In the movie Bridge of Spies, Russian character Rudolf Abel tells the protagonist James Donovan a story. Abel describes how, when he was young, border guards came to his house, beating his parents and his father’s friend. “Every time they hit him,” Abel says, his father’s friend “stood back up again. So they hit him harder. Still he got back to his feet. I think because of this they stopped the beating. They let him live. ‘Stoikiy muzhik.’ I remember them saying. Which sort of means…‘standing man’” (“Bridge of Spies Quotes”). This simple story has so much power, yet little do people think about the significance of merely standing. Standing sounds passive, but it can represent defiance, taking a stance, respect, serving, or waiting expectantly.
Another movie contains an example of how standing can symbolize defiance. Partway through The Avengers, the Norse god and villain Loki is in Germany. A terrified crowd is before him, and Loki commands all the people to kneel. One by one, they do. As Loki is exulting in his show of power, though, one old man rises to his feet. This simple act of standing quietly demonstrates defiance. Without yelling, without weapons, this old man displays his defiance. His mere standing up carried a weighty message.
Almost five hundred years ago, another man quietly defied the power before him. Martin Luther, however, did more than display defiance when he spoke his simple words “here I stand” before the church council at Worms. By speaking these words, Luther took up a position. He maintained that he believed that what he had written and spoken was true and that he was going to continue to hold to his beliefs in spite of the Roman Catholic church’s call for recantation. In the book Democracy in America, French author Alexis de Tocqueville also calls upon his readers to take a stance, this time in defense of true liberty. Alexis de Tocqueville writes,
There is a liberty of corrupt nature, which is affected by both men and beasts, to do what they list; and this liberty is inconsistent with authority, impatient of all restraint;… But there is a civil, a moral, a federal liberty, which is the proper end and object of authority; it is a liberty for that only which is just and good; for this liberty you are to stand with the hazard of your very lives (42).
In addition to taking a position, many traditions around the world connect standing with respect. When royalty enters a room, people stand to demonstrate respect. Waiting until the hostess at a dinner has sat down before taking one’s own seat is another tradition associated with good manners and politeness. People stand when their national anthem is played. After a musical performance, a standing ovation is the highest form of praise. Interestingly, some historians think that the tradition of standing during the “Hallelujah Chorus” of Handel’s The Messiah originated when King George stood up during the concert to stretch his legs, forcing the rest of the audience to stand because it was impolite to remain seated in his presence.
Standing can also mean that one is serving. British poet John Milton became blind at a young age, and in a poem he contemplates the purpose of his life and his inability to work because of his blindness. He concludes the poem by writing, “God doth not need / Either man’s work or his own gifts…Thousands at his bidding speed / And post o’re Land and Ocean without rest: / They also serve who only stand and waite” (Milton). John Bunyan, another famous British author also touched upon the idea of standing and service by naming one of the most remarkable characters in the second part of The Pilgrim’s Progress Mr. Standfast. This character valiantly resists temptation and is one of the strongest Christians characterized in the allegory, ranking up there with the more warrior-like Mr. Great-heart. A further example appears in the first season of The Crown, the 2016 Netflix series about Queen Elizabeth II, where one episode emphasizes how oftentimes the monarch helps most by not doing anything, and sometimes standing firm, resisting the pressure to act, and serving by inaction is the right response, though the hardest task of all.
A final meaning that standing can have is of readiness and waiting with expectation. In Ephesians, Paul describes the armor of God and calls upon Christians to don this armor. He concludes the passage by writing, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:13-15).
In a world which constantly calls upon people to do something, to protest, to write, to speak up, Christians sometimes forget and devalue the Mr. Standfasts and stoikiy muzhik. Sometimes it feels easier to follow the call to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1) than to “stand firm in the faith” (1 Corinthians 16:13). However, God calls Christians to do both—to pursue holiness and to resist Satan—and promises help in times of need (1 Corinthians 10:13). While standing firm may lack the glamour of running a race, I think it is important for the church to remember that, just as secular vocations can be as much a form of service to God as pastoral ministry, so running and standing for the LORD are different but integral ways in which Christians serve and obey God.
“Bridge of Spies (2015) Quotes.” IMDb.com, 14 Jun. 2016, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3682448/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu.
Milton, John. “On His Blindness.” Poetry Foundation, 14 Sep. 2017, poetryfoundation.org/poems/44750/sonnet-19-when-i-consider-how-my-light-is-spent.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Bibles, 2001. Print.