“Of Gods and Men” : A Sacramental Film

If a sacrament is a material thing in which the Divine is mysteriously present and made manifest, then the French film “Of Gods and Men” qualifies. I can’t think of a more spiritual experience that I’ve had in a while than this film. For film buffs, the quality could not be higher. It was nominated and wrongly overlooked at the Oscars this year for “Best Foreign Film,” and it won the Grand Prix at Cannes last year. But for Christians, this film is a must see that moves way beyond technical expertise and into the realm of Truth and profound beauty.

It might come as a surprise that the French produced one of the few films that I would be comfortable in labeling a truly “Christian” movie, but I can’t imagine a film in recent memory that so depicts what is beautiful and compelling about the truly Christian life. The news is full of stories of Christians who protest Muslim mosques, who stereotype their neighbors who have a different religious background than their own, and of Christian grasps at power and cultural dominance. This story shows another side of Christianity — a Christianity that intentionally eschews power, is hospitable and generous in its faith, and that ultimately gives all for those who are different than themselves. And all the time that they are giving, loving and serving, they also are praying and singing.

Taking its name from Psalm 82 (“I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High,’ but you will die like mere mortals”), the film tells the story of the 1996 massacre in Tibhirine in North Africa, in which seven French Cistercian monks, living in a monastery in Algeria, find themselves caught in conflict between Algeria’s government and the Armed Islamic Group. The film is not so concerned with the details of this conflict as it is with the reasons that the monks ultimately stayed among those who wished them harm. In doing so, they refused to take up weapons, welcomed their enemies into their presence (Ps. 23), and ultimately decided that their calling is to love to the end, even at the cost of their own lives.

There are so many powerful scenes in this film, but the one that will live in memory for me  … and that has inspired my worship ever since …is a scene in which the monks chant the words of a Psalm as they stand in a circle and listen to the encroaching helicopter of the government outside the monastery.

Having abandoned all forms of power, domination and weapons, these monks stand before every power and every fear in community, compassion and worship. This is what it means to be Christian in this world, and this film points the way to a more hospitable expression of Christian faith that people everywhere, yea even in France, still find compelling.

2 Responses to ““Of Gods and Men” : A Sacramental Film”
  1. Debbie says:

    This will be on my list of movie to be seen. Let me add one to you list if you haven’t already seen it – “As It Is In Heaven” – a Swedish film of a few years ago. Very spiritual as well.

  2. Andy Wall says:

    Thanks for this review Todd. I’m doing a screening of the film during Lent for those in our congregation who are interested in coffee, film, and discussion.

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