Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve heard of the movie The Hunger Games. The movie is actually based on a book series that I’ve not read—probably because I am not a 13-year-old girl. I don’t want to ruin the movie for you, so I will stop where the trailer does, but the movie opens with a conflict.
At the beginning of the story it’s clear that the world isn’t the world as we now know it. What was once North America is now a collection of 12 districts under the rule of "the capital." At some point in the past, these 12 districts attempted to overthrow the crippling control of the capital, but their rebellion was crushed. As both a punishment and as a reminder of the consequences of rebellion, the capital instituted an annual coliseum-style competition called The Hunger Games.
For these games, each of the 12 districts must select, through a lottery, one girl and one boy teenager to represent them in a fight to the death on national television where only one warrior may survive. Katniss Everdeen and her little sister Prim, are both eligible to be chosen for the hunger games. Prim means more to Katniss than anything else in the world. Prim is tiny and helpless. And evidently because she is younger she has a smaller chance of being selected. People actually tell her in the movie, "Prim, don’t worry, there is no way you will get picked." But Prim is the one selected out of the hundreds, if not thousand, of names to represent her district in a fight to the death in front of the whole world.
In this moment, tiny Prim is doomed.
She is dead.
She is a goner.
She might as well lay down when the games begin because there is no way a starving, unskilled 14-year-old can survive a death match with 18-year-old men with fighting capabilities, massive muscles, and no mercy. So in an act of merciful love, Katniss makes a choice. She volunteers for the games. She volunteers for the pain. She volunteers for the deadly consequences. She chooses to take her sister’s place and face the violent outcome of the games.
Our hearts are melted by the story of one person sacrificing herself for another. We are attracted to narratives such as The Hunger Games because they reflect the ultimate story for which we were created. J.R.R. Tolkien, the Christian author who wrote the fantasy The Lord of the Rings, believed that all great stories point to our longing for Christ. He believed that the gospel story of Jesus isn’t merely one of many great stories. Rather, the gospel is the underlying reality to which all stories point.
We’ve all been in Prim’s position. Because of our sin, we’ve all been in a place were our death, our demise, our destruction, was inevitable. As natural born sinners, rebels, we were all destined to face the deadly consequences of our rebellion. It wasn’t a game, and we were never going to win. Like Prim, we were in a situation that we couldn’t survive. We were obviously outmatched. We were doomed. So Jesus volunteered for the cross. He volunteered for the pain. He volunteered for the consequences. He stepped in and took our place. He, like Katniss Everdeen, was willing to accept a violent, deadly outcome in the place of the ones he loved.
Only the story is greater and more dramatic.
We are not innocent Prim. Christ didn’t volunteer to take the place of the pure and innocent ones, because there are none. We’re the evil creators of the games. We‘re the bloodthirsty crowd. We’re the soldiers driving the nails into the feet and hands of Jesus. We’re much more wicked than Prim. Christ is much greater than Katniss. And the stories that point to our need for Christ pale in comparison to the true story of our redemption—the only story that truly satisfies our hunger.