In the 1957 epic ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’, Alec Guinness plays a senior British officer who is a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp in World War 2.
Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson wages a battle of wills with his Japanese counterpart, Colonel Saito, who treats the prisoners brutally as he pushes them to build a great bridge across the river. The British Officer manages to persuade his captor, who is under pressure from his superiors, to allow him to supervise the work, in return for better working conditions for the prisoners. The building work speeds up, morale among the prisoners improves, and when the bridge is completed on time, the day before the first train is due to cross it, it is seen as a victory of decency and teamwork over cruelty and threats.
But on the big day as he proudly surveys this magnificent bridge, Nicholson comes face to face with a British commando who has been sent to sabotage it. This man and his team are risking their lives to destroy the bridge because of its importance to the Japanese supply lines in a war which is still raging.
In a dramatic climax to the film Nicholson says ‘What have I done?’- He thought he was doing a good thing, but realises at the death he was in fact helping his enemy.
I think there’s a spiritual lesson in ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’. We may be doing lots of good things, but how do we know they are good? We may pray “thy will be done”, but how often do we ask God what his will is? And if we decide to do some ‘good thing’ which distracts us from what God actually wants us to do, is it still a good thing?
It says in the book of Proverbs
“… lean not on your own understanding; (but) in all your ways submit to (the LORD), and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)