Thursday, November 8, 2012

James Bond, Model Christian


Who’s the best Bond?

It’s a question that James Bond fans seem to ask themselves with each new movie. Was Sean Connery’s lethal charm better than Roger Moore’s suave sense of humor? (Yes.) Could Pierce Brosnan wear a tux better than Timothy Dalton? (Yes.) Was poor ol’ George Lazenby wrongfully chastised for being the worst 007 ever? (No.)

Don’t spread this around, but I’ve been a big fan of Bond since I was a kid—in spite of his drinking, carousing, killing ways. I liked the dude so much that, when I was a religion reporter, I somehow conned my editors into letting me do a Bond-centric entertainment story when Daniel Craig was about to make his 007 debut in Casino Royale. I called it “Bonding Agents,” and it was tasked with weighing the attributes of each Bond as carefully and clinically as possible. Not who was “best,” mind you—that, now and forever, will be a matter of personal opinion—but who was the most lethal, the most lecherous, the most likely to quaff a vodka martini at any given moment.

(If you’re curious … Connery racked up the most confirmed kills during his seven-film run, including his unofficial outing in Never Say Never Again … but Brosnan was the most lethal per film, offing an average of 19.25 per film. Lazenby got around the most, having slept with three women in his one movie—but all the Bonds averaged more than two sexual conquests per flick.)

We can call James Bond many things: An assassin, a patriot, a lover, a fighter, a snob. But few would call him a Christian role model.

Except now, after seeing Skyfall, I might.

Oh, he’s still a horrible example of Christian living, no question. In fact, he might be a sober illustration of what we ought not to do. And yet for all his faults, in Skyfall he gets something right. He shows the heart of a servant.

Early in Skyfall, as Bond grapples with a bad’un, he overhears M asking another agent to take a shot at the villain—even though Bond might be in the way. Sure enough, he is. He gets hit and falls off a bridge, apparently to his death. Only he doesn’t die; he simply vanishes for a while, letting the home office assume he’s toast while he spends his nights drinking and sleeping around and playing with scorpions.

But when he hears the MI6 building has been attacked, Bond heads home and offers his services once again. He’s a bit of a wreck; he fails all of his physicals and the department shrinks suggest he has some addiction issues (imagine). But M ships him out to the field anyway; she trusts him. She believes in him.

Naturally, he doesn’t disappoint. But it’s a costly mission, and he loses a great deal along the way. And when Bond comes face-to-face with Silva, he endures what might be classified as a crisis of faith.

Silva, you see, was a former agent himself—a highly skilled operative who, like Bond, M eventually left to die. M, Silva tells Bond, is the real villain here—willing to sacrifice anyone and anything if it suits her purposes. Then he tells 007 a secret: He (Bond) is not fit for duty. Silva knows because he hacked into M16’s computer system. Bond failed all of his tests. M sent him out, knowing he’d likely die.

Bond is forced to ask whether his faith in M—his faith in Queen and Country—is justified.

I think most of us ask a similar question in our walks with God. Along the way, we’re invariably confronted with doubt and despair. We suffer and wonder how a loving God could be so silent in our time of need. We might, like Bond, grow angry. And some of us, like Silva, might get so mad that we leave the fold. He’s not there, we say. He doesn’t love us. I’m outta here.

We can’t know whether Bond ever wavered in his commitment—whether he ever truly doubted M during this temptation on a desert island. But M never apologizes for her decisions. When she learns what Silva’s been saying, M tells Bond she’d made the same decision again. If there’s a greater good to be had through risking an agent, she’ll do so every time.

But while M won’t flinch at making a difficult call, that doesn’t mean she’ll like it. When she believed Bond was dead, she mourned him in her own steely way. And Bond, in his own way as well, cares deeply for M. At the end of Skyfall, I find myself asking a strange, serious question—whether the spy has ever loved a woman more.

In the end, Bond accepted that he wasn’t his own man: He was an instrument in another hand. And if he could serve that hand through either his life or death, he was willing to do so.

In a sense, isn’t that what we all are? Instruments in God’s hand? We are made for His work and pleasure. We are at our happiest when we’re at the labor God intended for us, even if the work is dangerous. Whoever and whatever we are, we’ve been called to be servants of a higher purpose. How easy it is to forget that. Because, let’s face it: It’s a frightening thing to remember.

But even as we acknowledge that we are God’s to use as He will, we must also remember that God love us and wants the best for us. We are part of his plan. And I believe that, in that perfect plan of His, He wants us to be happy.

It’s a bit poignant in Skyfall, when M sees Bond’s test results and sends him out anyway. She doesn’t do so to be rid of him, but because she (in her own way) loves him. It reminds me of how many imperfect people God has called to do great things in His name—people who would’ve failed every aptitude test that an ancient MI6 might’ve rolled out.

Who’s the best Bond? I’ve always been partial to Sean Connery. But Daniel Craig, in Skyfall, brings something to the table I don’t think I’ve ever really seen in 007 before: Imperfection. Fragility. The inkling that not every mission will end with a vodka martini toast. And yet still he serves Queen and Country—not because he has to, but because he wants to. He’s not just a spy; he’s a servant. And serving a greater power can be a beautiful thing.

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