Testament of Youth is a film laced with sorrow. About so many young hopeful lives, dashed on the rocks of war. As you watch this story play out, the young Vera Britain heading off to Oxford to fulfil her ambitions of being a writer, her relationships with her brother, and his two friends, you can’t help but feel a terrible, brooding sense of foreboding, knowing of the troubles to come. When war breaks out and the men march off to fight Vera becomes a nurse, first in England then on the front line in France.
At one point the heartbroken Vera falls on her knees in a rain sodden field and, grabbing handfuls of dark mud, she smears some across her cheek. It reminded me of occasions when those in mourning have smeared themselves with dirt and ashes as an expression of their loss and pain. In the Old Testament, after losing everything, Job fell in the dirt and smeared himself with ashes as a way of externalizing his anger and grief.
Jesus lived in a time of great pain and sorrow. A time when the fist of Rome crushed young lives. When young men went off to form groups of resistance fighters who were inevitably injured or destroyed when they tried to battle the enemy. He knows something of what it is to live under the shadow of terrible loss and despair. When he said, ‘In this world you will have trouble,’ he wasn’t speaking lightly or philosophically. He was speaking as the God who had come close, so close that he himself would suffer terribly, his young life cut down by the enemy. We might have expected him to work a miracle and take all this kind of pain away. Instead he chose to live and die through it himself. Losing people he loved, and experiencing grief and loss, pain and death. One day things will change, one day there’ll be no more death or pain or crying. But for now we live with the waiting and the longing, the lives still being lost and damaged. And the God who knows pain.