In Terrence Malick's new film, "The Tree of Life," the character of Mrs. O'Brien, played ethereally by Jessica Chastain, says there are two ways of living--the way of nature and the way of grace.
Mrs. O'Brien lives the way of grace--open, free, loving, accepting, even angelic--while her husband, played by Brad Pitt, lives the way of nature.
He is a driven perfectionist, frustrated that he never succeeded as a musician, but instead had to make do managing a plant in Waco, Texas. Mr. O'Brien, at times a brutal disciplinarian, takes out his frustration on his three young sons, especially on first-born Jack.
Malick's film, which earned the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, is imaginative, slightly autobiographical, certainly theological, but at times disjointed. It regularly departs from the conventional Hollywood narrative style of beginning, middle, and end--a point that a woman in the theatre noted when she said, "I just want t a story."
Amid stunning images from nature that tell the story of creation and shifts in time and perspective that tell the story of the O'Brien family, "The Tree of Life" raises important ultimate questions, including: Why is there evil? Is there a God? Does God care for creation?
(Malick, a graduate of Harvard, read philosophy at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.)
And at the heart of the film is the question: Is this universe governed by something transcendental--the way of grace--or by something more elemental and natural, the human struggle for survival in a hostile world?
His mother's voice echoing in his memory, Jack recalls his mother saying of the way of grace that the only true and lasting happiness is when we love. If only Mr. O'Brien had followed that same way.
For me, the question "The Tree of Life" raises is: Am I living the way of nature or the way of grace? The way of death? Or the way of life.
Frankly, some days I live the way of nature, when I let my fears and troubles dominate me, when I fail to trust Christ with my life. These are miserable days. Happily, they're becoming increasingly fewer.
In contrast, the days when I live the way of grace, as Mrs. O'Brien does, I feel like dancing in the sprinkler in the front yard. I feel like singing and laughing. I feel so light and free that I think I'll take flight and flutter off like a butterfly.
God makes humans for the way of grace, and I seek a life in which the days of grace greatly outnumber the days of nature.
When God and I dance in the sprinkler in the front yard. And neither of us cares who sees us.