Image credit: HBO
Written By David Samuel
It’s winter, and the enemy is coming. The wall will not protect you, because this enemy is powerful. It is not afraid of dying, because it is already dead. It is led by the king of the night, who fears nothing, not even the most powerful weapon in your arsenal. It is coming to kill everyone. Everyone. What do you do?
If you’re a sensible person who sees the danger clearly and who puts your faith, heart and mind ahead of your personal ambitions and emotions, the answer is obvious. You try to unite everyone to fight this enemy, because it is possibly more powerful than all the living combined. But if you’re a small-minded, throne-obsessed individual who can’t see beyond your personal goals and ego, why, the answer is also obvious. You continue in your petty battles behind the wall, fighting kith and kin for a pathetic seat of power, forgetting that the biggest enemy is out there, marching inexorably towards the wall.
Welcome to the Game of Church.
Thrones! Sorry, I meant Thrones!
Okay, I have to confess that I’ve been watching HBO’s widely-watched TV series, which has run into Season 7, the finale of which was aired this week. The adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy novel series, A Song of Ice and Fire, is a long-running fantasy saga about several dynastic families fighting for power, land, dominance, and independence. First aired in 2011, the HBO production has shattered viewership records in many of the 170 countries it reaches.
The success of GoT, as its fans call it, has been credited to the perennial popularity of fantasy themes, the amazing sets, skillful direction and cinematography, and ensemble cast. Oh, and the copious amounts of sex, nudity, and extreme violence.
That’s why I said “confess”. The series has raised as many controversies as it has won awards (38 Emmys and counting), for its brutal depictions of incest, rape, and torture, among other things. Not surprisingly, this has prompted many pastors, church elders, and Christian commentators to appeal to believers not to watch the Game of Thrones. I can see where they’re coming from, so I’m not suggesting it’s okay to start watching it. Neither will I agree or disagree with those who see nothing wrong with watching GoT. If you’re in this camp, you’d probably point out that there’s no point avoiding the topics of rape, incest, murder, and brutality—why, that’s hardly anything compared to the real world!
(Good thing is, most of the cast have been beheaded, sliced up, stabbed, burnt, crushed, shot with arrows, and eaten up by wolves by now, so there have been a lot less sex and violence in this season.)
So I’m not going to go into whether or not you should watch the Game of Thrones. If you have been watching it, however, I’d like to suggest that there is at least one lesson in the series that is worth thinking about. And it’s about unity—not just in the world, but also in the church.
There is an enemy out there. He’s the ruler of the darkness (the even scarier version of GoT’s Night King), and he’s got an army of the dead (in-joke alert: that’s what they’re referred to in the show) marching towards us. And what do many of us do? We squabble among ourselves, fighting over petty things like who should sit on the church council and how much we should spend on a church camp. We take brothers and sisters in Christ to court over what they say. We exchange complaints about elders and submit petitions on why one leader should be kept and another should be sacked. It’s hard not to wonder if the Night King is already among us . . .
It’s no wonder, then, that unity among believers is mentioned so many times in the Bible. In Jesus’ parting prayer for His disciples, one of His concerns was for them to stay united in the face of persecution and attack. “Protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are . . . May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me,” he prays (John 17:11, 23).
That Jesus would compare the unity between believers to the unity among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit shows how critical it is—and not just to church growth. Our unity reflects the Trinity’s glory; disunity will only bring dishonor to God.
Paul, too, repeatedly stresses the need for unity in his letters to the Corinthians, the Ephesians, the Colossians, Romans and Philippians (eg. 1 Cor 1:10, Eph 4:11-13, Col 3:13-14), as do Peter and John.
In this season of the Game of Thrones, Jon Snow, one of the protagonists, spends much time going around trying to convince the others of the danger behind the wall. Stop your fighting, he pleads, because we will all die if we don’t unite to fight the real enemy. But it seems that few believe him, and even fewer want to give up their pursuit of the Iron Throne.
Will Jon Snow succeed in Season 8, which wraps up the saga? With the show’s tendency to kill off even the most popular characters, it’s really hard to guess. Perhaps the more important question is: Will the next season of the Game of Church go the same way?