The last time my David and I were in Nashville, my best friend loaned me 4 books–The Hunger Games Trilogy and The Devil and Miss Prym. Melinda’s words to me regarding the Paulo Coelho book were, “Just make it through the first chapters. I promise it’s worth it.” Knowing I was more likely to read the possibly-boring Coelho book if I did it before I launched into the certainly-entertaining Hunger Games, I opened it that night.
I was on a plane in my usual corner when I finished it. I’d spent a good part of the flight tapping David on the shoulder and demanding he read a poignant line here and there; his first moment of peace was when I closed the book and sat in awed silence for a good 20 minutes. I don’t know that any book has ever had that effect on me. It was both thought-provoking and affirmative, simple and deep.
The plot–a man comes to a sleepy village and offers gold to anyone who will kill an innocent person–is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery.” But where her story reflects on the dangers of mob mentality, Coelho studies the effects of injustice on an individual. It probes the popular question, why do bad things happen to good people? He ultimately argues that the why doesn’t matter; we decide for ourselves how to react in all situations: we can be happy in “hell” or miserable in “heaven.” I agree with this overall sentiment. How many people choose a woe-is-me attitude in the best of circumstances? How many others choose to find joy in misery?
The perennial example of this dichotomy is Job, whom Coelho references in his story. Coelho argues that in the Scripture, Job curses God for his misery and that God is okay with being cursed because He sins against us as well. With this interpretation I disagree wholeheartedly. God does not sin against us; it is impossible for pure Righteousness to sin. In Job’s story I look past the flawed arguments of all four of Job’s “friends” and see that there is no logical, rhetorical answer to the human question of why bad things happen. If ever God had an opportunity to answer that question once and for all, this was it. But He chose not to. Instead He reminded Job–in great detail–of His glorious and unique creation (Job 38–41).
Literarily, God’s answer to Job is a non sequitur: He circumvents the question why? by saying, “I’m the Creator. I’m the Greatest.” Theologically, God’s response makes perfect sense. You want to know why? Then you have to know God.
As we grow closer to God and walk in lock-step with the Spirit, God reveals more about Himself to us and we can see His righteousness even in our pain. The Holy Spirit then molds our attitudes toward the injustices in our lives, turning personal misery into joy. When we choose to know God, we choose to be in “heaven” no matter what we are experiencing.
Do you think I’ll find The Hunger Games so thought-provoking?