A Spiritual Dunkirk…

Today I went to see the movie Dunkirk. A movie that while not perfect as either as cinema or history will shake you to the core with its recounting of courage, heartbreak and the beginning of ultimate victory against the Nazis in World War II. For while most Americans know little of this battle (unless they go to see the movie or are history nerds like myself), I required my former American History college students to KNOW of this penultimate battle of WW2 even though it occurred a little over 18 months BEFORE Pearl Harbor in May-June 1940. 

It ended any hope that Hitler might have had of fighting a one-front war against the Russians. It probably delayed Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the USSR) just enough so the Germans were forced to fight both the stalwart Russians and a brutal winter at Leningrad/Stalingrad and prevented the capture of Moscow. And it also encourages both the British to continue to fight with their “stiff upper lip” during the bombing raids that shortly began and forced FDR to continue the Lend-Lease program with Britain and the Soviet Union until we joined the fracas after 12/7/1941. 

But enough actual history because I was also overwhelmed by the spiritual parallels I saw on the screen today. Each of the characters represented for me an example an individual in the spiritual battle of the Christian life. 

Please note I am trying to include no spoilers … go see the movie.

  • The “shell-shocked” survivor who wants to return to England even when the civilian boat captain keeps plowing towards Dunkirk
  • The lone survivor soldier who tries to run from the battle only to find himself constantly drawn back into it
  • The young civilian ill-equipped for what he is about to face but who wants to do one great thing with his life
  • The stoic commander desperate to have the 400,000 British soldiers rescued but at a loss as to how because all his resources are gone
  • The thousands of troops who just want to go home but have come to believe that defeat is inevitable in this world because the Nazis appear to be invincible


However, there are two characters that I most connected with … the civilian boat captain and the third RAF pilot. 

The civilian boat captain reminded us all that fighting the Nazis was a battle that everyone was called to fight not just the “professionals” because if not … they would soon invade literally the land of England. He sailed straight ahead towards Dunkirk. He never looked back. His eye was on the French shore were the battle was fierce and death was possible because defeat was not optional. The soldiers had to be rescued. 

The third RAF pilot was one of the “professionals” who was called to serve and even when other pilots were shot down around him … he kept flying. He kept firing against the enemy even though the men on the beach were wondering and angry that more RAF pilots were not coming. He did his job not expecting to return because the German planes had to be stopped. They were sinking too many ships. They were killing too many soldiers. Dead or alive or captured was of no concern to him. His mission was simple – fight until there were no more bullets, gasoline, plane or himself to go on. 

And we as believers in Jesus whether “professional” or civilian are called to either be the boat captain or the RAF pilot today. For we are fighting a spiritual Dunkirk in 2017 and we might lose the battle as the British technically did in 1940 but the WAR is greater than one battle as the Nazis discovered in May 1945.

For while we all have moments in which we feel like the other characters in the movie – Choose to be the Boat Captain or the RAF Pilot. The battle is strong and you are needed!

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