What I've learned from Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill giving his famous "V for victory" sign

Winston Churchill giving his famous "V for victory" sign

You ask, what is our policy? I will say; It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer with one word: Victory—victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.
— Winston Churchill, May 13, 1940 in the House of Commons

I watched Darkest Hour this past week. Taking place in the spring of 1940, the film tells the story of Winston Churchill becoming Britain’s prime minister and convincing the nation to fight Hitler instead of making a peace deal.

The story was well told and the acting was compelling. From a viewing standpoint alone, it was a beautifully crafted production, with soaring shots and dramatic, slow-motion panning scenes. I often forget how worth it is to watch something in theatres—the magnitude of the screen forces you to pay attention to camera movement and style in greater detail.

But for me, what stood out the most from Darkest Hour was Churchill’s stance against evil—even when his war cabinet and most other politicians opposed him. What’s more, he wasn't a sweet-talking politician, promising rainbows and sunshine.

Take a look at the quote above. He wasn't selling a bright, happy future. He told Britain they must fight back, even if it cost them everything.

To me, this sounds a little bit like the gospel. Jesus doesn’t give us a sugar-coated message. (Matthew 10:16-38). He tells us that to follow him is to suffer, to daily give up our own desires in the pursuit of his kingdom.

We’re supposed to give ourselves to God so fully that we have nothing to do with our old habits, vices, addictions and supports. But we are only human. Even after we are saved, these things can still have a pretty strong pull. We rely on money, relationships, entertainment, careers or status instead of trusting in God.  

So how do we prevent these things from becoming idols?

Often, I think we can be pretty passive about potential dangers to our faith. We might know that we let social media damage our relationships, recognize when our health suffers for the sake of a career, or admit that the show we’re binge-watching is warping our worldview. But so often, we do nothing about it. 

We should be actively choosing activities or lifestyles that build up our faith, rather than those that threaten it.

It’s a continual, daily choice to guard our souls and surrender our lives to Christ. Even if that means giving up something we value to make room for Jesus. (Luke 16:13).

Another thing that struck me while watching Darkest Hour was Churchill’s deep sense of the danger of making peace with Hitler. I know I could use a healthier sense of the risks I take when I try to seek my own gain and serve Christ at the same time. It doesn't work; slowly but surely my selfishness would enslave me.

The problem is, unlike Jesus, the world sells us rainbows and sunshine. The world promises us happiness and fulfillment. Several times during the film, Churchill’s opposers present very compelling arguments for making a deal with Hitler. They want to make peace because they think it will spare the most lives.

It seems like the right thing to do. Isn’t making peace always the right thing to do? Shouldn’t we always try to save as many lives as possible? But Churchill knew that to surrender to Hitler was not freedom, and would not bring about peace. He knew that it was better to die for freedom than to become slaves to corruption and tyranny.

Similarly, the Bible calls us to stand firm and fight the good fight, because even if doing so causes us to face resistance and pain for a while, it will ultimately mean glory in heaven. (1 Timothy 6:13); (Luke 6:20-23).

To succumb to the world's advice might sound good right now and would certainly be easier, but it would slowly and surely destroy us and separate us from God. 

Throughout the course of the movie, as the situation in Europe grows ever more hopeless, Churchill begins to doubt his convictions. The Nazis seem unstoppable; continuing to fight will only lead to incomprehensible death. But each time, he cannot quite bring himself to finish the sentence: “Enter into peace talks with…” (pretty sure I’m not quoting verbatim here).

At least two, if not three times during the film, Churchill starts uttering these words, but his conviction is so strong that he cannot even articulate the full sentence, let alone actually form an alliance with “that man.”

Imagine if we had such a deep sense of wrong we couldn’t even speak a thought—forget actually do it. Unfortunately, each day a hundred things try to pull our attention away from Jesus.

If we're not careful, we can start pouring our energies into things that are harmful or wrong. We waste our time on fruitless things, or fill our days with so many tasks there is no time left over to sit in awe in the presence of our God. What's worse, we become numb and fail to recognize that danger is staring us in the face.

And as I said before, combating these pulls cannot be an inert process. There is a spiritual war going on. We can't just stand in the middle of it and hope we don't get shot. Churchill understood this. We have to put on armor; we actually have to fight back against the enemy. (Ephesians 6:10-18).

So I encourage you: don’t give up. Find people you trust and be relentlessly honest with them about your struggles. Look out for each other and keep each other accountable. Pray continually. Cling to the truth of God's Word because it will enable you to discern good from bad and shield you from the enemy's attacks. 

Hang in there, and don’t be discouraged; this life is but a breath, and then there is eternity.