What’s all the Hunger about?

Posted on April 17, 2012 by

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The “Hunger Games” is sweeping the country and has become a universal hit among moviegoers and readers, especially young women and girls.  At the center of the story is Catniss; a most intriguing and inspiring heroin.  Yet, why is there such universal appeal to a story whose main plot line runs through child sacrifice as a means to atonement for past rebellion?

For thousands of years, cultures around the world have sought to pay the penalty for crimes through victims or scapegoats.  We see this concept played out in the violence of the Roman Coliseum and in the ritual child sacrifice offered to the Aztec god Tlaloc a mere 700 years ago.  The pagan gods of the Old Testament times demanded human sacrifice and even Israel succumbed to the horrific temptation of killing her own children to rid themselves of guilt:

 “‘The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes, declares the LORD. They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bears my Name and have defiled it.  They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. – Jeremiah 7: 30-31.

Imagine the scene:  just off the backside of the mount of Jerusalem, God’s chosen people were burning their children in sacrifice to foreign gods.  Since the days of Abraham and Isaac, Israel had been identified as a people who did not sacrifice their children to their God and now, moments before the Babylonians crush the house of Judah, the leadership has fallen.

So what do we make of this storyline?  Why is there universal interest and an apparent universal temptation to cast our individual and cultural guilt on someone else?  And why do we see this story woven through human history involving children?  One of the more fascinating elements of the Hunger Games is that the story is set in the future; meaning child sacrifice is a future concept- not simply an antiquated idea of the past.

The universal appeal of this story and our attraction to sacrificial atonement comes from the reality and totality of the Gospel itself.  St. Paul’s words are true:  our sin will kill us.  We, as individuals and as societies know that if our sin is not paid for, we will die.  Therefore, we see these themes throughout world history:  someone must die for our sin, and the more innocent the victim the better.

Jesus’ last words on the cross were:  “It is finished.”  There are many wonderful meanings from these three magnificent words.  One essential meaning captures the totality of what is happening on the cross.  Jesus’ death is the last death.  Just as Christ is the firstborn from the dead, Christ is the final sacrifice among the living.   Jesus and His death is the final and total and universal payment for all sin and all sins.  No more sacrifice.  No more children.  No more hunger for atonement.

Yet we and our world thirsts and hungers for this payment over and over.  Somehow, we feel better when losers are declared losers and when people on TV get “voted off the island”.  Deep within, we still allow ourselves to feel safer when we see mug shots of the accused on the evening news and when we can blame the world’s problems on one person or country.  We consistently “hunger” for atonement when we’re left to our thoughts; we blame others for our circumstances or allow bitterness to sour our heart.  As we move forward in ministry and leadership, we can often allow a film or residue to cover our vision, our hearts, and our minds because we simply feel better when we have someone else to blame.  We “hunger” for atonement – we hunger for someone else to pay the price of everything that has gone wrong.

As people of the Cross, we have to live in its shadow.  Remember – it is finished!  Sin has been paid for – hunger no more!  The sacrifice has been made and the sacrifice was total.  The universality of the cross means that not only have our sins been atoned for and we will live in Christ, but we are freed from the film and residue that can cloud our lives.  When we are wronged – take it to the cross.  When we are lied about – take it to the cross.  When we long to be defended or hope for justification – take it to the cross.  Our temptation, even as believers, is to continue to sacrifice others to our anger, resentment, and bitterness.  Let’s do so no more!   As the chorus says:

“The wrongs we have done
and the wrongs done to us
were nailed there with you
there on the cross”

The cycle of violence was ended by God on hills outside of Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago.  Let’s not allow it to fester anymore within our own hearts.  “It is finished.”

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