In the fictional world of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, the only real authority is one without mercy. The Capitol revels in the exercise of absolute power, perversely instituting an annual tragedy and calling it entertainment. Katniss Everdeen, the indomitable heroine of Collins’s dystopian novel, describes the hopeless plight of the subjugated, whose necks strain under the heavy boots of heartless taskmasters:
“Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch—this is the Capitol’s way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. ‘Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there’s nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did in District Thirteen.’” (p. 18)
At the yearly “harvest” preceding this sacrifice, Katniss stands amid the throng of potential tributes and listens to an official commemorating the ritual as “both a time for repentance and a time for thanks.” (p. 19)
That the narrator recognizes these words as a sham seems realistic enough, given the godless world in which she dwells. The Capitol rules. There can be no genuine repentance or thankfulness when the only known authority is wholly incapable of grace or mercy.
Repentance in simple theological terms entails a “turning away” from sin, but it requires much more than a determined act of the will . . . much more and, in a certain sense, much less (from us). In The Christian Life, Sinclair Ferguson explains how adopting an attitude of repentance depends entirely on the character of God—the One with ultimate authority, both now and for all eternity:
“Only when we turn away from looking at our own sin to look at the face of God, to find his pardoning grace, do we begin to repent. Only by seeing that there is grace and forgiveness with himwould we ever dare to repent and thus return to the fellowship and presence of the Father. . . . The law may lead to conviction, exposing a sense of guilt and need, as it did also in [the Apostle] Paul’s experience. But only when grace appears on the horizon offering forgiveness will the sunshine of the love of God melt our hearts and draw us back to him.” (p. 75)
In the darkened world where the Capitol is god, we should not expect to see the warming thaw of repentance. The hardhearted do not feel their chest tighten with the knotting pang of guilt. They do not crumple in moral exhaustion at the feet of cruel authority, seeking forgiveness from what they know to be hopelessly merciless through and through.
But in the real world, God the Creator and Redeemer enables true repentance by revealing Himself as merciful . . . reaching down and extending grace that not only enlightens but also calls us home.
“. . . in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”—2 Timothy 2:25