“Someday we’ll fall down and weep. And we’ll understand it all- all things.” That’s the promise of director Terrence Malick’s new film, The Tree of Life. When the movie opened at the Cannes Film Festival recently, it created quite a stir. Some audience members booed and walked out, while others stayed and cheered. Well-known critics blasted it as boring and pretentious, while others found it mesmerizing and triumphant. Cannes gave it their highest award.
Inspired by passages from the Book of Job, the film revolves around one small town family, the mysteries of their life and their search for answers. Although this production seems heavy with spiritual overtones and allusions to faith, viewers hoping for a consistent Christian worldview will come away disappointed. Nevertheless, one line from the trailer could be torn straight from the Gospel. “There are two ways through life: the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.”
Having said that, theatrical films like this never instruct us how to actually choose that way of Grace or discover the Tree of Life. Cinematically speaking, it’s all about struggling and enduring until everything is revealed. In the meantime, while you’re waiting on Heaven, you might as well raise a little Hell! Right?
When you’re ready to find the Tree of Life, go to the source, the Bible. The very first book opens with an image of that mysterious tree standing majestically in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. After the Fall, it fades from view as Adam and Eve are evicted from Eden lest they eat from the Tree and live forever in their corrupted condition. The Tree of Life turns up again only at the very end of the Bible. Revelation 22 describes it standing alongside the River of Life, bearing 12 kinds of fruit year round. In fact, if you read the chapter carefully, it seems the tree has multiplied and produced an orchard of life.
In contrast to Hollywood whose primary goal to to generate profits, the Bible was written to offer us a road map to Life, fruitfulness, and Eternity. The New Testament is not vague or ambiguous about this:
- John 6:27 Jesus counsels his listeners (and readers:) “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.”
- John 6:40 “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
- Galatians 6:8 “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”
- Titus 3:7 “That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
The Way of Grace eludes the masses of humanity who hunger for self-esteem, peer approval, and fifteen minutes of fame. The Tree of Life will only be found by those who are willing to risk something, deny themselves, and search for Truth with all their hearts. Even when Jesus Christ was physically present on the Earth, not even his most astonishing miracles could hold the attention of the Religious Elite whose only ambition was wealth and prestige. Grace held no attraction to the climbers who wanted to maintain the Status Quo at least long enough to cash in on their connections. But desperate people could see an Exit sign flashing in the darkness every time Christ healed another leper or raised another dead body to life again.
To the eyes of the jaded and overly ambitious, American culture is a brand new luxury liner. They can’t wait to make their way to the next deck, to see what splendors might be waiting there. But human beings who’ve been broken, or rejected, or shattered see clearly through the fog. They recognize a sinking ship and realize their only hope will be found in swimming away. But where do you go in the dark, frigid sea of life once you’ve left behind that vessel you once trusted?
It is at moments like this that the voice of Christ breaks through the background noise: “Come to me all of you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This is where we find the strength to swim away from the crowded ship sailing toward destruction, and swim toward the nearly empty life boats drifting gently in the direction of Grace. You sometimes miss the reassurance of all those hustling, bustling crowds, but silence, too, can be comforting. Only the sight of the Gates up ahead keeps you moving.
Between those book-end appearances of the Tree of Life at the beginning of Genesis and the end of Revelation, we set our sights on a different tree. It stands high on a hill that is shaped like a skull. There’s a man dying there who doesn’t deserve to die. There’s a tomb nearby that won’t be occupied for long. There’s a group of frightened men who don’t deserve to be called the Church. And there is a purchase that can only be made when the man on the cross has died, and when the tomb has been vacated, and when the terrified disciples have faced their fears and taken the Good News to the waiting world.
Revelation 2:7 “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”
“There are two ways through life: the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.”
Lift up the Cross!