Jeffrey Overstreet reviews Of Gods and Men, finds it to be a “thoughtful portrayal of devout Christians putting their faith into practice,” and wonders, “Why hasn’t it become the new standard for ‘sacred cinema,’ inspiring church-basement screenings across the country? Why hasn’t it caught on with mainstream evangelicals like Courageous, Fireproof, and Facing the Giants?”
In my childhood Sunday School classes, I remember hearing the most dazzling tales of military heroism. I remember drawings of Biblical heroes who could have given Superman and Batman a good fight. These were commanding figures of ferocious violence who kicked ass in God’s name. We cheered for David who knocked down Goliath, not David the poet. We thrilled to the exploits of Joshua, Gideon, and Samson, who seemed like inspiring role models.
It wasn’t until adulthood, when I read the stories carefully for myself, that I saw how the flawed humanity of those holy fools had been censored. Those stories are not about supermen. They’re about what God does with, through, and often in spite of, some truly ridiculous, unstable, untrustworthy characters.
By contrast, Jesus makes “all things new.” He takes the world’s idea of power and transforms it. All signs of physical domination and military force are subverted. Jesus shows the strength of humility, the courage of selflessness, the boldness of restraining anger and violent impulses. He tells Peter to put away his knife, and he heals his own captor’s wounds. He turns the other cheek instead of striking back. He asks us not to demonize sinners, but to turn judgment upon ourselves.
So while Of Gods and Men is made with such excellence that it’s won praise from film enthusiasts around the world, it’s never likely to be popular with mainstream audiences, or even with mainstream evangelical Christian moviegoers. It isn’t about inspiring role models. It’s about men who overcome their fears, empty themselves of ego, and serve quietly unto death.
Now I feel all the more guilty for missing the film when it screened in Lincoln last year.