Have you ever gone on a God Hunt? A God Hunt begins when you teach yourself to look for God’s hand at work in the everyday occurrences of your life. Here’s one of my personal God Hunt Sightings:
If you haven’t already seen this 2011 film, I strongly suggest you rent it and do so before Easter. It would be suitable for viewing the week of Good Friday.
Film critic Peter Rainer writes, “‘Of Gods and Men’” is one of the most austerely beautiful movies about the monastic life that I’ve ever seen. Based on true events, it’s about eight Cistercian monks from France in the Algerian mountains in the 1990’s before being kidnapped in 1996 by Islamist terrorists.”
The conflict these monks face is that they have lived peacefully among Muslim people as neighbors while pursuing the ancient existence inspired by St. Benedict, planting gardens, bottling honey from the hives, praying the Psalms, observing the Offices of Prayer. They have served their Muslim neighbors medically and with brotherly advice and have become friends who attend regular family celebrations in the little village. However, as one reviewer explains, “But outside this Edenic existence the world is changing, as religious extremists seek to challenge Algeria’s corrupt government and begin to terrorize their fellow Muslims (starting with girls who aren’t wearing hijabs).” A group of Croatian highway workers are slaughtered in broad daylight, in keeping with the militant’s drive to rid Algeria of foreigners and other infidels.
Herein lies the conflict: With the rise of the Islamist resistance to a corrupt government and with brutality and slaughter beginning to increase, half the group feels it is expedient to leave. The other half feels that it is their loving call to stay among the people who are equally terrorized by the political uprising.
The quiet, regular Offices are observed, the habits of monastic life are then contrasted against the growing danger in the world outside. “Don’t worry about us,” the prior (Brother Christian) responds to the offers of protection from the chief of police. “We will retire by seven and lock the gates behind us.” A shot of the flimsy gates makes the viewer aware that there is no protection here from determined assailants.
Even more unintentionally stunning is the fact that discussions regarding their internal conflict to go or stay and the summarization of their beliefs and precepts that inform this discussion is the fact that the movie is subtitled. We hear the words in the film spoken in French, but on the lower portion of the screen are translations of Scripture, as well as powerful thoughts on piety and trust.
In a way the viewer is party to the dilemma. Each of us considers: “What would I do given the same circumstances?—would I stay? Would I go?”
When finally, the last vote is taken, and each brother voices his personal decision that their vows of obedience make staying the choice, there is unanimity again in the community of faith, and a rather joyful meal (last supper? Eucharistic dinner?) is shared. A small portion of wine is poured into each man’s glass, the Grand Theme from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is played in the silence. Faint smiles pass across an old face here and that of a middle-aged one there. A kind of serenity has settled on the men: The tension has been resolved.
What they have been dreading comes. The courtyard is breached by terrorists. At gunpoint, seven brothers are taken captive and led into waiting vehicles. (Brother Amédée, 80 years old, rolls under his bed, and another is missed in the confusion.)
The last shot we see is of these believers, ill-clad and unprepared for the falling snow, marching laboriously up a steep hill into the waiting woods, aiding and assisting one another but being given no quarter by their captors. The scene freezes, the screen turns to black and a line informs us that all these brothers were murdered and no one knows exactly what happened. The remaining brother, still alive, is now 86.
This is a profoundly religious film, slow, careful in its delivery with a tension that builds simply out of the organic nature of the story. Simply, the monks are in grave danger; a beautiful place in the world is being shattered.
The New York Times states, “The theme may be piety, but Mr. Beauvois (the director) and his cast do not address it piously. ‘Of Gods and Men’ is supple and suspenseful, appropriately austere without being overly harsh, and without forgoing the customary pleasures of cinema. The performances are strong, the narrative gathers momentum as it progresses, and the camera is alive to the beauty of the Algerian countryside.”
Of Gods and Men was a big hit in secular France. What most amazes me is that according to Rotten Tomatoes, some 93% of the reviews on this film are positive. This film is almost antithetical to the preponderance of Hollywood messages. This kind of approval only authenticates a long held personal suspicion. I believe that the non-believing human holds in his or her heart a moral value of what Christianity is supposed to be and how Christians are supposed to behave. It is when we offend these cherished and deeply held understandings that we come under popular disapprobation.
The response to Of Gods and Men affirms my long-held theory; in this film the Christians are achieving a moral meaning that strikes a resonance in the hearts and minds of often jaded film-weary critics. For this reason alone, not to mention its own powerful merits, we need to see it.
I spy God!
Award-winning author Karen Mains has long had an interest in spiritual formation and the obedient Christian walk. She has written about the God Hunt in her book by the same name, The God Hunt: The Delightful Chase and the Wonder of Being Found. A hardback copy can be ordered from Mainstay Ministries for $10.00 plus $4.95 shipping and handling. Contact Karen at email@example.com and she will be happy to autograph a copy for you.
Karen continues to write content for her Christian blog, “Thoughts-by-Karen-Mains.” In so doing, she desires to touch the lives of Christian women and men and help them find ways to walk closer with the Lord Jesus Christ. In addition, through silent retreats, spiritual teaching, women’s retreats, Christian vacation opportunities, and other ministry activities, Karen helps each Christian woman and man receive vital spiritual food.
Through her Hungry Souls ministry, Karen serves as a spiritual coach to many Christian women and men, and teaches a mentor-writing class. And, through the Global Bag Project, she is working to develop a network of African women who sew exquisite cloth reusable shopping bags, Africa bags. This micro-finance women opportunity helps provide a much-needed sustainable income for struggling African families. For more information on this critically important project, please click here.
For decades, Karen and her husband, David, have served God through religious communications—radio, television, and print publication. They are the co-authors of the Kingdom Tales Trilogy: Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance, and Tales of the Restoration. To find many valuable resources for pastors and congregations at the Mainstay Ministries main website, please click here.
Likewise, pastors will find special resources to help them prepare effective, life-transforming Sunday sermons by visiting David Mains’ website by clicking here.