and do is unavoidable. If we read further down from Matthew 7:1 we run into verse 6 which states, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” That sounds like a judgment. In fact, Jesus makes judging statements all through scripture. He reminds the religious leaders that outside they look nice, but on the inside they are dead men and filled with corruption (Matthew 22:35).

So what does it mean when we are commanded not to judge? I think we can draw several things from this verse. First, we don’t judge what others do or say by our own standards, instead we hold others to the same standard all Christians are held, God’s word. Judgments aren’t to be based on our own preferences or opinions. They should be made according to what scripture teaches. We must be reminded that we are held to the same standard. Jesus, in fact, told us to look at our own lives first. In Matthew 7:5 we are told, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” We have our own stuff to be dealt with, as well, that is in conflict with what scripture teaches. Let’s make sure we are examining our own lives and not pointing out what others do wrong so we can become self-inflated and minimize our own sins.

Judgment does not mean condemnation. It is never done to belittle. It is done out of love. As with anything, we must treat others the way we would like to be treated. There have been times I needed someone to inform me that I was doing wrong, and I was receptive to that correction because they addressed me with respect and kindness. We must also challenge what people say if it is incorrect and has potential to do damage. I certainly would want someone to point out to me if my teaching was incorrect and could potentially cause harm. We must not shy away from making moral evaluations. If something is wrong, it is wrong. Yet, we must remember that love cannot be divorced from judging.

Remember, making judgments only includes behavior and what others say. We are not to judge other people’s motives for we cannot see their hearts. We do not know for what reason others do certain things and should not doubt what they tell us.

Judge not by your own standards. Love others. Evaluate the accuracy of what others say and do in light of scripture, but evaluate your own self by that same standard first.

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.

Should I Apologize?


Often, I am asked the question of what apologetics is, or  why it is named just that. I thought this would be a great place to jump in for the first “Apologetic Wednesday”, where each Wednesday, you can expect a post about apologetics.

Apologetics has nothing to do with apologizing. The word comes from the Greek word Apologia, which means defense. So, apolgetics is about defending what one believes as a Christian. It is not about being defensive, rather it is about making a good argument for what one believes. It is laying out the evidence to support the belief, much like we see in a court of law.  It is simply giving valid reasons for what one believes to be true.

So often, people claim certain beliefs, but lack the ability to explain or defend those beliefs. I Peter 3:15 states, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” We are commanded to know what we believe and why. We will never have all the answers, I don’t even believe that is possible. Not being able to know it all is no excuse for not trying to know as much as we can.

When someone asks us why we hold certain beliefs, to not have an informed answer leaves us looking naive and intellectually shallow. Now, more than ever, Christians need to be able to lay out the evidence for the beliefs that they hold. I strongly believe that now is a very exciting time to be a follower of Christ. There is a wealth of knowledge that supports the claims of Christ and the Bible.

How can we share what we don’t know? How can we expect others to be intellectually honest in considering our worldview if we cannot articulate that worldview? We must be prepared to give an answer for what we believe.

Are there any questions about the Bible/God/Christianity you would love to see answered? What is it?

Walk Good. Live Wise. Be Blessed.

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