“The way of nature and the way of grace…”

I’ve fallen in love with a movie trailer. I’m serious. I’m fighting back tears. I haven’t seen the movie yet, called The Tree of Life. It opens this Friday in New York and L.A., and Atlanta a week later. But I’m mesmerized by this trailer, and by what I’ve read about the film. Over scenes of cosmic creation and human birth, a woman’s voice says, “There are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.”

You had me at grace!

The writer and director is Terrence Malick, and the film won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes this year. Of course, from what I read in the New York Times, its debut there was decidedly mixed. Some members of the audience booed loudly. In other words, it’s probably awesome!

Here’s an excerpt from Roger Ebert’s review. While I don’t share his theological outlook on the efficacy of prayer, I want what he says about this movie to be true.

Many films diminish us. They cheapen us, masturbate our senses, hammer us with shabby thrills, diminish the value of life. Some few films evoke the wonderment of life’s experience, and those I consider a form of prayer. Not prayer “to” anyone or anything, but prayer “about” everyone and everything. I believe prayer that makes requests is pointless. What will be, will be. But I value the kind of prayer when you stand at the edge of the sea, or beneath a tree, or smell a flower, or love someone, or do a good thing. Those prayers validate existence and snatch it away from meaningless routine.

I didn’t stumble upon this film on my own. I had never heard of Terrence Malick before reading about him in an article by one of my favorite theologians, David Bentley Hart. I watched The Thin Red Line on Netflix over the weekend.

6 thoughts on ““The way of nature and the way of grace…””

  1. I don’t know enough about the movie or the quote enough to decide with certainty how I feel about it. But I was disappointed to see that the “way of nature” and the “way of grace” were seen in opposition to each other. I had rather hoped they would be seen as one and the same, or at least parallel.

    We often are more aware of the “dog eat dog” quality of our world. But the fact that the planet sustains and feeds us at all seems to imply that nature is far more often the bearer of grace than the opposite. Certainly more often than we give it credit for.

    It has been pointed out that nature and the earth is Christ-like by being self-sacrificial. Death and then life that comes from it – often through the recycling of materials – illustrates the self-giving grace that we are shown in Jesus Christ.

    1. Nancy,

      Your point about the graciousness of nature is a good one. I suspect—having read about it and having just watched The Thin Red Line—that the filmmaker agrees with you. “The way of nature” is probably from our normal perspective, which understands nature to be harsh and cruel… the law of the jungle, etc.

  2. Hi Brent,

    Found your site by searching for this quote to hang up in my cubicle; such a powerful reminder. Have you seen the movie yet? 3/4 of the dialogue is Scripture. No wonder people booed. (Double-edged sword, anyone?) Honestly, it was so TRUE and technically excellent, that I felt like I was watching something contraband. It was a very exciting experience.


    1. I did see it and thought it was breathtakingly good. I wrote about it briefly here and here. Theologian David Bentley Hart praises it again in today’s First Things post. He does describe it as “perhaps slightly mad,” which seems about right.

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