Yesterday I accompanied a group of 50 Boston College students to see the film Of Gods and Men (Des Hommes et Des Dieux), the story of the kidnapping and murder of the monks of Tibhirine, in Algeria, in 1996. (I’ve also written on this film here.) It’s a beautifully told and acted story: the film won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival this year.
The film takes its title from Psalm 82:
- The gods neither know nor understand, wandering about in darkness, and all the world’s foundations shake.
- I declare: “Gods though you be, offspring of the Most High all of you,
- Yet like any mortal you shall die; like any prince you shall fall.”
- The film captures the beautiful friendships among the monks, and between the monks and the Muslim villagers who fear for their safety during a period of terror unleashed by extremists.
- In probing the human condition, the film illustrates the Psalmist’s point: everyone who is not God gets justice wrong. In John 10:34, Jesus cites this same psalm in a response to his detractors. Their presumption in judging him for blasphemy is an example, Jesus says, of the human tendency to play God.
- The monks struggle with the decision to stay and accompany the villagers in a difficult time, or to leave the monastery and return to their homeland in France. It is a story of discernment. In deciding to stay, they realize that they will likely die. The great mystery of the film is the great mystery of faith: that friendship with God lived in friendship with those whom God gives us to love often means walking calmly toward suffering, in imitation of Jesus. During this Lenten season, if you are able to see this film consider it a latter-day exercise of the Stations of the Cross.