Winston Churchill was responsible for some of the most striking and memorable speeches ever delivered. The strong rhetoric he often deployed during the Second World War was of course partly out of necessity, as the country desperately needed inspiration, at a time when the conflict was very much in the balance. One of the most famous messages he ever gave was in 1940, as he sought to prepare the British citizens for the looming Battle of Britain. During it, he stressed that the very future of Christian civilization was at stake and that the country needed to be ready to face the ‘fury and might’ of an enemy that wanted to sink the world into the ‘abyss of a new dark age.’ Whether or not they would succeed was uncertain, but he reiterated that if they succeeded it would be judged by history as ‘their finest hour.’
The power of the message lay not only in the evocative and inspirational tone, but in the strong moral language that connected the listener to a higher cause. In other words, it specifically challenged people on a personal level, like the famous war-time ‘your country needs you’ posters.
What is interesting from a Christian perspective is that the speech is doing precisely what the gospel message is doing, albeit in a different way. The power doesn’t come from inspirational or moral language, but it comes from connecting us to the higher cause: God himself.
Yet, if we are brutally honest, many of us feel a sense of inadequacy, when it comes to living up to this higher calling. We have personal failings that continually let us (and others) down, our lives don’t seem to be as successful as those around us, we feel ashamed by things in our past, and we harbor guilt for not doing more to help others. Such insecurities are only natural in a world that puts so much emphasis on what we achieve, but the gospel message is radically different because it applies to everyone equally, irrespective of who we are or what we have done. In fact, Christ’s unconditional love for us was so great that he even took the punishment we deserved for our wrong doing, so that we could be in a relationship with him. It’s very easy to forget just how profound this is, but he is offering us a new life.(1) Furthermore, Jesus doesn’t just leave us to fend for ourselves unaided, but he offers us assistance, through his spirit, so that we can be changed.(2) This doesn’t necessarily mean that we will all have a sudden transformation in our lives—although this certainly does happen—or that we will never do wrong again and things will be easy thereafter, but it makes all the difference to have God walking beside us through thick and thin, as well as to know that we can be secure in our identity in him.
Moreover, perhaps most importantly, he is able to do amazing things through us, if we are open to it, even if we don’t think we have much to offer.(3) In a sense, you could say that the gospel message is the ultimate challenge. It is not only much more inspirational and important than the most eloquent of political speeches, but it really does open up the prospect of us truly achieving our ‘finest hour.’
Simon Wenham is research coordinator for the Zacharias Trust in Europe.
(1) 2 Corinthians 5:17.
(2) Titus 3:5.
(3) 2 Corinthians 9:12.