Of Gods and Men

The French movie, Of Gods and Men, tells the true story of a small group of Trappist monks at a monastery in Algeria.

I do not remember ever seeing a movie that is such a perfect description of “The Church.” The monks are clearly “called out” of the “world.” But they also know they are inescapably related to the people of their time and place. As Catholics in a Muslim country, they do not proselytize. They respect and serve everyone; no “us” vs. “them” attitude at all.

And the time and place are being roiled by change. Poverty, government corruption, and terrorism threats are all growing. And they are acutely aware of their increasing age and infirmities. The men feel all kinds of contractions; they know they are being squeezed out of the womb of earth.

The contractions come faster when Islamic terrorists murder some migrant workers nearby. Then the terrorists arrive at the monastery. Decisions must be made. Will they remain at the monastery or will they seek a safe place?

The monks walk in a clear sense of place. They pray, sing, work, get sick, and play here. This furniture, these faces, this land, this village. No consideration of this place as a stepping stone to a better place. They don’t download monastery models that seem to “work” in the seminaries or cities. These men are possessed by a farm country kind of commitment to people and place.

When these devout men take counsel together, every line rings true. We do not hear one ounce of pietism, heroics, or drama. They grapple with real issues, they irritate (and rebuke) each other, they search for truth and direction. But, beyond it all, they rest in the depths of love. For Jesus and for one another.

Near the end, they gather for fellowship around a table. One brother brings wine, a small tape player, and a cassette tape of “Swan Lake.” Facing death, they know that Jesus is their safe place. Just to be with Him together is enough. Without a word of dialogue, we see all we need to know in their laughter and tears as the camera moves around the table. Because I have long known that kind of bond with men, that scene was one of the most resonant things I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Perhaps the most riveting truth of this movie is that the monks refuse to let external pressures mold, motivate, or define them. They are devoted to their Lord, to one another, and to their place. They will do what they do and do it where they live. Why should it be more complicated than that? Why should our role and purpose keep “reinventing” or “innovating” just because of change going on around us?

These men clearly see (and say) that to follow Jesus is to die. So, what is the big deal about facing death…like this afternoon? Wasn’t that bridge crossed long ago?

If anyone ever asks me to recommend a movie that accurately portrays Christian faith, I’ll be quick to point them to this film. Other movies — like A Man for All Seasons, Places in the Heart, or Dead Man Walking — have given brief (and quite wondrous) glimpses. But Of Gods and Men is a long and profound meditation on living by faith.

Of Gods and Men stands as great moviemaking and more. It is a grand portrait of how to live upon the earth: With Him. Here. Now. Together.

NOTE: The title comes from Psalm 82: 6-7: I said, “You are gods, And all of you are children of the Most High. But you shall die like men…”

Perhaps a better translation for the plural “gods” might be “judges” or even “my judges.” In other words, those called by God should live on earth as plumb lines in the midst of vertigo. But they will always be subject to the same rules and conditions as the “earthlings.” We will all die the same way.

The movie is available on DVD (English subtitles)

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