From Chariots to Hacksaw

I saw the movie Chariots of Fire in 1981. I hadn’t seen a movie since that sent my spirit soaring with praise to God for the way that the silver screen so beautifully depicted a man whose trust in and obedience to the Word of God took precedence over everything else in his life.

Until I saw Hacksaw Ridge late last year.

Sure, I played sport on Sunday while the main character in Chariots, Eric Liddell,  refused to do so.

And sure, I touched a rifle and shot off plenty of rounds on the practice range in my short-lived career in the army as a reluctant conscript, while the main character in Hacksaw Ridge, Desmond Doss, refused to take up arms.

And sure, sure, there have been plenty of movies in the 35 years between 1981 and 2016 that have touched something deep inside me - movies like The Mission (1987), Awakenings (1990) and Cry, The Beloved Country (1996) - but, I must confess, nothing in the way that Chariots of Fire and Hacksaw Ridge were able to dismantle my emotional façade although they all came close.

In Chariots and Hacksaw, the heroics of two Christian men are brought to the screen. Undoubtedly, there is a degree of cinematic license by the respective writers and directors. But the story of these ordinary men, one with the gift of speed and the other with the gift of, I don’t know how to describe it, sheer guts I guess, is extraordinary.

But both men are driven by the courage of their convictions and those convictions are shaped by their understanding of the Bible.

It was the Bible in Chariots that took centre stage. And it was the Bible in Hacksaw that won the Oscar.

I can remember heaving with emotion, struggling, failing to hold back the tears in a packed theatre as Isaiah Chapter 40 was being read by Eric Liddell while he was attending church rather than run the 100 yards final on a Sunday at the Paris Olympics in 1924. 

Images of athletes suffering from exhaustion and collapsing mid-race set alongside the sabbatarian Liddell reading:

    Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted, but they who wait for the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint     

(Isaiah 40:30-31).

And the tears were flowing freely as the utterly exhausted Desmond Doss in Hacksaw was praying through the carnage: 

    Please Lord, help me get one more. Help me get one more. Help me get one more . . . . one more . . . . help me get one more . . . . one more Lord . . . . help me get one more.

The historically true footage at the end of the movie reveals that this Seventh Day Adventist pacifist rescued 75 wounded men and was the first conscientious objector to win the U.S. Medal of Honour, the highest award for courage under fire.

And here was, to me anyway, a faint but distinct echo of the words of the Lord Jesus who told the story of the shepherd who left 99 sheep in safety to search for the one lost sheep in danger of death.

Am I using legitimate license to suggest a conversation in heaven between The Father and The Son along these lines:

I will go. I will do what it takes to rescue and bring home those who are lost, harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

In a hillside garden we know he prays:

Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.

I am the first to admit that I am a soft touch when it comes to the big screen. I think I cried in Kindergarten Cop when the little boy was finally rescued by the heroics of big Arnie.

But cut me some slack. From 1981 to 2016 is a long time between drinks. I was only kicking off in ordained ministry at the beginning of the ’80’s and turned 65 in 2016. Both movies have helped me to stay the course in a world that has sacrificed truth for trivia and titillation.

If ever Australian Christians needed courage under fire, the time is now. If ever our Bible, and the (ever-eroding) legacy it has given us to shape our understanding of our triune God, life, marriage, family, society, culture, justice, mercy, free speech and eternity, was under the most vicious and unreasonable attack, it is now.

Chariots and Hacksaw have strengthened my ever-struggling white-knuckle stranglehold on the Bible. 

For Hollywood that’s saying something.