On Friday night, I watched the movie, "The Tree of Life." It wasn't quite like any other movie I had ever seen. And I mean that in a really good way, although there are some scenes and symbolism that I still don't understand. There are many things that I would like to mention and praise, but I'm going to stick to one theme, which was mentioned in the first five minutes, and only implied throughout the rest of the story.
The first lines of the movie are a voiceover of Mrs O'Brien, a woman who has lost her 19 year old son:
"...There are two ways through life---the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow...Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries...Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things...The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by."
This was a hard movie to watch. In order to truly see that what Mrs O'Brien was saying is true, we have to see what it is like to live a life in the way of grace. And we also have to see what it's like to live a life in the way of nature. We see that way of nature in Mrs O'Brien's husband. He spends his entire fatherhood teaching his sons to be "men". He shows them how to fight, tells them there's nothing they can't do, and plays football with them. At the same time, he criticizes them without mercy, undermines obedience to God's commands, and morality ("if you want to succeed, you can't be too good!"), and responds harshly to every mistake they make.
Mr O'Brien: "Your mother's naive. It takes fierce will to get ahead in this world. If you're good, people take advantage of you."
He lives this quote out in his every action.
His attitude comes from living only for yourself. Without God, it's only natural, it's your nature to insist on your own way, fight for your own interests, use your power for your own benefit. As Mr O'Brien fights more and more for himself, he becomes more and more by himself. His attitude, anger, and hypocrisy push his wife and boys farther and farther away. He provokes his children to wrath. By the middle of the movie, one of his sons is praying that God would please kill his father.
On the other end of the spectrum, is his wife. She lives and breathes the way of grace. She sees the glory of a butterfly. She knows the importance of hide and seek. She feels the happiness, and the pain of her children. She understands how to love and how to sacrifice herself. Her boys find, from her, peace, contentment, and pleasure, because she doesn't live to please herself.
In the end, it takes the death of his second son, to show Mr O'Brien what his life is lacking. He realizes how his criticism, insincerity, coldness, and anger had pushed away his family. But, it was too late to go back. His children were grown. They had grown without him. Away from him. His life had flashed by. Because he had not loved.
Even though this is tragic, we can learn from it and be warned by it. Love. Don't let your life flash by. You only have one chance in this life, so get it right.
This isn't going to happen through you, though. The way of grace is the way of Christ. The way of the cross. The way of faith.
There is a final scene in The Tree of Life. It is a hopeful one. Jack, the oldest son, is a middle-aged man now. After a long journey, beginning at the beginning of his life, he has finally come close to rediscovering his innocent, childhood faith. He has almost caught the child that he used to be. His search has led him to a beautiful place where he is reunited with his family. Including his father. There is love and forgiveness. And grace.
I've finished now, even though there's a whole lot more that could be said. I know this is lengthy, but it's very important too. At least to me, it is.
Thanks for hanging in there and reading.