The Perfect Spy

The 1987 BBC adaptation of John le Carre’s  A Perfect Spy was lent to me by a friend, knowing I have a penchant for local chapels. Its opening sequence was filmed at the now demolished Briercliffe Baptist Church, where a man in a wing-collar preaches a lively but otherwise banal sermon to the protagonist’s family. Religious services and Christian references seemingly litter the script. Having been lent the entire seven episodes, I thought it churlish to give up after I saw the church in question, the graveyard of which still stands, and which I have excitedly visited.

The tale is essentially about a handsome, intelligent and well-cultivated man who spies for the British but freely gives secrets to Britain’s cold war enemies, the Czechs, having struck a rather dubious friendship with a strange foreigner. It concludes with a rather disappointing and ignominious suicide. Magnus Pym, the traitor, is the perfect spy. In fact, he was too perfect, which is how he was able to be so treacherous for so long.

On Sunday last, I preached on Absalom, the treasonous prince who seeks to usurp David’s throne (2 Samuel 14-16). The text stresses his athletic body, beautiful looks, military air, regal magnanimity and intellectual cunning. In many ways, he was the perfect king. Many people flocked to his banner, wittingly and unwittingly, to be a part oh his new order. He offered justice to the dissatisfied, friendship to the lowly and kisses to the stranger.

Beware of those attractive and gifted leaders, be they in religious or political organisations. The more beguiling the charm, the more enticing the trap. At Corinth, Paul suggests the false teachers are well known for their alluring oratory and eloquence; in Galatia, they are ‘bewitching’ in their deceit, leading the Galatians back into the slavery from which they’d been rescued. ‘And all the world marvelled and followed the beast’, says Revelation 13 of the final world potentate to lead astray our race.

All the politicians and leaders I can think of are unattractive and off-putting. The only unflawed character our world has known is Christ Jesus Himself; any other king who presents merit without fault is likely to be a liar who will lead you into the pit.