The term “Christian” derives from the Greek word, Christianos, which means “follower of Christ.” Many also say that “Christian” means “Christ in one,” signifying the way that Christ literally comes to live in the believer. God’s Eye View (시선) (2013), and Apostle (신이 보낸 사람) (2014), which were both shown during the last night of the 6th annual Pan Pacific Film Festival (PPFF), are two films that cause the viewer to consider these very meanings and how exactly they apply to a Christian’s life, whether in a comfortable, advanced society, or in a destitute place in which a believer’s life cannot be guaranteed in the next moment.
God’s Eye View is a story that takes place in a fictional country, and features a Korean medical mission team which came to the said country to bring practical help and the gospel to the native people. However, they soon find themselves with their pastor shot in the stomach, and surrounded by a group of terrorists pointing their guns at the bus in which they have been traveling.
The mission team itself is comprised of interesting people, to say the least. They aren’t the blameless, “holy” Christians you may typically expect in a mission team. Within the first few scenes of the film, the viewer finds that one of the mission team members is cheating on his wife with another team member, and that the hosting missionary is an embezzler who had been stealing from mission funds. Later in the film the viewer also finds that the church elder, who came to the mission trip with his wife, had been physically abusing his wife back at home.
As these not-so-holy mission team members are placed in desperate situations, the viewer is able to see even more clearly how their character truly is. An example of this is a scene in which the leader of the terrorist group tells the mission team that he will start killing off the members one by one because South Korea was unwilling to agree to the terrorist group’s political demands. At his demand to choose who will die first, only the pastor initially volunteers himself. Scenes also portray the church elder and the missionary telling the women in the team to stop praying or singing so loudly, fearing the reactions of the terrorist group.
Apostle is a film that takes place in North Korea, and the story is centered on one group of underground Christians who live in a rural area of the country, and meet together regularly in a cave. These Christians, similar to those in God’s Eye View, are not typically what you would expect of martyrs and Christians enduring torture. The underground group consists of a drug addict, a Communist soldier who loves K-Pop, and an alcoholic, among others.
The main character, Chul-Ho, comes back to this rural village after a year of escape in China. He tells the group that he promised his wife, who he witnessed being tortured and killed in the prison camps, that he would come back to the village to safely take the rest of the Christians in the village out of the country.
The characters are met with harsh realities, however: the impossibility of crossing the border; the extreme cold and lack of food; stricter enforcement and persecution from the government; and manipulation by officials which force them to betray each other are just some of the many hardships that they are faced with. In these situations, the characters make many decisions that are not necessarily the most moral or righteous, yet the viewer doesn’t feel at all compelled to place judgment on these characters.
This goes for not only the characters in Apostle but also in God’s Eye View. Why is that? Why is it that although these individuals make decisions that would probably not be most “pleasing” to God, or don’t seem morally upright to the viewer, the viewer is still led to condone those decisions? Because we know that, if placed in the same situations, it’s likely that we would do the same. The people that we viewed as being truly “holy” and righteous in third world countries or lands with religious persecution suddenly don’t seem so far off anymore.
They’re simply that: people. Humans. Sinners.
We come to realize that Christians who are placed in desperate situations such as the ones portrayed in these films are confronted with the same question that we struggle with on a day-to-day basis: will you choose Me?
It’s simply in a different situation with different reasons. The characters in the films choose to deny their faith, pray quietly, or skip prayers, in order to secure their own safety or the safety of loved ones. We choose to do the same, except for different reasons: to fit in, save our reputation, pursue our ambitions, or secure financial stability, among a multitude of possible reasons.
But although the situations and reasons may be different, the urgency is the same—or at least it should be. Christians who are persecuted face an immediate physical urgency, because their lives and the lives of loved ones are on the line. But perhaps first world Christians are blinded by the comfort to realize our souls and the souls of our loved ones are just as much at stake. It seems that the enemy is simply using different weapons to attack different places of the body, to compel us to make the same decision—to forsake our Lord, and choose other things that we believe to be more important, or more satisfying, or more urgent at the moment.
A children’s song that is repeatedly sung throughout Apostle has lyrics that come from John 21, and when translated, goes something like this:
“My beloved Chul-Ho, do you love me?
Oh Lord, only You truly know.”
What have I been choosing instead of choosing to follow Jesus?
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13