Was there really a miracle at Dunkirk?

By Nick Pollard

Nick Pollard takes a closer look at Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Dunkirk and asks how Christians should interpret the historic events it depicts 

In his blog post ‘How a day of prayer saved Britain at Dunkirk’ (written before the release of Christopher Nolan’s film) J.John clearly describes the perspective on the evacuation that has become known as the ‘Miracle of Dunkirk’.

Those who have read the post and now seen the film might be disappointed that this latest cinematic portrayal appears to tell a rather different story.

The film does not mention the National Day of Prayer, and only briefly refers to the halting of the German tanks, the storm that grounded the Luftwaffe and the calm sea that made the evacuation possible. Some might consider this to be another example of the elimination of God as an actor from history and politics. But that would be to miss the opportunity to reassess the perspective of the ‘Miracle of Dunkirk’, to reflect upon the nature of miracles and prayer, and to benefit from what Christopher Nolan’s film offers to this generation.

There is no doubt that in May 1940, as some 400,000 troops were trapped between the sea and the advancing German army, King George VI called for a National Day of Prayer, to which many in the nation responded. It is also widely accepted that three subsequent factors were important in the success of the evacuation, and which are referred to by some people as miraculous. The German army halted the advance of their tanks, a storm grounded the Luftwaffe and the subsequent calm sea enabled the flotilla of small boats to reach the beach.

But do any of these three factors truly constitute a miracle? And, at a time when the film is raising interest in the evacuation among a new generation, is reference to the so-called ‘Miracle of Dunkirk’ helpful or harmful to people finding faith in God?

When we consider how God acts in this world that he created and sustains, it might be useful to consider three different terms which can be used to describe three different types of God’s providence…

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Was there really a miracle at Dunkirk?