Well, I am about 2 hrs past finishing The Shack, so thoughts are not entirely coherent as they would be (hopefully) after a few more days to ponder. But here we go. I honestly went into the book expecting to not like it. As one who has a hard time with a lot of what becomes “popular” in Christian circles, I was rather cynical and pessimistic about what I would find in the book. I was (mostly) surprised by my reaction to the book
A few brief notes and then my reaction to the book…
Firstly, it is “easy” reading. I started it this morning at about 9a and finished it by about 2p today. Its easy in that the narrative is simple and direct. It is by no means a complex novel (speaking only of the quality of the writing and not the content necessarily) to read. For example, I have tried at least five times to read Brothers K and have never gotten more than about 150 pages in and even those 150 pages were rough.
Second, it is “hard” reading. It is hard reading because it is attempting to deal with seemingly every BIG GOD issue in one 250 page book. In the book, it attempts to deal with the problem of evil, the relationship of the members of the Trinity, the questions of what happens to those who are beyond Christ, the nature of judgment, forgiveness, sin, and quite a few more. These are topics that have filled the pages of theological treatises for the last 2000 years and people continue to write them. So, anytime one tackles those topics, its moving into tough territory.
Ok – those are out of the way.
As I noted earlier, I was (mostly) surprised by my reaction to the book. I was surprised by the ways that Young tackles several topics. The fact that the persons of the Trinity were represented for most of the book by two women and a middle eastern man was a wonderful surprise. As one who has moved further and further away from the concept of God as the white haired old white man to a much wider concept of what the Trinity looks like, it was a refreshing experience. He also gave some hints towards trying to personify some of what theologians call “The Perichoretic Dance” of the Trinity – the way that the members of the Trinity relate and interact with one another. (and yes, I know that the image at left has three male images for God, in contrast to how they are represented in the book).
I also greatly appreciated the fact that the book recognizes that our concepts of God as human beings (even those concepts that are written in The Bible) cannot come close to expressing the reality that God is. Our finite minds can never reach that high. I also found myself drawn into the emphasis upon the importance of relationship and not hierarchies or power – whether that is talking about the nature of the Trinity or the nature of our relationships with each other. The chapter on the environment was also significant for me – the fact that our care of God’s creation is a reflection upon our understandings of God was very good. Finally (and probably missing a few points), I found his emphasis upon the role that our shame and guilt play in our understanding and experience of God.
That being said, the primary thing that I found in the book was that it was far too simplistic. It is a parable and not Scripture and not a theology text. Young has said that on several occasions as well – “This is a work of fiction. There are people who try to turn it into a theological conversation and they are missing the point. They see what they are looking for and it supports their own baggage. The interesting thing is that some of the angriest people who are against the book haven’t even read it.” The danger with any example of Christian fiction is that it gets turned into a theological treatise for people – whether its Pilgrim’s Progress, Screwtape Letters, This Present Darkness, Left Behind, or The Shack.
Secondly, given some of the situations going on in my life that have echoes of Missy’s death (see other posts), I still struggle with the question of evil. Young gives a parable answer in this story, but it is a parable of this one person’s journey to understanding and coping with a horrific tragedy in their life. Mack was able to come to a place of understanding and coping and he was able to help his daughter come to that place as well. But for those who go through these circumstances, it is often not so simple and even the answer that Mack receives does not bring comfort, peace, or understanding. That is not the case for everyone, but again that is the importance of taking this story as a parable and a work of fiction.
Finally, I think one point needs to be lifted up here as well about how The Shack can be used. With it becoming the viral #1 NY Times bestseller, it is a great entry point to talking to others about deep matters of faith. There are likely office coworkers, fellow students, family members, etc who have read this book and may not be connected to a faith community whatsoever. This book can be used as an entry point to talking about the working of God in their lives. Probably the most significant part of the book for me was the final interaction between Mack and Willie where Mack tells Willie that God is quite fond of him. Willie’s reaction is much the same for many when they are told for the first time that God truly does care for us. I strongly encourage anyone who has read this book to use it as a jumping off point (whether you agree with every part of it or not, as I clearly have some mixed experiences about it) to talk to others about matters of faith.
On a purely personal note, I am always also appreciative whenever references to The Matrix, Star Wars, and David Wilcox show up in the same book. 🙂
If you are interested in another similar experience in a book – check out Brian McLaren’s book, A New Kind of Christian. Has a similar echo of encountering God in new ways and moving beyond our religiously conditioned experiences (as Papa talks about at one point).