In the movie The Tree of Life, director Terrence Malick employs a strangely jarring narrative device to illuminate the true significance of certain events that happen to the O’Brien family over the course of the unfolding story. After introducing the various members of the family in 1950’s Texas and hinting at the tragic death of a beloved son a few years later, the story briefly abandons these characters and their particular historical setting. Rewinding back to the creation of the universe and the development of life on our planet (even dinosaurs make a brief appearance!), Malick constructs a cosmic backdrop against which the audience might now re-imagine the significance they have previously ascribed to the O’Brien’s mix of joy and tragedy. As Roger Ebert noted, “The Tree of Life is a film of vast ambition and deep humility, attempting no less than to encompass all of existence and view it through the prism of a few infinitesimal lives.” Though arguably, that interpretation gets matters exactly backwards with regard to the ultimate focus of the story—it is not the physical universe but humanity within it that is the real theme of the movie.
Of course, it is finally left up to the audience to decide how to interpret this ambitious setting of a breathtakingly cosmic stage which is found to lay behind the immediate experiences of the story’s main characters. Does it relativize and minimize the tragedy they experience—after all, what is one more death and brief moment of suffering in the grand scale of things? Or does it function more like Psalm 8 and the epic conclusion of the book of Job—in fact, several characters in the movie regularly have internal monologues addressed to God filled with language drawn from Job, and the opening epigraph of the film is from Job 38:4, 7? These classic biblical passages employ the sheer massiveness of creation to instead draw attention to the astonishing dignity and surprising importance that human beings actually have in the world that God has made, in contradiction to what the surface appearance of the universe would seem to suggest. Either way, the point is inescapable: by juxtaposing a seemingly miniscule, temporary, fraction-of-all-reality moment against the infinite complexity and vastness of the physical cosmos, Malick implicitly contends that we cannot hope to rightly understand the actual meaning of the O’Brien family’s tragedy in isolation from the meaning we choose to ascribe to the whole.
Malick’s brilliant narrative device is not original to him. But even the most careful reader can easily miss the tantalizing fact that the Bible both begins (Genesis 2:18-25) and ends (Revelation 19:6-9, 21:1-9, 22:17) with weddings that turn out to occupy surprisingly central positions amidst vastly larger cosmic backdrops. In Genesis and Revelation, both the initial creation and the concluding re-creation of the entire universe by God serve the literary function of magnifying the awesome meaning that is ascribed to these two particular marriage scenes—marriages that turn out to be the climactic “finales” to everything else God does at both the inception and the end of human history. This canonical inclusio which bookends the Bible is no mere coincidence, but holds a divinely-intended significance for how we read and interpret all the material that lay in between these two dramatic moments. Marriage, from first to last, occupies a central aspect in the storyline of the Scriptures. In spite of what our first impressions may be as we survey our vast universe, marriage turns out to be the point of everything else. As Ray Ortlund writes about the subtle contrast in Genesis 1-2:
“The attention of the text shifts from the heavens and the earth coming together in cosmic order (Gn. 1) to a man and a woman coming together in earthly marriage (Gn. 2). Even allowing that marriage is the most profound of human relationships (‘one flesh’), one is still struck by the apparently incongruous movement from the universal to the particular, from impenetrable mysteries to familiar commonplaces. But there it is, this peculiar thing we call marriage, tenderly portrayed in its humble reality and delicate innocence against the enormous backdrop of the creation. Why? What does Scripture accomplish by this remarkable juxtaposition? The answer is not yet provided, but the question lingers as the story proceeds.”
Old Testament scholar Richard Davidson makes a similar observation:
“The first two chapters of the Bible deal directly and extensively with human sexuality. Not only is human sexuality presented as a basic fact of creation; an elucidation of the nature and theology of sexuality receives central, climactic placement in the Genesis creation accounts. Within the cosmic scope of the creation narratives, the disproportionate amount of space devoted to the subject of sexuality also underscores its special significance.” (Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament, p. 15)
And so the Bible begins and ends with implicit announcements that marriage is the point of everything else God is up to. But maybe not in the way we initially think. Christians must ultimately say even more than this about God’s purposes–and, indeed, less. Human sexuality and human marriage are, in fact, only penultimate realities in God’s redemptive scheme. They point, finally, beyond themselves to something deeper, more original and of profoundly greater significance—to the mutual relationship of covenant love between God and His redeemed people, which itself turns out to take the shape of a marriage. As Geoffrey Bromiley remarks, “As God made man in His own image, so He made earthly marriage in the image of His own eternal marriage with His people.” Human marriage, though saturated with beauty and meaning, is nonetheless temporary and symbolic in light of the whole. But God’s covenant love for His people is permanent—eternally so—and the goal of all else that exists. This is especially true of human marriage, which from the beginning is loaded with a symbolic weight that points away from itself to God’s fiercely loving pursuit of us. Therefore, Christians do not take marriage lightly or tamper with its designs, for in it they are dealing with a dramatic mystery which is at the very heart of reality itself.
 Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., God’s Faithless Wife: A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery, p. 171
 Geoffrey Bromiley, God and Marriage, p. 43
 “One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God. One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living and semitive figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures.” (C. S. Lewis, “Priestesses in the Church”)