I am a post empirical person. I grew up under the influence of thinly veiled propaganda, which – young and impressionable – I lapped up and believed and by which I set my moral compass. Great old films like ‘The Dam Busters’ and ‘Ice Cold In Alex’. Even when Hollywood sneaked into the act with films like ‘The Guns of Navarone ‘ and ‘The Great Escape’, and I should have been old enough to know better, there I was, glued to my cinema seat, falling for all of it.
So, forgive me if sometimes I slip back into a cosy world where the Brits are noble and straight backed, the Colonials (aw, bless ’em) are younger siblings doing their best, the natives are innocent fools and the enemy is downright, through-and-through evil. It was knitted into my bones all through my childhood.
When a film like ‘Lawrence Of Arabia’ came along, offering the alternative view that even the noble Brit is flawed, or obsessed or deluded … it was a refreshing change. I hated that the film started with the death of Lawrence and then played his story out in flashback (always anti-dramatic) but it’s an amazing story, well told, wonderfully acted, with a great music score. And that desert scape! I remember staggering out of the cinema, in a daze, way back in 1960 something or other… onto the streets of Chippenham, still totally immersed in the heat and the dust and the tragedy of the film. I was in a bubble of heroism and derring-do and how I resented the ordinariness of the world around me! But then, I was only just a teen and Peter O’Toole was very very good looking. I met him many years later, when he was about 70, and he was still the … he was… erm…… how do I say this? OK, you’ve winkled it out of me. I’ll admit it. He was still a gorgeous, charming, gracious, elegant, delightful and desirable man. At 70.
But that’s not what I’m talking about… why do you lead me up these blind alleys?
I’m talking about another historically accurate film that managed the clever trick of honouring both the British Empire forces and the ‘enemy’ they tried to conquer/invade/possess. In 1962 one of the big film releases, here in the UK but probably not big anywhere else, was ‘Zulu’ , a portrayal of the enemy as not just a noble savage, but a great and respected warrior, and where we see plainly why the arrogant British Empire came to be so loathed, but we also meet the flawed and admirable cannon-fodder, the men sent to the far ends of the Empire, to do or die.
Why am I going on about Zulu? Well, yesterday, I heard a phrase that I’ve never heard before, or maybe I’ve heard it and it hasn’t resonated with me. Our Pastor spoke about ‘angel armies’ and expanded that one of the titles of God is ‘Lord God of Hosts’ and that this means ‘God of the Angel Armies’. Just the week before he’d taught that Angels are mighty creatures, strong and powerful. Now, I’m a perverse sorta person… if you paint a picture of fluffy little lamby-kins all I see is a plate of lamb chops. If you talk to me of unicorns I suggest you need to cut back on the ganja. I am, I think, a flat out realist. Until now, if you spoke to me of angels, I saw only a handy metaphor. I didn’t think of angels as anything eternal or powerful, or amazing. I didn’t really think of them at all. Take out the word ‘really’. I didn’t think of them at all. But this bloke knows his stuff so when he presented angels as strong and powerful creatures, it intrigued me and I made a little note on one of my many ‘notes to self’, to think about that. Then I forgot all about it until yesterday when again angels were mentioned and this time I heard about the God of Angel Armies.
And suddenly, the penny dropped with a clang. I’ve been reading these parts of the Bible – the ones featuring angels – as if they were written by men and conceived by men. Nope. The entire Bible, all of it, every blinking word, is physically written by men but every jot and tittle is initiated, inspired and conceived by the Sacred, the Eternal, that-which-is-never-wrong. Bit of a shocker, that.
Not a metaphor. Real.
And then, yesterday, as I peeled some sprouts, we touched on the story in the Old Testament, a story about Elisha. I didn’t know this story well but I vaguely remembered that some bloke was in danger from an enemy army and terrified, but God opened his eyes, so that he could see that the hills all around him were full of God’s fire and horses and chariots…. And that made me think of the film ‘Zulu’ (see, we got there in the end); a terrifying army of four thousand African warriors, appearing on the hilltop, surrounding the tiny encampment of just a hundred and fifty infantrymen and engineers in the valley below. I remembered the bravery of the British soldiers, seeing the hilltop swarming with the enemy, facing these terrible odds but fighting on, and the equal bravery of the Zulus attacking and attacking, relentlessly running into the volley of gunfire. Rank after rank of Zulu fell, but still they came. The valley floor was deep with dead men, and still they came.
When I went home (after the sprouts) I read up about Elisha (2 Kings 6) and then Matthew Henry’s commentary. The bloke who was afraid was a servant but Elisha said to him “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Surrounded by a fearsome enemy and yet Elisha said ‘Do not be afraid.’ What faith! The Bible doesn’t say that Elisha could already see the fires and the chariots but he depended on, and trusted in, God. That was his way of living. He had faith and he prayed for the servant who didn’t have that faith. It’s a great story, but I haven’t yet found the nub of it, the central dramatic drive, the thing that God is wanting me to learn in this.
If weak and selfish man, Zulu or Brit, can be that brave and fearsome, imagine how fearsome God’s warriors are! Imagine how powerful, mighty, breath-taking, truly awe-some, an angel is. Forget the sweet little cherubs of classical art, forget all our human wishful thinking – forget the greeting card with pink cheeked angels sitting on fluffy clouds playing a harp. We have a mighty God, and He is the God of Angel Armies. And He’s my God.
How can I ever fear anything if He is on my side? Correction: As He is on my side. What place has fear in my life? When will I ever learn? My God is not just the God of love, but the God of protection, provision, safety; fearless and strong is my God. I would like to shout that in the street “There is nothing to fear, if you walk with God.”
I’ve been reading Psalm 23 to a friend recently, reading it over and over, and the words hit home like hammer blows tonight ‘Though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil.”
So, listen… sorry. What I’m trying to say in this burbling blog, is this. I think it’s this: I believe that the Bible is the living word of God. But if I fully realised that the Bible is the living word of God, if I truly believed and lived out every teaching within it, then my life would be very very different. What power! Today I’ve discovered that I only half-believed in angels. There will be other truths and facts in the Bible that I haven’t fully taken on board.
If I lived Biblically, wow, you would see a different Luce. Roll on the day. Bring it on, Lord. Knock me down to pick me up. With your army behind me, I can take it.
And, Lord, while you’re at it, could you please show me the core, the centre, the very heart of the Elisha history? And thank you for the moment, peeling sprouts, when another little glimpse of heaven and your power broke through.