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  • Writer's picturePaul Cho

La France, l’armée, tête d’armée, Joséphine.

When Esther and I boarded Air Canada Flight 517, bound for Honolulu (HNL) from Vancouver (YVR) airport, I could sense the excitement on the flight. Everyone seemed thrilled as we were heading towards one of the most beautiful paradises on Earth. Esther and I were truly happy too, but at the same time, I felt somewhat heavy-hearted as well. At that moment, I was going through a life issue about which I needed to make an important decision. I honestly did not know what the right decision was. But I knew that after this vacation, I had to make a decision. The clock was ticking.

The heavy plane taxied towards the runway, revved its engines, and ascended into the sky over the Pacific Ocean. As the plane reached an altitude of 31,000 feet, I looked out the window. From this high view, I wished I could see all matters of life more clearly. Then, the flight attendant made announcements about the flight, first in English, then in French. For some reason and somehow, I was drawn into the words of French, and the world of France.

I turned on the screen and looked for anything related to France in the in-flight entertainment. I came across a 2023 film called Napoleon. I clicked the "play" button. The film took me to the world of France and introduced me to the world of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The film narrates the life story of Napoleon, his rise to power from a young army officer, through significant military victories, to becoming the Emperor of France through a coup. It also explores his complex love relationship with his wife, Joséphine Bonaparte. Even after becoming the Emperor of France, Napoleon's ambition for more power never ceases. He divorces his wife for failing to provide him with a child to continue his succession. Yet, throughout the movie, Napoleon misses her and writes to her many times.

While reflecting on the complex character and life of Napoleon, I was reminded of another French king, Louis XIV. Esther and I had the chance to visit his residence, the Palace of Versailles. Versailles was truly astounding. From the moment I set foot on the entrance, I recall being overwhelmed by the building's facade, which stood so gloriously and beautifully.

Entering Versailles was even more overwhelming. The Grand Chapel, the Hall of Mirrors, the Royal Chapel, and the countless other rooms were filled with stunning art and beauty. Then, there was the beautiful and majestic Gardens of Versailles. That afternoon during our visit, Esther and I rented bikes and journeyed through the expansive gardens of Versailles, with a long canal running through the center.

As we marveled at the garden's beauty and grandeur, I found myself wondering, how could one man have it all? Louis XIV was a man who tried to bring all things to himself. He brought the nobles into the palace and positioned himself at the heart of all activities and attention in Versailles. He attracted the best talents from all over Europe by bringing in the best minds in economics, arts, music, science, military, architecture, and culture to make Versailles Palace and France the epicenter of the world. He even called himself the Sun King (le Roi Soleil). As the sun gives life to all things, Louis XIV made himself to be the Sun King, drawing all things to himself under his rule, under France.

In the film, I saw that Napoleon was trying to centralize power, much like Louis XIV did. He aspired not only to be the Emperor of France, but of all Europe. He wished to be at the center of everything and bring all of Europe under his rule. However, in the film, I sensed that his time was ticking.

The glory of the Sun King did not last forever. Louis XIV died crying, "Why do you weep? Did you think I was immortal?" Even the splendor of Versailles did not last forever. It came to an end with the French Revolution.

In the film, Napoleon persistently advocates for more battles and wars. He loses a battle in Russia in 1814 and is exiled to the island of Elba. However, Napoleon escapes and reclaims his throne. Yet, he loses another battle against the coalition forces of Europe and is exiled again to the distant island of Saint Helena in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where this time he is guarded by a heavy British naval presence. Losing hope and everything else, on his deathbed, he writes his last words:

“La France, l’armée, tête d’armée, Joséphine.”

(France, the Army, Josephine.)

Napoleon, much like Louis XIV, wanted to have it all: the glory of France, the power of the French army, and the love of Josephine. Yet, in the end, he lost it all. He was exiled far from France, never to return. More than half a million French soldiers died under his leadership, and he also lost his beloved Josephine due to his own choice of divorce, and to the inevitable course of humanity, death.

Napoleon and Louis XIV were both powerful rulers, but they were merely human. Yet, they tried to have it all only to lose it all. As I pondered upon the life of Napoleon, especially his last words, "La France, l'armée, tête d'armée, Joséphine," and the glorious beauty of the Versailles Palace which we visited, I couldn't help but think of the Biblical narrative that tells the story of an eternal and everlasting kingdom that is coming, where the True King will rule in absolute monarchy, but unlike Louis, he will rule with love, mercy, and righteousness.

In that kingdom, there will be no need for sun or light, because the True King himself will be the light. This True King will bring all things to himself, and in his presence, all things will be renewed to the glory of God. In that kingdom to come, the True King will invite us to rule with him together for eternity, as it was meant to be in the world of creation.

As the film came to an end, I felt the Lord saying, "Paul, it's okay if you don't see all things. Surrender everything to me. Leave it all to me, and you will have me, and you will have it all." At that moment, the heavy plane began its descent. The beautiful views of the islands came into view. I heard the sounds of the wing flaps extending and the wheels rolling out. Then, soon, I felt the rubber of the plane's wheels meeting the runway. As Esther and I stepped outside of the heavy plane, I felt the heaviness in my heart lift. God was inviting me to enter into a place of paradise, a little rest in His creation, testifying to the truest beauty to come when the True King descends and brings His heaven here with true glory, true power, and true love.

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