Ethos Education

The Maze Runner: What is the purpose of rules?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understand different concepts of right and wrong.
  • Understand key concepts (Ten Commandments, Sermon on the Mount).
  • Identify different sources of authority for Christians.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the case for breaking rules.
  • Analyse a film clip to identify the relationship between rules and the reasons for them.
  • Evaluate the merits of the Ten Commandments.
  • Identify different approaches to keeping rules, as seen in a second film clip.
  • Evaluate Christian rules for life from the Bible.
  • Analyse the demands of Jesus’ approach to rules.
  • Consider whether obeying the letter of the law is harder or easier than obeying the spirit of the law.
  • Synthesise learning by identifying some rules that apply in modern life, and suggesting the difference between complying with the letter and the spirit of those rules.


Write up the phrase ‘Rules are made to be broken’ on the board. Ask the students whether they agree or disagree with this statement. Ask them to suggest some rules which are commonly disregarded. Here are some examples:

  • Rules about speed limits on roads.
  • Rules against running in school corridors.
  • Rules against smoking in public buildings.
  • Rules against illegally downloading music or taping friends’ CDs.

Lead a discussion about whether it is right or wrong to break those rules. Under what circumstances might it be right to break a rule?

Explain that in this lesson you will be thinking about Christian moral teaching, and asking how Christians apply their own rules and beliefs to making moral decisions.


Introduce the clip from The Maze Runner (20th Century Fox, 2014, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) has no memory of who he is, and finds himself in a strange community of boys, trapped in a glade that is surrounded by sheer walls of rock on all four sides. Ask the students to pay particular attention to Alby (Aml Ameen), the leader of the community, when he explains the rules that the community lives by.

  • Start time: 0.03.05 (beginning of chapter 2 of the DVD)
  • End time: 0.10.01
  • Clip length: 6 minutes and 56 seconds

The clip starts with Thomas being thrown into a stone and bamboo cell. The first line is someone calling out, ‘All yours’ in the distance. The clip ends after Alby says, ‘Welcome to the Glade’. If you prefer a longer clip and want to cut down on the amount of explanation you give before the clip, you could start from the very beginning of the film (0.00.00, beginning of chapter 1 of the DVD).

Ask the students if they can remember the three rules that Alby tells Thomas. They are:

  • Do your part.
  • Never harm another Glader.
  • Never go beyond those walls.

Ask the students if they think those rules make sense. What reasons does Alby give for each rule? (After the first rule, Alby says, ‘no time for any freeloaders’; after the second he says, ‘none of this works unless we have trust’; he doesn’t explain the third rule, but the events in the second half of the clip demonstrate part of the reason for the third rule.)

Draw out that the rules aren’t arbitrary. They had clearly been formulated based on the needs of the community, what it takes for the group to survive and flourish in their particular situation. Explain that most rules are similar: there are (or were) reasons which led to their formulation, in many cases based on maintaining the relationships between groups of people.

Explain that a famous set of rules from the Bible is the Ten Commandments. Give out copies of the Ten Commandments handout, and read through them with the students (you could do a quick test to see if the class can collectively name all ten before you give out the worksheets). Ask students which of the commandments they think is the most important. Say that this is a question you will return to later in the lesson.

Introduce another clip from The Maze Runner. Explain that Thomas entered the maze, attempting to rescue two other Gladers who were about to be trapped.

  • Start time:        0.39.08 (beginning of chapter 14 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.42.10
  • Clip length:      3 minutes and 2 seconds

The clip starts with the doors to the maze opening, with the Gladers gathered waiting to see if Thomas and the others return. It ends with Gally (Will Poulter) saying, ‘But if there’s one thing I know about the maze…’

Remind the students that prior to this incident, no one who got trapped in the Maze overnight had ever survived to return. Ask the students to identify the different responses of the Gladers to Thomas’ breaking of the rules. Draw out that some thought that he had broken them in order to (successfully) attempt to do something good and important (saving Alby and Minho), while others, like Gally, thought that he had put everyone at risk by changing the balance between the Gladers and their unknown captors. In Gally’s mind, maintaining the rules was of absolute importance, with no exceptions.

Explain that different Christians also have different responses to the claims of tradition and the Bible when it comes to making decisions. Most Christians would agree that the Bible is an important factor in making moral decisions, but there are different perspectives on how to apply it. Some, like Gally, are fierce defenders of doing things the way they have always been done. Others, like Minho, are more willing to find new ways of fulfilling the spirit of the rules as unforeseen situations arise. It’s worth pointing out that Minho doesn’t seem to advocate changing the rule that only runners should enter the maze, however he doesn’t seem keen for Thomas to be punished, and wants him to be made a runner.

Give out copies of the Rules worksheet. Working individually, or in pairs or small groups, ask the students to complete the two blank columns. Some answers in the first column (‘What does this mean?’) may seem to be an exercise in stating the obvious, but ask the students to put each of these rules into their own words. Others (such as the one about turning the other cheek) mean something significantly different than the obvious literal interpretation. In the second column, students should try to think of a situation where the rule should not apply. Here is a list of the rules from the worksheet, for your reference:

  • Do not steal (Exodus 20:15).
  • Do not murder (Exodus 20:13).
  • Do not tell lies about others (Exodus 20:16).
  • Be faithful in marriage (Exodus 20:14).
  • When you do good deeds, don’t try to show off (Matt 6:1).
  • If someone slaps your right cheek, turn and let them slap your other cheek (Matt 5:39).
  • Love each other (John 13:34).
  • Obey the rulers who have authority over you (Romans 13:1).
  • Don’t ill treat someone who has ill-treated you (Romans 12:17).
  • Stop being bitter and angry with others (Ephesians 4:31).

Take feedback once the students have completed the task, and allow some time for discussion of any interesting differences of opinion.

Explain to the class that they have just been involved in the same kind of decision making process that Christians go through when they are deciding how to apply the Bible in a given situation. Much depends on how the commands are interpreted.

Remind students of the earlier discussion about which of the Ten Commandments was the most important. Point out that when Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, he answered: ‘The most important one says: “People of Israel, you have only one Lord and God. You must love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’”The second most important commandment says: “Love others as much as you love yourself.” No other commandment is more important than these.’ (Mark 12:29-31)

Explain that Jesus is cutting through all the detail of the rules that God’s people tried to live by, and gets to the heart of the matter. Focussing in the detail can mean missing the point (‘it says I have to turn the other cheek if he hits my face, but there’s nothing that says I can’t retaliate if he kicks me instead’). Jesus pointed people to the spirit of the rules – the purpose of the Ten Commandments is not to provide a list of do’s and don’ts (although they do read as a list of do’s and don’ts) but to help God’s people to live in a right relationship with God – a point that can be illustrated by the fact that the first commandment begins with a reminder of God’s relationship with his people: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’ Love – for God and for others – is a guiding principle in how the Bible says people should live in a right relationship with God.

Saint Augustine summed up the principle that Jesus is talking about like this: ‘Love God and do what you like’, because if somebody genuinely loves God, they would want to please him and so would voluntarily seek to keep the rules and guidelines that he had laid down.

Ask the students if they think that this approach to rules can work. What would the world be like if everyone wanted to live like this? Would it make life better or worse? Would they like others to treat them like this? Would they like to treat others in this way?

Jesus’ words are at the same time easier to obey than following a set of rules, and also much more challenging. Read Matthew 5:17-48 to the class. Explain that Jesus goes on to take six specific instructions from the Old Testament, and show how his approach demands more from his followers than a ‘letter of the law’ approach. Break into small groups. Ask each group to take one or more of these sections (you choose who does which section, to make sure that the whole passage is covered) and report back to the rest of the class on how Jesus demands more than the letter of the law. The sections are verses 21-26, 27-30, 31-32, 33-37, 38-42 and 43-48.

Ask the students if anyone has changed their mind on whether Jesus’ approach to rules is one that they like the sound of.


Ask the students to make a list of the different sets of rules that apply to people today. For example, laws set by parliament; school rules; the Highway Code; rules made by parents for their own children. Ask the students to come up with at least four categories of rule, and at least two examples of rules in that category. For each rule, ask the students to write a literal interpretation of the rule as well as a suggestion of how somebody might behave if they were trying to apply Jesus’ principles of ‘love God and love other people’ to the rule.


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