Pop Culture, Shattered Faith — June 8, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Discovering God in the Tree of Life

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It’s hard to know where to begin when trying to digest Tree of Life, Terreance Malick’s latest cinematic masterpiece starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain.

First of all, it is a gigantic film, not in its length, but in its depth, breadth and ambitious scope. It is cerebrally overwhelming at times and yet poignantly insightful enough to touch each person that watches it in a very specific way. Whether you grew up in Texas, had siblings or a stern but distantly loving father, or whether you have nothing resembling any of that, you will find yourself in this film.

It speaks to the human need to understand, to grasp the unknown nature of God. It ultimately explores the human connection: each of us to the other and each of us to God. How do certain events in our life shape the way we view God, creation, beauty and chaos?

There is an eighteen-minute segment right in the middle of the movie where we are taken on a tour of creation. From the very beginning of things, to dinosaurs, to the dark beauty of natural disasters, to the most beautiful pieces and places on earth, we are asked to explore the God of all things. We are swept from a very specific story of a suffering family in middle Texas, to the bigger picture of how the earth groans with the pain humans also bare. And then throughout the rest of the film you intertwine these things: the excitement of discovering new things with the eyes of a child with the greatness there is out beyond us. Things we may never get to experience or explore.

And the point of all this? You are asked to wrestle with a God that is big, yes, but also intimate — a God that can still be great in the midst of our individual questioning and chaos. The film gives us permission to ask: Why? How? What for? Where are you? And then leaves us wrestling with the lack of answer we receive. But in the silence of our own suffering, the earth cries out with the massive greatness of its creator. There is a bigger story than the one that we are in, but we individually contribute to the greatness of it – with our thoughts, actions, questions and struggles.

This film helped me address the question of how God can be good when there is still so much pain and suffering in the world. You will leave feeling hopeful – you won’t understand God any more than when you went in, but you will see a bigger, more beautiful picture than you have ever seen before. And God will seem just a bit more tangible.

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