I wonder if we pay enough attention to the stories we read or retell. Do we ask ourselves what we learned from Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Spiderman or Batman? Often we think we’re just enjoying a piece of fiction, and it goes no further than that. Yet jokingly or otherwise, who hasn’t quoted Spiderman ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’? Who hasn’t been touched by the bitter sweet ending of The Lord of the Rings? One of Jesus’ teaching stories, The Good Samaritan, is so familiar it has become a colloquial title for any stranger who helps someone in need. Stories are a way of teaching fundamental truths, sharing with people how the world works… or how it ought to work. These stories shape and form us in a powerful way.
A dark story can still be good. The Bible has plenty of those. Genesis 38 has a very dark story that climaxes in a woman named Tamar seducing her father in law to get pregnant. It’s a tawdry story, tucked into the parts of Genesis that we don’t mine for Sunday School stories. But this story that tells us something about the importance of providing for others. It’s a story about duty and the dirty, desperate situations people are put in when duty is ignored. It’s a story about what really irks God: people that take advantage of widows and the powerless. It reminds us that God cares for widows and punishes evil. And it’s a story that turns out in the end. It’s an itty bitty story, but one so important, that St. Matthew lists Tamar as one of the few women mentioned in Jesus’ family tree.
I mention this story is because lots of people complain about the content of Game of Thrones. It contains a lot of dark content: violence, sexual content and disturbing scenes. That doesn’t bother me per se; it only means that it is dealing with some of the realities of the world. The Bible contains a lot of adult content, besides which, a world with only good stories presents its own sort of danger. (One caveat: Game of Thrones often uses the sexual content to titillate the reader/viewer, which is a very different kettle of fish.)
Yet what concerns me is the message or truths that A Game of Thrones wants to impart. Tamar’s story is dark, but it points ultimately to the light of Christ. On the other hand, this is what I got from A Game of Thrones:
- Doing what is honorable/right gets you killed. This was the whole point of the Stark family and pretty much every other “noble” character in A Game of Thrones.
- Evil can only be answered with evil. One can see this from the sorts of characters that flourish in the Game of Thrones world. Danaerys is a good example of this. She is slowly learning to do evil that good might follow. (cf. Romans 6:1)
- Destroy your enemies while you can. The characters that flourish are the ones that destroy their enemies. Every time someone “bad” is allowed to live, you just know they’re going to return and get revenge.
- Developed religion is firstly a tool of violence and corruption. Peaceful primitive pagan tree worship exists but ‘civilized’ religions are led by a either corrupt or violent leaders. Monotheism is particularly destructive, burning idols and polytheists and sending out seductive priestesses.
- Vallor Morguolis. In Game of Thrones, this phrase means ‘all men die.’ This deep despair fills the world; ‘Eat, drink and be merry; for tomorrow we die!’ (cf. I Corinthians 15:32) The reader is powerfully drawn into this by George R.R. Martin’s tendency to kill off characters when one least expects it.
A Game of Thrones is a fascinating but ultimately dangerous story. It’s not just fiction, it’s a lesson about the way the world appears to work. This is a lesson that Christians should recognize as something ultimately counter to the Gospel, and not because of the content but because of the way it is presented. I’m not saying don’t read the books or watch the show – but remember what stories do. Stories teach. Stories are always wanting to impart truths, to instruct; and this is one story that we cannot be tutored by.
We are to tell different stories. Our story is true: that is why the story we tell is every bit as gritty as Game of Thrones. But our story does not teach one to do evil that good may come about. Christians must do what is right even when it leads to death. We know evil has only ever been answerable by good. Our story does not teach us to destroy our enemies but to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. Our story does not teach us to fear religion. We belong to the religion left to us by Christ. We lament, but do not despair. Our story begins with the death of our God, but it doesn’t end there. Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. We continue to tell His story over thousands of years of sinners and saints, victories and defeats, wonders and atrocities, and it is a story of hope, faith and love. In the end, our story says:
“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” – Pope John Paul II
“I’ve read the last page of the Bible, it’s all going to turn out all right.” – Billy Graham