Of Gods and Men

Though my own Baptist faith is not given to masses and monasteries, I loved Of Gods and Men, the story of French monks who ministered and died in the Algerian mountains. I think particularly of the scene where the old exhausted doctor, facing almost certain death at the hand of Islamic terrorists, pauses to press the side of his face against the bare chest of Christ in a painting of His Passion. Luc, the doctor, is seeing as many as 150 Muslim patients a day, including terrorists from the very band which will take his life, and he has decided to stay in harm’s way.
The contrast with Islam could not be sharper; as the film title suggests, a man’s apprehension of God determines his behavior, and Luc’s sacrificial, loving behavior is grounded in devotion to the One who surrendered His life to unjust men that unjust men might be saved.
Of course, Muslim terrorists also give up their lives for their convictions, whether detonating explosive body-packs in a Bali nightclub or flying jets into New York skyscrapers, but there is no comparison. They shred the innocent of other faiths for the advancement of their cause, while Luc and his colleagues allow themselves to be shredded for the sake of innocents of another faith in hope that those people will be drawn to Jesus.
If Islam allowed religious paintings beyond geometric, calligraphic, and vegetarian arabesque, against what sort of painting would a member of Al-Jamaa Islamiya rest his face before resuming his jihadic ministry? A portrait of Mohammed, who himself took part in dozens of armed raids? Who gathered wives and goods as he established military hegemony in the region, and whose sword-wielding followers had pushed a thousand miles east and west within a hundred years of his death?
Though the screenwriters have inserted a few lines suggesting that the current troubles are due to perversions of Islam and to the colonial plundering of the French, neither conceit will stand. For ordinary Islam kills culture as surely as militant Islam kills Algerian monks. It’s no accident that the pills Luc dispensed and the van the terrorists used to kidnap the doomed monks were made in Europe; that the road-building equipment of the Croatian workers they murdered was made in Illinois by Caterpillar; that the old “Huey” helicopters, “jeeps,” and cargo trucks the Algerian army used, in vain, to protect the monks were manufactured in various American locales; and that Frenchmen, Germans, Englishmen, Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians, and Belgians were able to colonize animist and Muslim Africa, and not vice versa. Whatever one may say about the callousness and injustice of these European ventures, they were made possible by the backwardness of the colonized cultures, a product of their dismal religions.
When the monks were weighing whether or not to leave, one told his Muslim neighbors that he and his companions were like birds on a branch, wondering if they should fly away. A woman, corrected him, explaining that the monks were the branch and the villagers were the birds.
Of course, this reminds me of the opening verses of John 15, where Jesus says He is the true vine in which His disciples abide as branches. And we see throughout history that the fruit bearing comes not only in the form of evangelism but also as cultural awakening – in both repentance and antibiotics; in the restoration of marriages and the manufacture of ambulances; in the preaching of the Word and the defense of religious liberty; in the promise of heaven and the spread of literacy; in vibrant churches and a decent social order. The gospel touches everything.