In 1996, a small community of Algerian monks faced a terrible dilemma. In the midst of a war in which their lives were overtly threatened, should they abandon the people they were there to serve, or should they stay and almost certainly be killed? What does Christ require in such dire situations? What if one is simultaneously questioning one's faith? What responsibility does one have to the community? To the world? What is right when everything has gone wrong?
These are the questions that live and breathe in Of Gods and Men, a 2010 film from French director Xavier Beauvois. It tells the story of the Trappist monks of Tibhirine, who lived at peace with the Muslims surrounding them before the intervention of external forces amidst the Algerian Civil War. The film is breathtaking both in the power of its images and in the profound strength of character in the people it represents. Its retelling of the monks' dilemma and its exploration of their theological, emotional, and physical doubts and struggles are unflinchingly truthful. Not since Chariots of Fire have I seen a film that so honors the Christian faith and speaks so honestly about the philosophical difficulties of practicing that faith.
At its core, Of Gods and Men concerns faithfulness. The monks represent a faith that is exercised, strengthened, and proven by action. They are faithful in their liturgies, faithful in their work amongst the Algerian people, and faithful even in the way they doubt their faith and question the motivations behind their actions and beliefs. Ultimately, they are faithful in their love for one another as an extension of their love with Christ.
I was moved. Of Gods and Men made me proud to be a Christian. It made me question whether I am a very good Christian—and yet gave me peace with my own unfaithfulness. These remarkable brothers, I learned in this film, are not much different from me. They simply acted faithfully even when they didn't feel faithful, and by those actions they were proven faithful. I was challenged by this film to act faithfully while doubting, to treasure both my doubts and my faith because each proves the other as genuine.
That's probably the best word to use to describe this film. Genuine. Of Gods and Men is as genuine a film as I have ever seen. I encourage you to see it too. Be encouraged in your faith. Be encouraged in your doubts. Be encouraged that if your actions are true, then perhaps your faith and your doubts are one and the same.