Friday, September 18, 2009

The Shack

Another book review!

I just finished reading "The Shack" by William Paul Young. From my understanding it's a fairly controversial book right now because some Christians are endorsing it while others are condemning it. So I thought I'd read it for myself.

So if you haven't gotten the chance to read it yet (or even if you have)here's what I thought. SPOILER WARNING: If you are anticipating reading it soon and don't want to know what happens, then don't read this, because I'm planning on giving the entire plot.

The story is about Mack and his family, his wife and 5 children. It's kind of a book in two sections. The first section is the part of the story that tells what has shaped Mack's thinking up to the point where he meets God at the shack. The second half of the book is where Mack gets a greater understanding of God's love and his thinking is changed.

I didn't enjoy the first part of the book as I found it a little hard to get into. It tells the story of how Mack's father, although externally religious and a church elder, was a closet drunkard and beat his wife and son and how Mack had run away from home at age 13 and harbored serious bitterness toward God because of his father. Then came the story of the "Great Sadness." Mack's family was camping in Oregon and his 6-old daughter was kidnapped and brually murdered. They tracked her killer to a "shack" out in the wilderness. Four years later Mack is still bitter and his family is still struggling with the loss of Missy.

Then Mack gets a note from "Papa" (his wife's affectionate name for God): "It's been a while. I've missed you. I'll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together."

So he heads to the shack where Missy was taken to confront whatever he will find there. When he arrives he is met by "God" in three persons: Papa (an affectionate black woman), Jesus (the carpenter), and Sarayu (a wispy Asian woman). This is where it gets a little weird. Obviously it's a work of fiction and not a work of theology, although theologically God could manifest Himself however He needed to at the time. And really how DO we as finite humans understand the Trinity? I believe what the author is trying to convey here is that Mack needed God to manifest His love for him. Along the lines of "why do bad things happen to good people," Mack did not believe that God loved him and really knew what was best for him. By the affectionate greeting of Papa, Mack was stunned that God really cared for him and was not like his own father. Now whether we agree that God would manifest himself as a woman is debatable, but He could, I suppose, if that's what it would take for Mack to comprehend His love. (And later on after Mack forgives his father Papa does manifest himself as a man.) This book does not delve into the balance of wrath versus love and instead focuses on God's love, which in 248 pages still can only just skim the surface. And this book does not cover how sinful we are or how undeserving we are or what we face apart from God, it just focuses on how much God loves of us. Now of course we want to read everything through the filter of the Word of God. Not everything in this book may line up with how we may understand the Trinity to work, but I thought that it was actually fairly theologically sound for trying to split the Trinity up into three fictional people and how they might relate to each other. It's not something we'll ever truly understand until we get to heaven. And I think he's also pointing out that Mack had a lot of preconceived notions when it came to God that weren't Biblical.

Some sentences I wasn't sure were accurate: "Papa: 'There's no easy answer that will take your pain away. Believe me, If I had one, I'd use it now.'" (p. 92) I didn't like that sentence because it makes it sound as if God is not omnipotent.
(p. 96) "Regardless of what [Jesus] felt at that moment [on the cross], I never left Him." I don't know. I always thought there was some sort of separation there, but can God separate from Himself?
(p. 96) "He found his way through it [the cross] to put Himself completely into my hands." I don't know; it just sounds a little touchy-feely to me.

But there were parts of it that I really liked. Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) was the garden tender and Mack thought her garden looked like a mess. But it only looked like a mess when you were in it; it was really a "fractal" (from above it had a pattern to it). Our lives might look like messes to us but God is really in control of it all. We don't understand what God is doing--and that's why He is God and we are not! God does love us and wants what's best for us--or maybe not what's best for us but what is best for His purpose and plan to be complete--which is conforming us to the image of His Son. And just as Mack was a dynamic character, learning to forgive his father and even the man who had murdered Misy and trust God's wisdom, we can learn to trust God and believe in his great love for us.

So depending on where you are in your spiritual journey, this book COULD help you understand God's love (or His "special fondness") for you a tiny bit better, if you are in a place where you need to hear it.

But don't let books take the place of the only one True and Living Word in which there is no error!