What Christians Can Learn From Game of Thrones (Shorter Version)

Many years ago, being a fan of fantasy, I saw Game of Thrones grow popular, and its advertisement drew my interest. I decided to give the show a try, when one of its seasons promoted itself by offering the first episode free to watch. It was an excellent promotion strategy that I’m sure worked on most. It didn’t work for me for the simple reason that I cannot stomach the amount of pornographic imagery rampant in the show, let alone the seemingly senseless violence throughout. As a result, I had to turn down watching the show, despite it nevertheless being very interesting.

However, I did keep what I call a “distant interest” in the show. For some reason, YouTube would constantly recommend me clips of the show as it progressed through its seasons, and I watched some of them. I’m one of those kinds of people who can take some information over here, some information over there, and begin to fill in the gaps myself, and that’s what I did. I essentially reconstructed the basic plot line while avoiding some of the most twisted scenes of the show.

Make no mistake, despite the graphic nature of the show, it is very well-written. You don’t have to like the way the show unravels to appreciate the complexity of the story and the characters themselves. There is much to learn in writing good dialogue on many of the scenes in the show, as well as plot progression elements.

But that doesn’t change the fact that there is this big problem that I would sum up in a single question: Is there a point to all of this? By ‘this’ I mean, the pornography, the seemingly senseless violence, the disgusting love affair between a brother and his sister (who have violent sex in the show), consistent, sexual-based cruelty throughout, and down-right debauchery.

An Epic With No Resolution

Even with the antagonists of the show, like Ramsey Bolton, who was a complete nutcase, the writers put so much time into telling the audience that he was a psychopath that at some point, any rational person ought to begin to wonder why keep showing us this? Sure, the audience needs to hate Ramsey, to want him dead, and to do that, perhaps we need to suffer through maybe one or two scenes of him being a sadistic maniac. But why keeping hitting home his insane cruelty over and over and over again? There is a strange and honestly disturbing fascination with the sadism portrayed in the show.

No one in this show seems to have tremendous virtues about them, even Daenerys, who progressively becomes more evil and power-hungry as the show runs. But that’s not entirely wrong. After all, good story has flawed characters; people who demonstrate virtue in one area, and incredible inconsistency and weakness in others. But especially when the show ends, what does each character ultimately learn and what great problems are resolved? Think about that for a moment as you go back to the very end and watch Arya sail the seas, as you watch Daenerys’ body be flown away, Tyrion gathering with special interests to begin rebuilding King’s Landing, and Jon Snow setting off to God-knows-where. What did each character ultimately learn that changed them in the end, and for the good of the show?

The takeaway that I get is that this show offered next to nothing for a resolution in the end. What it offered was literally in the title, a game of thrones, where to get that Iron Throne, which represents absolute power over the realm, you had to fight for it, you had to kill for it, you had to murder, slander, cheat, steal, and prostitute yourself or anyone else into getting it–which make no mistake, is and was a reality. In the monarchical periods of Europe, there was indeed a great game of thrones that was far more complex that Game of Thrones made it, and even today in the United States, there is a kind of game of thrones for power and control of the most influential country in the world.

Fallen Man and Nihilism

The problem is that while this show may depict with, sometimes unnecessary graphic novelty, the reality of what fighting for absolute power does to people, it doesn’t offer you any resolution for what we all would agree is twisted human nature. And the reason it doesn’t is because it can’t. The worldview behind Game of Thrones has nothing to offer you to solve what it so well demonstrates as the human condition of corruption that goes deep into the heart, which then causes that twisted human to lust, and to covet, and to hate.

Ned Stark was obviously the most virtuous of everyone who sat on the Throne, and that’s exactly why they had to kill him in the very beginning. You can’t have a hero in a world like this, because in the worldview of creators of this show, there are no heroes. There’s just cruel mankind. Ultimately, the show is pagan in its roots, closes you off from any ultimate redemption, and pits you in an endless cycle of nihilism.

That’s why the best example of true leadership after Ned Stark, Jon Snow, has to leave (we can’t really have an honest man on the Throne), and the entire band of good guys simply splinters off, or in Tyrion’s case, helps rebuild the same institution that led to this entire twisted drama. No one’s asking questions about the condition of mankind. No one ultimately learns anything about even the Mad Queen, Daenerys; someone so innocent, so gentle, yet still having fallen in the end.

What do we learn then? What we learn from Game of Thrones is that man can be virtuous, but man has an inherent darkness within himself that desires power. The Iron Throne represents absolute power and dominance, just like the Ring of Power in the Lord of the Rings does. The power of the Throne is too great for any mortal man to hold. Let’s presume for a moment that there was a mortal even better than Ned Stark, who what full of virtue and justice and fairness. One day, he will die, and who knows who will take his place? Obviously then, it is not simply good virtue that man needs, but man needs to be immortal.

The Christian Answer: King of Righteousness

Could we find such a man? What if there was a man who was incorruptible, untainted by the sin that infests the rest of mankind? What if this man was also immortal? Could not be killed, and could reign upon the throne forever? He was incorruptible and could bear the power of the throne; he was immortal and so could reign forever. Can we have such a man?

In the Old Testament, God gives David a promise through Nathan in 2 Samuel 7:8-17. That promise was to establish David’s house forever. David’s line would not perish, hence. Israel would have a king that would never be removed. Ever since, Israel has been looking forward to that great promise, for that wonderful king who would fulfill the promise of God to David.

But how can anyone fulfill this promise? As Game of Thrones shows us, everyone dies, even the king. In the Bible, and in reality, it is no different. Old covenant Israel is replete with kings who lived and then died, and however good they may have been, their dynasty and legacy died with them. Generations to come would soon forget all the good deeds they may have done for Israel. Surely, then, God’s promise to David had to go beyond mere mortality. If in the end, death always wins over a great king, how can anyone truly fulfill God’s promise?

In the psalms, we have particular “royalty psalms” that speak specifically to this picture of a great king over Israel. Psalm 2 is one of these, and it speaks of a mighty king, who is almost a kind of divine figure; holding a very close relationship to God. In fact, in verse 6-8, the king in this picture is said to have been “begotten” by God. This king therefore bears a very unique relationship to Him, and to him, God gives the nations, indicating this king is sovereign over the world under the authority of God.

In Psalm 72, another picture of a great and wonderful king is given. He is a righteous king, who is merciful to the oppressed, and absolutely righteous and just against all evil-doers. In the midst of the psalm, in verse 5, one might almost say that this king’s rule is eternal. Psalm 102 may perhaps be the most telling of all our examples here of the character of this king. It begins with a mysterious saying, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.‘”

The construction of the words are strange. “The Lord says to my Lord” is what we find most peculiar. There seems to be some form of conflation going on. Two Lords are in view here. If we connect all of this with Psalms 2 and 72, we might say here that Yahweh says to David’s Lord (since in each psalm, Yahweh appears to exalt a king, and particularly in 72, one whom He calls a son) to sit at His right hand. The first Lord is capitalized in the text, which is the translator’s way of telling you that you are reading the tetragrammaton for Yahweh (YHVH), the covenant name of the God of Israel.

The use of the phrase “sit at My right hand” is to show absolute power and honor in the Bible. It signifies that the King of Israel is the ruler on behalf of Yahweh.

In Psalm 110, another fascinating statement is made, where Yahweh again speaks to David’s Lord, saying He will make him a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”. He will be a priest, forever. He sits at the right hand of Yahweh. What do we make of this? Three things. (1) He is a king; (2) He is a priest; and (3) He is eternal.

That great King, the Bible says, came over two-thousand years ago, and told the world that he was the King of the Jews, descended from the line of David, and fulfilled the promise of God to establish that throne forever. That King was Jesus Christ. The New Testament connects Jesus to the line of David (Matthew 1:17, Romans 1:3). Jesus is also declared to be divine and eternal in his nature (John 1:1-4, John 8:58, Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 1:8-12).

Jesus then is that great King that Israel had been waiting for, who would fulfill the promises of an eternal King. He is King because He is man, and He is eternal because He is God. As we have said earlier, corrupt, mortal men cannot truly rule the throne of the world. What about someone who is immortal, incorruptible, and is more than a man, and by his very nature alone has the right to rule the world? All of this, Jesus Christ is. Corruption cannot take hold of him, as it is shown in the gospels, such as Matthew 8:1-3. Leprosy was a form of extreme, physical disfigurement that infected anyone it touched. When Jesus touches the leper, rather than Jesus becoming unclean, the leper is cleansed. The power of Jesus and his divine origin is demonstrated here. He has the power over sin, death, and corruption.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

The Old Testament was looking forward to a pivotal moment in the future for a figure to appear by divine appointment who was going to bring an end to Israel’s great suffering. That moment came in the person of Jesus Christ. If you read Matthew’s gospel, Matthew’s great desire is to show a Jewish audience that Jesus is the fulfillment of these prophecies. The Messianic figure of Isaiah 7:14, 8:8, 9:6-7 is fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 1:23).

Jesus’s ministry and message was summed up into one phrase. He went about telling people, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”. The call was a call to turn away from sin, because the kingdom of God was in their midst. God had come, and He “tabernacled” among His people (John 1:14). The King had finally arrived, and hence proclaims a warning to surrender to His reign and rule, or perish (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14, Mark 3:2).

After Jesus had lived, died and been raised from the dead, He gives the great commission to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20. He says that all authority had been given to him, and to therefore make disciples of the nations. The kingdom of God was here, and now the message of the gospel, of the risen King, who will rule with righteousness and justice commands us all to come to him in repentance and faith and service to his Lordship, bringing all nations into his subjection.

As we have said, it is the Gospel of the Kingdom. So far what we have given was the gospel of the King, however. He is the most central figure of that role, but there is good news for us as well. As I had mentioned before, we have a great sin problem, and how can a holy God allow sin to dwell in His kingdom? He cannot. What then must the just King do with us? He must destroy us. All corruption must end. But God has done something wonderful to answer this problem.

The Gospel of Redemption

First let’s remember what happened in the garden. Adam had not sinned yet, and hence he had no corruption. But once he committed the sin, he forever doomed his seed. Romans 5 is a great descriptor of what we call in theology the Federal Headship of Adam. All born under Adam’s seed inherit the sin nature at birth (Psalm 51:5). After Adam had sinned, God had the tree of life guarded by cherubim (Genesis 3:24) so that no one may enter paradise (Eden) again.

As the book of Hebrews shows us, all the constructions of the old covenant artifacts were a picture of the real ones, the heavenly ones (Hebrews 7:4-5). The symbolism was the return to Eden, to remove the angels guarding the way by a sacrifice. No one could do this, which we will see why as we explain how God redeems us in Jesus Christ.

Here is where Jesus fulfills the role of the High Priest. As Hebrews 10:1-4 sums up so well, the sacrifices of bulls and goats could never truly take away the sins of people. Man owed the debt. Only man could pay it. But for me to pay my debt means for me to die and perish. Then my salvation is hopeless in me. There is only doom.

Now we read on into Hebrews 10, in verse 5, where the Son speaks to the Father and says that a body had been prepared for Him. Now the Son, as a man, can pay the debt man owed, and He could pay the debt eternally because His life was of eternal value. In verse 11, the author again elaborates that the ordinary high priest could not truly fulfill all righteousness, being a sinner himself. Christ, who lives forever as High Priest, with an everlasting sacrifice in His own blood, offers one sacrifice, once for all who believe, purging their sins in eternity, becoming their Priest and King, and saving them fully and completely for the coming kingdom.

As Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:21, Jesus our Savior was made sin for us, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. The idea here is a transaction. When I trust in Christ, all of my sin he bears, and I get in exchange all of his righteousness imputed to my account. Not to my present body, but my account, much like an actual bank account. God justifies me on the basis of what Christ did, not on the basis of what I have done. Hence it is through Jesus Christ, the Bridge, the Doorway that I may enter Eden again. As Jesus himself says, no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). All of my sin, therefore, has been dealt with on the cross. Does this mean I no longer sin? Not so. John says in 1 John 1:8 that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. How do we make sense of this, then?

From Death to Life

In the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34, the Lord will make a new covenant with Israel, and in this new covenant, God will put His law in their hearts and remember their sins no more. This the author of Hebrews declares is fulfilled in Christ in Hebrews 10:17.

In a similar prophecy, Ezekiel in chapter 36:25, Yahweh says that He will cleanse His people of all their idols. In verse 26, He declares that He will remove our hearts of stone and give us a heart of flesh that He will cause to obey Him. He will give us a new heart. This we call regeneration. A dead man comes to life (Ephesians 2). The point here is that something takes place when my sins are forgiven. The Spirit of God dwells in me. To put this all together, once I am saved, God begins to work life in me. Sin dwells in my current body, but as Scripture tells us, we are to be killing this flesh daily.

In Romans 6, after explaining the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Paul asks a rhetorical question, which is that if I have been forgiven of all sin, doesn’t that mean we can just live our lives in sin and continually say we are forgiven since all our sin is forgiven? Not so. Paul’s answer is that if you have been truly born again, something has happened to you. What is that? That you were buried and raised with Christ. Your sin is killed with him. Hence sin here means more than just bad actions–your corrupt state under Adam’s headship has been dealt with, though it still lives in this world. Now begins the new creation in the New Adam, born from eternity, that shows forth into this world.

This is what baptism represents. Notice what Paul says in Romans 6:5-8. He speaks of dying with Christ and being raised with him. Baptism symbolizes the going down under (the grave), and coming up alive, anew, and washed of sin. Hence the story of redemption, if we can sum it all up, is a story of how God conquers death through it. Through dying in Christ, we shall live (John 11:25-26). He says that he who believes in him [the Christ] and that he has been sent by the Father, has eternal life; they will not face the judgment but have “passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

An Eternal Hope

Thus in the gospel of Jesus Christ we have that great hope, that great redemption that was fulfilled in Christ when he came over two-thousand years ago, and will one day, at the end of time, be fully consummated in a new heaven and new earth, and for us who hold onto him, follow him in faith and repentance, restoration unto a new, pure and sinless life.

He is all that man was supposed to be, but couldn’t be and more. Like Game of Thrones, the Bible tells us of a great story. In the story is great evil, great pain, destruction, sacrifice, betrayal and loyalty. There are epic battles, and history-defining moments. But unlike Game of Thrones, the God who has written this story, who is telling this story always has a divine purpose; He is telling not simply a story of the reality of where we are now, but of a coming reality beyond this, where He will redeem all the evil, and all the pain, in something far greater than what we have.

There will be no sin that corrupts, corrodes and destroys. There will be no factions, no need to take sides. For all there are neighbors, all there are reconciled children of a great and merciful God. And they will serve a King whose reign never ends, whose glory is their light in the day, whose justice will never, ever fade away.