In the final installment of The Hunger Games series, a few of the characters are held captive and undergo traumatizing torture designed to blur the lines between fantasy and reality. When the prisoners are rescued they don’t know if their memories are real or not, so when a memory would surface they would seek validation by asking, “Real? Not Real?”
The series itself explores this blurring of lines between fantasy and reality as a way to critique our own culture. The dystopian society of The Hunger Games is a reflection of deeper truths in us all and society at large. In a world where strangers having sex is one click away on a computer screen, where social media splits up our public and private lives and Google is the informational authority, it can leave us asking, “Real? Not Real?”
Are you an addict?
When a culture mixes a bit of fantasy and reality together it makes facing stark reality that much harder. It’s not just advertisers who are adept at generating fantasies. We’re all generating fantasies when we attempt to escape reality. How do we know we are trying to escape reality? When we use objects or people in a way to self-soothe or gain control. In the heart of every sinner is a user and abuser. Only corrupt sinners are adept at generating fantasies through using substances and experiences wrongly. This isn’t just about those who religiously attend Alcoholics Anonymous—it’s what’s lurking inside every sinful heart.
In an article for Psychology Today, Stephen Diamond writes, “In some ways, addiction is an extreme example of an existential challenge we all wrestle with every day: accepting reality as it is.” We seek to escape reality, because we don’t like reality; we are the fantasy makers. Diamond goes on to say there is, “A powerful connection between addiction and the compulsive desire to alter, avoid, deny and escape reality.” In this sense, we must all be high functioning addicts. Pick your poison. There are so many ways we can escape reality: pornography, alcohol, drugs, binge eating, shopping sprees, smartphones, social media, work and busyness.
When I went through a hard time in my marriage, I found myself engaged in retail therapy at my local Target. I self-soothed through picking out clothing items that made me feel better about myself. Thankfully, this didn’t become a pattern, because I became self-aware after the first Target trip. But many people don’t wake up to these destructive patterns. In fact, retail therapy is sometimes encouraged by those around us personally and culturally. In a piece for The Huffington Post, Carolyn Gregoire discusses how retail therapy is used by many Americans as a way of coping with stress and anxiety. Gregoire references a survey done by The Huffington Post, which says that nearly one in three stressed Americans (91 percent of the general population) shops in order to alleviate stress.
The better way
We prefer the escape of fantasy over dealing with reality, because fantasy helps us create distance between us and our perceived problem. But God is calling us out of our self-constructed fantasies and into the glorious light of his reality. It’s as if he’s saying, “Come to me, my child. There’s a better way.” It was Jesus himself who paved the road for the better way we must travel by. Jesus was resolute and steadfast in his mission here on Earth. Isaiah prophecies of the coming Messiah as one who faces a harsh reality: “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near” (Isa. 50:6-7).
Jesus set his face like flint toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), where he would die a sinner’s death as an innocent man. In all of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, culminating in his death, we see no escapism—only sheer confrontation; a holy resolve that propelled him forward to tread the path of suffering and self-denial, the path he blazed for his people. He is the forerunner of reality for us (Heb. 6:20). He told us and showed us what our reality will be: hardship, suffering and death. And yet Jesus’ reality was much harder than any reality we’ll ever face.
He took the full weight of the world’s sin on his shoulders, bearing it on the cross, taking the shame and being forsaken by the Father for us. He embraced the harsh reality of humanity when he had fullness of joy in the constant presence of God. The divine cloaked himself in humanity for eternity. And he is different from us, because he maintained his innocence. He took the pounding of every earthly temptation without surrender. And this is our righteousness accounted to us, this is our covering now, and it is sufficient for every reality we face in this life. His reality is our reality.
Though we might seek escape from reality, we must hold onto this: “And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isa. 30:20-21).
When we turn to our own ways of escape, Jesus shows us his way. He’s gone this way before, and he promises to walk with us and lead us to green pastures (Psa. 23:2). Our sympathetic High Priest will help us face reality, because he faced the harshest reality of sin and death and came out victorious (Heb. 4:14-16). This is a reality that is an anchor beneath the tumultuous waves of the real troubles of life. We can face the waves when we know the one who has walked on them. The one who set his face like flint, helps us set our face toward reality.