Because of the problem of pain and evil that raises disturbing questions about the God of the Bible, I thought it might be a good time to talk about “The Shack”.
Finally read the 248 page paperback that so many are talking about. In the meantime I’ve been seeing reviews that go from likening it to a “Pilgrim’s Progress for our generation” to claims that “you can’t accept the ideas in this book without rejecting the Bible.”
Without a doubt the hot selling fiction takes a lot of risks in telling the story of a numbed and embittered Mackenzie Phillips as he tries to survive The Great Sadness of the terrible murder of his little girl.
But I’ll tell you up front. Even though this book is being called everything from “liberating” to “blasphemous,” I found The Shack to be a surprising shelter–not only from the controversy swirling around it–but also as a place to confront some of our most inexpressible doubts and fears.
Can’t imagine how many of us are living with memories of loss, and secret doubts about God–thoughts and questions that are quietly driving us mad inside– even as we try to maintain an exterior of normalcy.
Yes, any number of passages in this book can be cited as theologically speculative, provocative, or suspect– especially if they are taken out of context. But, in retrospect, I found so many fresh perspectives that I believe are radically biblical, and Christ-centered.
Without question, I came away with a renewed appetite for the Bible and with a deepened thirst for a healthier and warmer relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit. Although some have concluded that this book reveals a God who is too small to be taken seriously, I found here a Father who is big enough to show us that he can be as tender as the most gentle, endearing, and heart-warming mother. At the same time this same Father lets us know that there is infinitely and eternally more of him than we are now able to bear or absorb. Most importantly, he is a Father who is, in heart and personality, just like the Son through whom he has revealed himself to us.
Some have called the book inherently subversive. I tend to agree. But I’m inclined to think that it was written to subvert shallow views of the Fatherhood of God, the Bible, the Church, authority-based relationships, and the problem of evil.
Here are a few excerpts from the many sections that caught my attention as I read the book…
On the weight of Mack’s personal loss, “Little distractions… were a welcome though brief respite from the haunting presence of his constant companion: The Great Sadness.”
On the freedom of the will, when Mack finds himself wondering how free he is in the presence of a God who frightens him, “Papa” says, “Just because I know you are too curious to go, does that reduce your freedom to leave?”
On why “Papa” was revealing himself to Mack as an African American Woman, “Hasn’t it always been a problem for you to embrace me as a father? After what you’ve been through (abused as a child and now struggling with the senseless murder of his daughter), you couldn’t very well handle a father right now could you?”
On why God reveals himself in the Bible as a Father, Papa says, “”There are many reasons for that, and some of them go very deep. Let me say for now that we knew once the Creation was broken, true fathering would be much more lacking than mothering. Don’t misunderstand me, both are needed– but an emphasis on fathering is necessary because of the enormity of its absence.”
On Mack’s cynicism, Papa says, “When all you can see is your pain, then maybe you lose sight of me.”
On Mack’s struggle to understand the hard ways of God, Papa says, “I am not like you Mack”
In response to Mack’s struggle, “If you let me Mack, I’ll be the Papa you never had.”
On why God was pushing Mack to get beyond superficial understandings of the Bible, church, and authority based relationships, Sarayu (The Holy Spirit) says, “We carefully respect your choices, so we work within your systems even while we seek to free you from them.”
On the lies people tell themselves, “You see, Sarayu says, “broken humans center their lives around things that seem good to them, but that will never fill them or free them. They are addicted to power or the illusion of security that power offers.”
On the truth, “Mackenzie, the Truth shall set you free and the Truth has a name; he’s over in the woodshop right now covered in sawdust. Everything is about him. And freedom is a process that happens inside a relationship with him.”
On human response to tragedy, “In their disappointment, they either become softer toward me or bolder in their independence.”
On the problem of evil, “Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies.”
And on the indefensible nature of evil, Mack says, “I just can’t imagine any final outcome that would justify all of this (the murder of his daughter).” “Mackenzie,” Papa rose out of her chair and walked around the table to give him a big squeeze. “We’re not justifying it. We are redeeming it.”
(The picture of the shack at the beginning of this post is one I took on a hog-hunting trip to Oklahoma with a friend a few years ago. It was just down the road from this pathetic site of what was left of a deer that had gotten hung up trying to jump over a barbed wire fence. Both came to mind again as I read this book.)