Hunger Games and Substitutionary Atonement

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September 10, 2012 by Dwight Bernier

In the wildly popular trilogy, Hunger Games, we meet a young women named Katniss Everdeen. She is introduced to the reader (or viewer) as someone that doesn’t follow popular opinion, but rather creates her own sort of way. She possesses an enviable bravery that does not take regard for self-preservation. We see this quite clearly in how she has protected her family since the death of her father. This protection becomes more pronounced on the first reaping day that her little sister, Prim, could be entered into the draft.

The reaping day was when two children, ages 12-18, from twelve different districts in the country were chosen to fight to the death on live television. These “games” were supposed to protect the country from upheaval. But these games ultimately ended up doing what they were intended to stop.

On Prim’s first reaping day, where the odds should “always be in [her] favor”, she was chosen as the female participant to represent district 12. As she was walking toward the podium, Katniss declared that she would volunteer to take Prim’s place. This meant that Katniss was most likely going to die in her sister’s place. This choice of sacrifice further confirms Katniss’ strong character, which will protect and save her family at any cost.

Fiction like this should move us. We all want a savior that will protect us. We want someone to volunteer to take our place in suffering. We want for someone to push us out of the way of the car. The desire to want a hero that will not fail is etched deep within us. We love acts of substitution and sacrifice.

But these acts of substitution are not meant to be ultimate. They are meant to point us to a better substitution.

When I read of Katniss’ substitution, I was reminded immediately of the substitution that Jesus was for me. My name was bound to be called and there was not an odd in my favor. But Jesus stepped forward, knowing that by stepping forward, He would be killed. But unlike Katniss, who stepped forward for family, He knew that He was taking the place of an enemy. He was being condemned for rebels against Him. He was dying for the opposition. But He knew that His death would rescue and change the enemy – us!

Romans 5.18 tells us that “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men”. This one act was Jesus paying our penalty for sin, which is death, being our substitute as He wore our sin, and earning us righteousness. His resurrection validated was the stamp of approval on what Jesus accomplished on the cross, as death could not hold Jesus, for He did nothing to deserve it.

Jesus invites us to live in His story each day, with Him as the hero. He invites us in while we are rebels against Him. He invites us to trust in Him and change sides. He will give grace to us when we wave the surrender flags. He gives hope to those who will live in His kingdom, under His rule and reign, for His glory and for our best and most delightful interest. We can wake up knowing that He has successfully done battle for us and that we already live in the “happily ever after”. Though we still experience the effects of sin and the curse, we know that one day, “happily ever after” will no longer contain a trace of sin or death. He has won.

The reason that the substitution of Katniss can only point to a better one is because later on in the series, we see that Katniss can not protect her sister. Her substitution was temporary. It could not last. But the substitution of Jesus for His people will be one that will never end. No one can snatch us out of His hand. No one can condemn us. No one can separate us from the love of God.

Let Jesus be your substitute. Rejoice that He has chosen an unlovely people to stand condemned for so that He can make us lovely.


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