Before we started watching The Tree of Life, our friend warned the group, “This isn’t your typical movie. It’s more like a poem in visual form.” We looked at him rather skeptically—even more so when he mentioned the twenty-minute segment with no words. Okaaay…this was clearly not going to be your traditional Hollywood “boy meets girl” flick or your “bad guy tries to blow up the world” movie.
I was surprised to see that the opening quote came from the book of Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (38:4). The story traces a boy’s growing-up years as he wrestles with the tension between grace and nature. His mother, the personification of grace, swirls him around in the backyard, playfully squirts him with the garden hose, and showers his life with laughter. His father is nature—embodying the idea that you get what you earn in life, that if you work hard enough, you’ll end up on top.
The movie poses this unspoken question: What happens when life isn’t fair, when you get what you don’t deserve? Is it possible to keeping clinging to grace, despite all seeming evidence to the contrary?
This is, when it comes down to it, the underlying question posed in the book of Job as well. Yes, Job’s technical question is Why? But there seems to be a deeper layer to his queries. The truth is, no answer would have satisfied him. There is no reason, no explanation that from Job’s human perspective would have justified the devastating losses, the crushing defeats, the deaths of the people he loved.
So God, in his mercy, responds to a different question.
He reminds Job of his credentials—essentially that he holds nature, in all its mystery and splendor, in the palm of his hand—but also that he treats his children with compassion and gentleness (Job 38-39).
For all those chapters of back-and-forth between Job and God, the book pretty much boils down to one simple exchange.
Job asks God, “Why?”
And to Job’s amazement, God responds with another question altogether: “Who?”
Who determined the earth’s dimensions?
Who kept the sea inside its boundaries?
Who created a channel for the torrents of rain?
Who laid out the path for the lightning?
Who sends rain to satisfy the parched ground?
Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind?
Who is wise enough to count all the clouds?
Who provides food for the ravens?
—from Job 38
In my quest for grace, it just may that I’m sometimes asking the wrong question. Maybe when God seems silent, it’s not that he’s not answering. It’s that he’s answering a different question.
I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.