God Offers More Than Bread and Circuses

Fans of the dystopian Hunger Games novels and movies know that the story takes place in a country called Panem.  There, the extravagantly wealthy Capitol district holds an annual, televised battle royale, The Hunger Games, where children from each of the 12 desperately poor districts fight to the death until there is only one remaining.  The purpose of these demented Games is to remind the people of the power of the Capitol, but also to provide entertainment.  But why is the country called Panem?

Panem is likely a reference to the Latin phrase “panem et circenses,” or “bread and circuses,” which “means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction, or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace, by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses).”[1]  Under this way of thinking, for a government to remain in power it needs to provide the basic needs of its people.  For an especially cynical government, it would mean they need only provide just enough bread and just enough circuses to keep the population from overthrowing them.

The Colosseum in Rome – a site of ancient “circuses.” Photo by Federico Di Dio photography on Unsplash

In the case of The Hunger Games, the Capitol reminded the other districts that they could have no bread (panem) without the Capitol’s “benevolence,” and that the only entertainment (circuses) they get is to watch their children kill each other.  Talk about a government providing the very bare minimum!

The Hunger Games is obviously an extreme example, but fortunately, Christianity offers a better answer than just the bare minimum of “panem et circenses.”   What benefits does it offer?  Psalm 103 in the Bible begins in the first 2 verses with a call to:

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
            and all that is within me,
            bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
            and forget not all his benefits

And what are these benefits?  Is it just more “bread and circuses”?  It is, as verses 3-5 tell us that the Lord is the one:

who forgives all your iniquity,
            who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
            who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
            so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

This Psalm says He can take care of both our spiritual and physical maladies.  Jesus performed many miracles, so we “may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”[2] solving our spiritual alienation from God and each other.  Likewise, the body’s diseases do not heal magically or by chance; they heal because God created us with that ability.  He is the Great Physician.[3]

Also, He is the One who can save us “from the pit” – from ourselves and the punishment that our sin deserves, replacing our banishment from God’s presence with “love and mercy.”  He is the One who has the perspective needed to define what is good, and as our Maker, knows what we need to thrive and be renewed.  He offers many benefits we cannot find anywhere else.

Not just the fictional Panem, but all the nations of the real world, have nothing to offer but varying degrees of bread and circuses, various diversions and distractions and palliatives.  No government in the world can provide the benefits God provides – those listed in Psalm 103 – and therefore only God offers what can truly satisfy.  Therefore,

“Bless the LORD, O my soul,
            and forget not all his benefits

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread_and_circuses
[2] Matthew 9:6, Mark 2:20, Luke 5:24
[3] Matthew 9:12, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31

3 thoughts on “God Offers More Than Bread and Circuses

  1. Movie commentary, historical/cultural information and scriptural application in a bite sized morsel. Excellent! From John 6:35… “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

    Liked by 1 person

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