A few weeks ago, I finished reading Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy. In addition to being a gripping, fast-moving story, it has also been a very thought-provoking source of discussion with my wife and our teenage daughter.
One thing I’ve been thinking about in response to the story is what a difference an eternal perspective makes for us as Christians. The worldview of the story does not include God or eternity, therefore death is greatly feared. When you have a government that maintains control and order by exerting their power with brutality, then their biggest weapon is fear. If you don’t want to die, you better stay in line with their orders and rules. And when God is not in the picture and this life is all you have, then that fear of death is indeed a powerful weapon (which is what we see in the Hunger Games stories).
But when God IS in the picture, and when we see death not as the end of our best life, but as the beginning of Real Life that is unhindered by sin and sickness and time and separation from God, then that immobilizing weapon of fear is totally diffused. The worst that man can do to me (kill me) is the best thing that could happen to me (enter the presence of God for eternity). If that is how I see life, then no government—no matter how brutal—can control me by fear.
There are glimpses of that freedom in the Hunger Games stories, where characters rise above the fear out of love for one another and sacrifice even their lives. But in the stories those acts of sacrificial love are tragic—it’s the end. But in the Great Story above all other stories, the Main Character sacrifices Himself for those He loves, even unto death, but it is not tragic but glorious, because death is not the end but rather death is defeated and He lives again. And because of that Great Story, we who trust in Him have great hope as well, that death is not the end of our story, and therefore we need not be bound by fear.
The Hunger Games trilogy is disturbing because it presents a picture of what could happen—or perhaps what is already beginning to happen—in this country. And that is disturbing to us because we greatly value our freedoms and our comforts here. Yet many of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are daily facing the very things depicted in these stories, and though we don’t seek that kind of persecution and suffering, we must be prepared for it with a right perspective—an eternal perspective, with God at the center.
There is a famous quote from Tertullian which says “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” If you know anything of the history of Christianity in places like China or the jungles of Ecuador, you know that is certainly the truth—the Church spread rapidly because of those who were martyred (not in spite of their martyrdom). And it makes me wonder whether the comfortableness and lack of persecution that we face here in America is why our Christian lives and our churches are so stagnant and lacking in vitality. We pray for revival. We pray for growth. But could it be that the growth we long for will only come when we are in desperate straits like the people in the Districts of Panem (or like our brothers and sisters in North Korea or Iran)? Like Pastor Daniel Eng preached from Revelation 3:17 a few weeks ago, when we in our comfort and wealth think we have all we need, then we do not depend on the One we most deeply need. So what will it take to bring us to a place of desperate dependence on Christ alone?
We may not yet be faced with persecution that forces us to choose between death and obedience to Christ, but we are faced with daily decisions to die to ourselves (by playing with our toddler on the floor rather than relaxing on the couch in front of the TV, or by genuinely listening to our coworker’s difficulties rather than brushing her off so we can finish our work), with daily decisions to crucify our flesh (by choosing to forgive a friend rather than hold a grudge, or by engaging in solitude rather than constant activity, or by intentionally not purchasing the latest electronic gadget), and with daily decisions to love and serve sacrificially (by doing the dishes so your wife can rest, by inviting a lonely neighbor over to your home, or by using vacation days to go on a mission trip). And we are also faced with larger decisions of whether our income is merely going toward comfort and pleasure for ourselves or toward providing a home for an orphan or caring for a widow or sending a missionary to Japan. Or decisions of whether to let go of our own dreams in order to adopt a little autistic boy into our family or to release our young adult to live among HIV children in Africa or to sell our home and go live out Christ’s love in the inner city. Those are the decisions that force us to depend on Christ and to look with joyful anticipation toward eternity and Life with Him, so that we are not too easily enthralled by the “mud pies” of our comfortable existence here.
How is your view of eternity shaping your response to all that goes on around you?