While watching The Giver recently I finally figured out why I love to read (some) dystopian fiction. It was quite a mystery to me for awhile, because while I love many kinds of books--historical fiction, sci-fi, children's lit, fantasy, YA, mysteries, non-fiction (pretty much anything)--I'm not big fan of violence, or less-than-happy endings, so why do I enjoy (some) dystopian fiction?
Because it makes me think. And I love a book (or movie) that makes me think. Especially when it helps clarify and express thoughts I'd already been thinking.
That's why I add the caveat some dystopian fiction. I really dislike dystopian fiction if it is gratuitously violent and lacks any redeeming philosophical quality, like, say, The Maze Runner. I kept reading after the first book because I thought I knew where the series was going, but by the third book it was clear I'd been wrong, though I did slog it out to the end for the sake of completion. Ugh. I wish I hadn't.
On the other hand, I really enjoyed reading The Giver several years ago (I think it was my first dystopian novel), and watching the movie recently reminded me why.
The Giver starts out with a seemingly perfect society, where no one suffers, there is no crime, all material needs are provided for, and really there are no questions or unknowns. It is organized, logical, chaos-free.
I was fascinated. Wouldn't we all love to live in a world with no suffering, no doubts, no needs?
Of course the truth eventually emerges--this seemingly perfect world is missing something very important: love. That is impossible to experience in a world where all choice has been eliminated so there is no chance that anyone will experience pain. Yes, the possibility for bad and hurtful choices has been removed, but so has the possibility for good and loving choices.
Without freedom there can be no real love.
Without love, life isn't really worth living.
Living without pain is not worth living without love.
Turn it around and you have the message that suffering is a necessary byproduct of love, because true love requires the freedom to choose, which also by necessity requires the freedom to choose to hurt.
In other words, this secular dystopian novel articulates quite well the thoughts I have had in response to a question often asked of Christians: How can a good God let bad things happen?
It's a question I struggle with myself. I always seem to come back to the same conclusion: God could have made us robots who always choose to do the right thing. Then there would be no crime, no war. There would also be no love. And since love is one of God's defining characteristics, this would be an impossible state for creatures "made in his image."
He made us like him. Made us to love.
After all, the two greatest commandments, according to Jesus, are: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39).
The fact that these are commandments implies the truth communicated in The Giver--we have a choice as to whether we will or will not love.
Unfortunately, many people choose to not love--God, or others, or even themselves. That option must be available to them or true love is impossible. And that is the source of pain in our world. People choose to hurt, betray, deceive, abandon, dominate, bully, harass, neglect...the list goes on and on.
So...that's it? We're stuck with this sucky world, doomed to endure the consequences of other people's choices as well as our own, and the consolation prize is that we are capable of love (though it often proves elusive, thanks to that dratted free will thing)?
No, that's not it. Thank God he didn't abandon us to this horrid hell of our own making. He knew what would happen when he made humans with this freedom to choose; he knew what we would choose. So before he even made the world, he made a plan to rescue us from the consequences of our own choices, taking the worst of it upon himself.
This is what differentiates the Christian message from any dystopian fiction that I have read--it gives us hope that we can have love AND no suffering, eventually, in Heaven.
I, for one, am looking forward to that!