In December 1991, the corrupt military-led government in Algeria was inching toward democracy when it held elections. At the time, I was at seminary in Philadelphia, following the story in the newspaper. The fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front pulled in enough votes to force a runoff. It seemed clear that it would win in a direct election with the government. And that, as they say, was that. The government cancelled the elections, and the war was on.
Of Gods and Men (2010) is the true story of a small community of Trappist monks who live near a village in the Atlas Mountains. The war has come to their beautiful corner of Algeria, and many questions are forced upon them. Do they stay? Do they seek a safer place elsewhere? Do they return to France?
Aside from the movie’s compelling story and beautiful scenery, I found myself captivated by the characters. I found myself identifying with all of them. As a pastor, I did not envy the task of their leader, Christian, played by Lambert Wilson. Olivier Rabourdin’s character, Christophe, was the most vocal about his desire to leave. I felt that all of the characters act as elements within the human personality.
I was impressed by their maturity, their realism, and their faith. They acknowledge the indecision and fear, but they do not let it swallow them. I imagine that I will revisit this movie when I need some inspiration. Below is the lengthy voiceover by Christian at the end of the movie (borrowed from the IMDb site).
“Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to his country. That the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure. And that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion. I’ve lived enough to know, I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over the world and the evil that will smite me blindly. I could never desire such a death. I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder. I know the contempt felt for the people here, indiscriminately. And I know how Islam is distorted by a certain Islamism. This country, and Islam, for me are something different. They’re a body and a soul. My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me naïve or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father’s and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you too, friend of last minute, who knew not what you were doing. Yes, to you as well I address this thank you and this farewell which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God the Father of us both. Amen. Insha'Allah.”