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Some thoughts on The Shack

Posted by Chance on June 18, 2009

I just finished reading The Shack by Wm. Paul Young.  The book is about a man named Mack who experiences a terrible tragedy – his little girl dissappears and is presumed to be murdered by a serial killer.  Four years later, he is invited to meet God in The Shack where the crime occurred.

In the book, Mack essentially meets the trinity of God, representing by three individuals.  God the Father is represented as a black woman, the Holy Spirit is this Asian woman, and Jesus, is represented by none other than Jesus, a middle eastern handyman and woodworker.

The book is ambitious as it attempts to tackle some big themes, the central one probably being, “why does God let bad things happen?”, a question first recorded in the days of Job.  This question is explored deeply, as Mack doesn’t understand how God lets such a terrible thing happen to his youngest daughter.  While people familiar with Christian apologetics have heard many of the answers to this question before, the book does provide a fresh perspective even if only because the book addresses these questions in a fiction format.

The book also touches on other important topics of Christianity, such as being saved by God’s grace as opposed to being saved by our works, being empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit to live the Christian life, and the need to forgive others.  The book speaks frequently about the emptiness of religion and the need to focus on a relationship, which is an important topic, but it does sound a bit cliche at times.  I think it is good to attack the idea of  “going through the motions” religion, but sometimes I wonder if this attitude doesn’t develop in which we think any church that isn’t as “free spirited” as we are is “empty”.    I think it is good that Christians question and even make fun of themselves, I just don’t want it to get to the point where we think our church is a shallow institution simply because the elders hold meetings every week.

Christians, or anyone for that matter, needs to take this book for what it is: a work of fiction.  This book is quite bold, very few people are willing to provide embodiments of each member of the Trinity and give them extensive roles in a book, with direct dialog and all.  As expected, this work has received some criticism from notable Christians, saying it is unscriptural.  The book has the members of the Trinity make several statements that I think are ungrounded in scriptural theology.   I am not saying they are necessarily wrong, but they are not necessarily right in the since that they cannot be inferred from the Bible, at least right away.  If I was to study the book in depth, perhaps I could draw the connections, but I didn’t do so right away at first read.  I don’t see the doctrine of universalism that some others see, it seems that the book makes an effort to refute this, but I would have to reread it to see if there is something I missed.  With some of the major themes, I think the theology is intact, namely, what Christ’s sacrifice accomplished, the role of the Holy Spirit, the nature of God’s love.

Concerning the nature of the Trinity as presented in this book, again a subject of criticism by some biblical scholars, I personally see it differently.  By definition, God as human is Jesus Christ, so God the Father in human form <i>would be</i> God the Son.  God the Holy Spirit would not be in human form, because then, by definition, it wouldn’t be <i>the Spirit</i> it would be a body.  But then again, I see the effect the author is going for; he wanted to explore the nature of each part of the Trinity, and for his book, it is easier to do so with each member represented as a human. I suppose if God wanted to present himself as three humans, he could very well do so.

Also, some people may take issue with God the Father being represented as a woman.  I won’t address the issue too much here; I do believe God has masculine and feminine characteristics that have been passed down to humans, male and female, respectively, and also that he has chosen to represent himself as masculine in the Father and Son.  I’m not one to say if he would appear as a woman or not.

In summary, it was a worthwhile read for me.  The book provides a fresh look at some important themes in Christianity and at the universal question of suffering.  As mentioned previously, the book explores some philosophical constructs that don’t seem to have a firm foundation in scripture as I would like.  Again, the reader will have to be aware that this is a work of fiction and not a theological treatise.  I think a reader quite familiar with the Bible can take away the good and leave out the questionable.

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