When Soviet spy Rudolf Abel is arrested in 60s America, canny insurance lawyer James Donovan is asked to represent him. The man might be an enemy agent but he needs representation. However, no one wants him to do the job properly. They want Rudolf Abel convicted and disposed of, however Donovan doesn’t do things by halves.
Donovan fights to get Abel imprisonment rather than execution. He argues that one day they may need to trade the Russian for captured Americans, and that in fact, is exactly what happens. And so the story goes on, both main characters catching colds along the way, reminding us that this is a battle very much of the ‘cold’ war, when spies and spying were a big part of the conflict, creating fear and paranoia on both sides.
There is a famous Biblical tale of two spies who infiltrate the land of Canaan in order to see what the place is like, they almost get caught and, in a tense episode well worthy of a Spielberg film, they have to hide in a prostitute’s house in order to survive. But there is another spy story, one about a man called Judas. For a short time this follower of Jesus became a double agent. Frustrated by Jesus’s lack of action, and embarrassed by an incident where Jesus corrected him in public over some expensive oil, Judas went straight to the corrupt authorities and agreed to covertly change sides. Personally I think he did this to force Jesus to fight back and spark a revolution. However, Jesus refused to do this, he knew Judas would become a double agent and sell him out, and he was ready for that. Ready to die. And in an extraordinary twist of events, this very act of betrayal created the opportunity for Jesus to lay down his life for the cosmos. (John 3 v 16)
In one conversation in Bridge of Spies, when Donovan is tempted to veer off course by a CIA agent, he reminds the man about ‘the rule book’. The constitution.
I don’t particularly like rule books, I like to push boundaries a little as an artist. But this scene made me think about what makes us Christians. Something we might call – a Christian constitution. What makes us who we are? The Christian faith is global. It includes Russians and Germans and Americans and Cambodians and New Zealanders and Kenyans and Syrians and Iraqis and Icelanders… (I could go on – for a loooooong time.) The faith crosses all borders and boundaries, and the constitution is a simple one. We are people who are following Jesus. We don’t have a ‘rule book’ as such, we’re invited into a relationship and we are offered the Bible, not so much a set of instructions to follow, as the accounts of hundreds of others who have engaged with the Living God and draw us to do the same. .