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1917: A Parable of the Christian Life

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1917, the World War I epic, is nominated for an Oscar for best picture. It’s based on stories that Sam Mendes’s grandfather, Alfred, told him about carrying a message across No Man’s Land. The movie follows two soldiers, Lance Corporal Schofield and Lance Corporal Blake, as they aim take a message through enemy territory to warn another group of British soldiers to call off an attack that’s doomed to fail. The lives of 1,600 men, including Blake’s brother, hang in the balance.

The movie is enjoyable. It’s also a parable of the Christian life.

We’re at War

We rarely see the enemy in 1917, but you see their work: corpses, booby-traps, firefights, and smoking ruins. Schofield and Blake understand that they are entering enemy territory, and must show extreme care at every step.

I’m reminded of Spurgeon’s words: “When you sleep, think that you are resting on the battlefield; when you walk, suspect an ambush in every hedge.” We do not see the face of our enemy, but we see his work. We’re in enemy territory (1 John 5:19).

We Have a Message

General Erinmore charges Schofield and Blake to carry a message to Colonel Mackenzie of the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. The message warns that a scheduled attack by the Allies is actually an ambush. If the Allies proceed, 1,600 men will face certain defeat.

“They’re walking into a trap,” says Erinmore. “Your orders are to deliver a message calling off tomorrow morning’s attack. If you fail, it will be a massacre.”

We too are commanded to deliver a message that will save lives, even if it puts our own lives at risk.

Lives Are at Stake

Schofield resists the mission at first. Why should he risk his life when the chances of success are so low? Blake has no time for his questions. His own brother is one of the 1,600. He will willingly risk his own life to save the lives of others, particularly that of someone he loves.

Our mission matters. It’s worth losing everything for the sake of our mission because lives are at stake. “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).

Our Message Will Meet Resistance

The message is meant to save Colonel Mackenzie’s men, but Mackenzie isn’t happy to receive it. “I hoped today might be a good day,” he says. “Hope is a dangerous thing. That’s it for now, then next week, Command will send a different message. Attack at dawn. There is only one way this war ends. Last man standing.”

We may expect that our message will be received by those it’s meant to save, but our message may not sound like good news it actually is.

A war, and message, lives at stake, and resistance on the part of those who could be saved by receiving the message — could there be a better picture of the Christian life? I enjoyed watching 1917, but I was also encouraged to play my role in the war we’re in. May we faithfully carry out the orders given to us, even at the cost of our lives.

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