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Posts Tagged ‘sin’

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4 ESV)

In my first post on The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick, I discussed the film experience, the creation sequence, and the overall worldview. Now, let’s look at sin and the family.  Tree of Life is a tour de force of a glimpse of sin and the impact of a father.

The very beginning of the film presents two ways of living: the way of nature and the way of grace. For the way of nature, you can pretty substitute “law” in place of nature. These ways are represented in the parents: the way of grace in the mom (Jessica Chastain) and the way of nature/law in the father (Brad Pitt). Malick also does a tremendous job of painting the nature the sin in young Jack’s struggles and temptations.

The Mother

Mrs. O’Brien is clearly pictured as the way of grace. She delights in her children, runs and plays with them, and seems to enjoy nature. She is full of life and hope, and genuinely loves her three sons. As a mother, she is sensitive to her children but does not simply let the boys run without boundaries. Mrs. O’Brien is not perfect but endures 3 boys and her husband, which begins to sap the life from her. My wife caught the progression in her life: from joy to squashed. Why squashed? Because Mr. O’Brien is the way of nature and the law and he eats the life out of his family.

The Father

Brad Pitt plays Mr. O’Brien, the classic overbearing, semi-hypocritical, controlling father. Mr. O’Brien demands respect, and expects perfect manners at all times. He works hard and thinks respect (& love) should be earned. His love feels very conditional and yet very genuine at the same time. He reminded me a lot of my dad, and, unfortunately, myself. He hammers young Jack on taking care of the grass. The 3 sons detest dinner time. They feel like they walking on eggshells around him all the time, worried about the one little mistake that will unleash dad. He is affectionate but tempered and always guarded. He has to be. It’s not like he doesn’t have similar expectations on himself! Mr. O’Brien is a picture of the law: unforgiving, man-powered, and life-sucking.

There are 3 keys scenes: teaching his sons to box, when he explodes on his family at the dinner table, and he confession to young Jack near the end. When he is teaching them to box, his intent is good but he is crushing them. He is frustrated with them, not giving them any grace or any room to breath, only pressing them to hit his jaw. Hit your unsafe and unstable father in the face even though he’s asking? I’d pass too. The dinner table scene is intense but perfect. I felt their fear but I also say way too much of myself in how he responds to the disrespect shown him. A grace driven father could have laughed at himself, laughed at the middle brother’s statement, but not the law driven father. He confession to young Jack near the end practically brought me to tears. It takes something to break him, and he still is himself, but he knows his sin.

I resonate with Mr. O’Brien. I confess I can tend to be overbearing at times and nagging my kids too much about little things. I struggle with an internal flesh desire for control and respect. It’s a very ugly thing. I appreciated Malick’s portrayal because he so clearly paints the effect of it: a squashed wife, kids who are angry, scared, and boxed in, and the older brother lashing out, clearly seeing his dad’s hypocrisy and sin. Other films paint the depth of sin but wash it away easily. Not in the Tree of Life. You see the impact of the law driven father. I certainly want to keep trusting God to grow me to not be that way, to keep pressing to live by grace, not by the guilt, control, and suffocation of the law.

Young Jack & Sin

Young Jack (Hunter McCracken) is a fascinating character. You feel what he feels under the crushing effect of his father. You feel what he feels also when he confronted with some of his emerging darker desires. The growing temptations of sexual desire. The anger he feels and the temptation to hurt his brothers and simply unleash his destructivity. The way he starts to treat his mother. As a man, I can remember that time and it resonated with me. Malick paints it so well. That struggle is relevant just as much now as when I was that young. Why do I do what I don’t want to do? Why does choosing sin once not appease it but drive it? What will bring me back from being given over to it? The scene when he enters the woman’s house and steals the nightgown and the effect on him afterwards was so, so good. I felt the darkness but I felt the allure of sin to him and the loss that came to him emotionally when he succumbed to it. It was very powerful. McCracken does a great job with very few words in how he played young Jack.

Final Thoughts

This film is worth seeing. We need more films like this: big picture thought provoking, the effect of sin, and a unique and challenging experience. This is not a film where you can check your brain at the door and be entertained for 150 minutes. Malick calls you to engage, to think, to ask questions, to empathize, and to wonder. I am thankful for such a film. Don’t be afraid of it, endure the beginning, and read a few reviews (see below) to get your brain cranked up prior to seeing it.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:13-15 ESV)

More Reviews Worth Reading

A Visual Prayer (by Rebecca Cusey, World Magazine)

Review of “The Tree of Life” (by Michael Horton, White Horse Inn Blog)

The Tree of Life (by Brett McCracken, Christianity Today)

A prayer beneath the Tree of Life (by Roger Ebert)

A Tale of a Father and a Son (by Makoto Fujimura, The Curator Blog)

The Tree of Life (A.V. Club)

Malick’s Film Adds a Dose of Sincerity to the Festivities (by Manohla Dargis, NY Times)

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Evil besides (which I must still believe to be the lethal side of man) had left on that body an imprint of deformity and decay. And yet when I looked upon that ugly idol in the glass, I was conscious of no repugnance, rather of a leap of welcome. This, too, was myself. It seemed natural and human.

We all know the basic story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: one man creating a second evil alter ego and the battle that ensues. However, this past week, I finally got around to reading the original classic written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886. This is yet another classic worth the read that is significantly deeper and more insightful than recent caricatures of the premise. Like Frankenstein, this is no fairy tale but a tragic story and there were a few things that stood out to me.

What Motivates Jekyll?

Jekyll’s motivation is to try to separate his sinful side from his upright side as he sees it. This is wild to me: he is truly making a foolish attempt to mortify his flesh.

If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure, and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil. It was the curse of mankind that these incongruous faggots were thus bound together—that in the agonised womb of consciousness, these polar twins should be continuously struggling. How, then were they dissociated?

Jekyll knows the tension that Paul expresses in Romans 7 but doesn’t exactly track with Romans 8:13 and so he takes his own potion and his own “alter ego” in unveiled in Mr. Hyde. The problem is that it is only his evil side that is unveiled and hardly separated from his whole self. But Jekyll hardly groans at this result.

The Allure of Hyde

Jekyll tries to use Hyde as a way of yielding to all sin. Becoming Mr. Hyde is akin to giving himself over to complete debauchery. Of course, it is utterly intoxicating and he is eventually pressed to make a choice between the two (especially after Hyde kills a very prominent person). Easy decision, right? Stick with Dr. Jekyll! Wrong. The allure and power of Hyde is overwhelming.

To cast in my lot with Jekyll, was to die to those appetites which I had long secretly indulged and had of late begun to pamper. To cast it in with Hyde, was to die to a thousand interests and aspirations, and to become, at a blow and forever, despised and friendless. The bargain might appear unequal; but there was still another consideration in the scales; for while Jekyll would suffer smartingly in the fires of abstinence, Hyde would be not even conscious of all that he had lost. Strange as my circumstances were, the terms of this debate are as old and commonplace as man; much the same inducements and alarms cast the die for any tempted and trembling sinner; and it fell out with me, as it falls with so vast a majority of my fellows, that I chose the better part and was found wanting in the strength to keep to it.

The Growing Slavery to Hyde

Jekyll’s nightmare very quickly becomes a reality. He thinks he can just become Hyde on his own terms and then turn it off. That’s not how it works with sin and it’s not how it works with Hyde either! Mr. Hyde becomes more and more powerful until Jekyll is hopeless.

At all hours of the day and night, I would be taken with the premonitory shudder; above all, if I slept, or even dozed for a moment in my chair, it was always as Hyde that I awakened. Under the strain of this continually impending doom and by the sleeplessness to which I now condemned myself, ay, even beyond what I had thought possible to man, I became, in my own person, a creature eaten up and emptied by fever, languidly weak both in body and mind, and solely occupied by one thought: the horror of my other self.

Jekyll does not win this battle. Only in his death is Hyde defeated. It is very tempting for us to think that yielding to sin just one time is no big deal. Just satisfy the desire today and tomorrow I’ll feel better. Or we think we can muster the will to defeat the sin in us. I will just stop being harsh with my kids. I will just stop looking at pornography. I will just stop overeating so much. That works pretty well too, doesn’t it? There is no playing games with sin – it will crush you and take miles like Mr. Hyde does when you give inches just as Jekyll tries to do.

There is no quenching the desires of sin, they will not be satisfied in feeding them! Yet we can’t simply discipline ourselves out of Mr. Hyde. However, there is a “magic potion” that gives a mortal wound to the Mr. Hyde in us. It’s slow acting (lifetime!) and painful but guaranteed…

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:56-57 ESV)

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
(Hebrews 10:12-14 ESV)

I definitely commend this classic for you to read. The print version is only about 60 pages! I hope you will be stirred and sobered as I have been.

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A fiend had snatched from me every hope of future happiness; no creature had ever been so miserable as I was; so frightful an event is single in the history of man. But why should I dwell upon the incidents that followed this last overwhelming event? Mine has been a tale of horrors; I have reached their acme, and what I must now relate can but be tedious to you. Know that, one by one, my friends were snatched away; I was left desolate.

Frankenstein is not a book about an aloof monster slowly creeping about, freaking out people with his funny green skin, lack of intelligence, and incredible strength. It is a book about the tragedy of sin. It is a book about how you cannot run from your sin. Sin is devastating, destructive, and results in death.

The Allure of the Monster

Young chemist Frankenstein ignores his happy upbringing, his father’s counsel, the counsel of a respected elder, and his future when he gives himself over to creating the monster. Like that piece of candy sitting on the counter all day, he cannot runaway from the allure of the power of performing his own creation. Just like many of those times when we yield to a temptation, he instantly despises it all, runs away, and hopes the monster, his sin incarnate, just disappears. It does not.

“Alas! My father,” said I, “how little do you know me. Human beings, their feelings and passions, would indeed be degraded if such a wretch as I felt pride. Justine, poor unhappy Justine, was as innocent as I, and she suffered the same charge; she died for it; and I am the cause of this–I murdered her. William, Justine, and Henry–they all died by my hands.”

The Monster’s Path of Devastation

While reading this book, I kept hoping for better, hoping for things to turn around, and for him to defeat this monster and move on to a better life with his sweet, innocent, and beautiful betrothed.

They are dead, and but one feeling in such a solitude can persuade me to preserve my life. If I were engaged in any high undertaking or design, fraught with extensive utility to my fellow creatures, then could I live to fulfil it. But such is not my destiny; I must pursue and destroy the being to whom I gave existence; then my lot on earth will be fulfilled and I may die.”

But there is no happy story here. There is no victory. You ache for Frankenstein but you realize what a fool he was and that it’s all his fault. He is not innocent. This is such a convicting book. Sin is ugly and destructive and yet I run or yield to it all the time.

The Monster is Pursuing Us

I also love how Shelley paints the picture of sin pursuing and chasing us. Listen to the monster speak about his thirst for destruction and then read God’s warning to Cain:

For while I [the monster] destroyed his hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires. They were forever ardent and craving; still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned.

The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7 ESV)

Can this Monster be Defeated?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a powerful book. It is about the tragedy of sin. It is about the sting of death. It is truly a book about a living nightmare and hell on earth. But she gives no solution. Frankenstein’s monster is never defeated and easily prevails. Is this reality? Only apart from Christ. Jesus died a horrific and gruesome death to satisfy the result of sin and bring victory. Christ became as ugly and repulsive as the monster, as our sin.

Oh! No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. I had gazed on him [Frankenstein’s monster] while unfinished; he was ugly then, but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5 ESV)

Just as in the book, Frankenstein, the monster is no funny monster or comic relief, sin is no joke. It’s not as simple as saying “We all make mistakes.” It would be the death of us. But praise God, Jesus stepped in and gave the monster one sweeping death blow for all time. The monster is still in us, fighting and persuading us, but he can only wound those in Christ. His power of death has been taken away. Someday soon, his death will be final and forever.

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