As we approach the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, I finally got round to watching the DVD of the movie Dunkirk which my son bought for my birthday.
The subject has many lessons for the current state of Britain, facing a crisis even darker and more dangerous than we did then. It was obvious, in May 1940, that we faced disaster from which the chances of successful escape were pretty much impossible.
But what we had then, and we don’t have now, was a god-fearing nation. Most of the young people portrayed will have had fresh memories of Sunday School and would have felt relatively comfortable about calling to heaven for help while, at home, mums and dads were quick to respond to the King’s call for prayer, and queues formed outside churches up and down the country.
God was even mentioned in Churchill’s famous speech: “We will fight on the beaches; we will fight on the landing grounds…we shall never surrender…” until victory was achieved “in God’s good time”. It took five more years, but the great man got it right.
Yet none of these factors was reflected in Christopher Nolan’s epic film, which attributed our deliverance only to British grit and the ‘Dunkirk spirit’. Though otherwise brilliant as a production and cinematic experience, it failed miserably in this important aspect, especially considering the great care invested in ensuring accuracy in every detail.
Apart from a few oblique references to the need for a miracle, the God factor was meticulously filtered out of the picture. And yet, as the producers made clear in the special features disc that comes with the DVD, they were trying to portray things at the deep end, as it were, in the heart of the action, from three different angles – that of the soldiers, pilots and the brave boatmen.
Yes, it was our darkest hour of the war; we stood on the brink of invasion with our army trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. But the call for help went out, prayers were offered, and 338,000 men lived to fight another day. This was ten times more than the most optimistic estimate of Churchill and the generals.
It was a miracle indeed. The sea was becalmed, Hitler inexplicably ordered his troops to halt for three days as they began to surround the British Expeditionary Force in a pincer-like movement, a combination of cloud cover and brave Spitfire pilots restricted carnage inflicted by the Luftwaffe, and some 800 fishing and pleasure boats mounted an extraordinary rescue.
Yet it had been an apparently hopeless situation, resembling the plight of the Israelites fleeing slavery in Egypt, trapped on a beach with the army bearing down upon them and nothing but the Red Sea in front of them. Thankfully, Moses had his instructions from God and, when he lifted up his staff, the sea parted to make way for their escape.
We too need the God of Moses. He is still there; and he is not deaf. He is merely awaiting our call for help. But many of today’s young men are being left on the beaches, apparently with no hope, because no-one has told them of Jesus (Romans 10.14).
This is a darker hour even than Dunkirk because our present climate of chaos and confusion is the result of switching off the light of Christ from our national life. We have turned our backs on the God of the Bible to follow our own selfish and foolish ways, leading to an unprecedented breakdown in family life. We are on the brink of complete ruin.
But a remnant of Christians is praying for deliverance from this evil. They represent the ‘little ships’ crossing the dangerous currents of secular culture to rescue us from despair and degradation, trapped by a godless ideology that offers neither hope nor comfort.
Small groups of Jesus followers – meeting in homes around the country as well as in more formal venues – are trimming their sails to the wind of the Spirit as they seek God’s victory in our nation. They are not great in numbers but, like Gideon’s 300-strong army, they do command huge potential power. For when the Israelites of old cried out to God for deliverance from the crushing oppression of the Midianites, God called Gideon – the least of the least in terms of personal stature – to lead the rescue.
But we too must dispense with our idols, our false gods of materialism and humanism, and our politically-correct agendas, as Gideon was ordered to do (Judges 6.25-32). And we must remember that it is “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zech 4.6) that the enemies of God will be defeated.
Noah’s Ark (and indeed the Red Sea crossing) also pictures rescue (salvation) for those trusting in Christ, who are saved from the depths of the sea that would otherwise have drowned them by putting their faith in the God of Israel. And it is illustrated by baptism – immersion in water identifying with the death of Christ. (See Colossians 2.12)
It is significant, I believe, that much of Jesus’ earthly ministry was carried out in the vicinity of the Sea of Galilee, particularly in or around boats. When the disciples were struggling in rough seas, Jesus came to them walking on water. And as soon as he got into the boat, they reached the shore – a miraculous intervention no doubt! (John 6.16-21)
On another occasion, in the midst of a squall that threatened to capsize the boat, Jesus rebuked the storm with a word, and all was calm, causing the disciples to ask one another: “Who is this, who commands even the winds and the waves, and they obey him?” (Luke 8.22-25) We all need Jesus in our lifeboat, and Britain is once again looking for little ships of disciples to rescue us from disaster.
Every Day with Jesus, calling for biblical wisdom, underscores this point: “At this present time, enemy forces threaten us. Marriages are crumbling, and the moral ropes that once held us so fast and firm and now frayed.”
As with the Jews of ancient times, God came to our rescue in 1940. But, just like them, we soon forgot the means of our great deliverance by forsaking God’s commands, which produced a generation that tragically never saw the Promised Land. We mustn’t let that happen again.
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; and A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International