“The Shack” of my religion

I should probably be doing homework right now, or practicing piano for Sunday (or for one of the two weddings I’m playing for this summer)… but instead I’m here in my chair with my laptop on my lap… I need to think.

My pastor is using William P. Young’s book The Shack for her July sermon series. In case you haven’t heard of this novel, let me give you a very general synopsis: The main character, a husband and father, known as Mack, loses his youngest daughter Missy to a murderer while they are on a camping trip. They find her bloody clothing in a shack, deep in the woods. About two years later, the sadness and pain still consuming him, Mack gets a letter from God (an actual letter!).  The letter invites him back to that shack to spend time with God. Reluctantly, Mack goes… and experiences a weekend of profound transformation and healing.  This book is filled with theology and it touches on questions and struggles with which all of us must grapple, to one degree or another.  Some of the themes include forgiveness, the nature of the Trinity, suffering, grief, the nature of our relationship with God, surrender, judgment and judging, pride and humility, love and free will.

I continue to replay in my mind many of the scenes from this beautiful book. One of them in particular relates to a topic I’ve talked about quite a bit in my blog– humility and the sin of judging one another.  After spending some time with Jesus (Mack spends extensive time with each Person of the Trinity during his weekend at the shack), he is led into the center of a mountain by a beautiful woman. Later, we discover that she is Sophia, the personification of God’s Wisdom from the book of Proverbs.  In the darkness, Her light illuminates two chairs and a desk. The seat behind the desk is the seat of The Judge (Mack knows this instinctively). The seat in front of it is that of the accused, meant for him.  But Sophia insists he take the seat of The Judge. She says, “Judging requires that you think yourself superior over the one you judge. Well, today you will be given the opportunity to put all your ability to use. Come on, I want you to sit here. Now.” (p. 159).

Though he possesses enough humility to know that he doesn’t belong in that seat, he obeys. Sophia tells him that he will be judging the human race. “And why not?” she asks. “Surely there are many people in your world you think deserve judgment. What about men who beat their wives or mothers who beat their children? … And what about the man who preys on innocent little girls? Isn’t HE guilty?”

“Yes!” screams Mack. “Damn him to hell!” (pp. 159-161).

That’s our dilemma, isn’t it? There are people who do things that turn our stomachs and enrage us. Unjust awful, horrible things. How can we NOT judge them?  But Sophia says something later that stopped me cold… “Well, then, Mack, how far back do we go? Do we also damn his father, who twisted his son into a terror? And damn also his mother and her father and his grandfather…. all the way back to Adam? Damn them all? … And God? Is God to blame for all of this? Isn’t this where you are stuck, Mackensie? Isn’t this what fuels the Great Sadness?  That God cannot be trusted? Surely you can judge God for failing you and failing Missy… you would have been a better father.” (p. 161)

Judging God. None of us would admit that, would we… that we judge God for the times He fails, fails to protect us, to defend us against our enemies, to show up for us? But, yes, I’ve judged God. He didn’t destroy the cancer that ate up my mother’s body. He didn’t convict the church people who went after my father without just cause. And I knew I would have done better had I been in charge.

But the truth is… and Young says later in the book… God has His eye on a great work of redemption that is so complex and outside my ability to perceive. Evil is certainly at work here. People do awful things. But God is about redeeming it and using it for His Great Good. He loves all His children, even the ones who do horrid things. He is seeking to redeem the WHOLE creation… everyone and all of it. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I have to trust Him, even when I don’t understand.

At one point in the story, Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) invites Mack to do some gardening with her. As they work in what appears to be a very messy and chaotic garden, untrimmed and randomly planted, Mack begins to see a pattern.  Sarayu explains that she has a fondness for fractals… things that look chaotic and random up close, but actually have beautiful patterns when you see them at a distance. I find that thought fascinating, and something about the idea of fractals makes sense to me when I think about how God works.  In my humanness His ways seem so random and un-purposeful, but given time and space, perhaps I can slowly begin to see the pattern of His Love emerging.


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Loretta
    Jul 14, 2008 @ 10:06:43

    I need to do a lot of processing with these thoughts. I will also need to read this book. Thanks for sharing.

    Love to you!


  2. Jason
    Jul 14, 2008 @ 20:51:28

    What do ya think?


  3. krisanneswartley
    Jul 14, 2008 @ 21:16:14

    • First of all, Papa is very clear that he/she is Spirit and not a man or a woman, but that he/she has come to meet Mack in this form for a very specific purpose. At the end of the book, Papa appears as a man. The book is very clear that God is Spirit.

    Secondly, it is NOT advocating Goddess worship in the least! It is NOT a Mother-God that Young is writing about here. And I would say that if we take “God the Father” so far as to exclude the mothering characteristics of God (such as birthing creation and covering children with wings like a mother bird and feeding children with spiritual milk and meat) then we are worshipping male-ness. That is also heretical, just as goddess worship would be. We were created MALE AND FEMALE to reflect God’s image. Either one by itself is an incomplete reflection of God.

    Thirdly, the whole hierarchy thing— Mr. Driscoll is missing something very important about Jesus’ glorification after the resurrection. Jesus is given the name above every name. Jesus is worshipped right alongside the Father… not as less, not as more, but right alongside. Jesus also said, “I and the Father are one.” Maybe he was telling himself what to do, then.

    I disagree that the book is teaching modalism. Papa was speaking about the aspect of their One-ness when he/she was talking to Mack about her/his humanness in Jesus. The three ARE one. We should never forget that. Distinct beings, yet completely unified.

    While I appreciate his passion for right doctrine, I often wish he should show a bit more humility. Perhaps he should ask Eugene Peterson or Michael W. Smith why they appreciate the book.


  4. Jason
    Jul 14, 2008 @ 21:37:51

    Interesting. I haven’t read the book so I haven’t a clue. I just saw your thingy on FB and thought of the Driscoll video and wanted to honestly know what you thought. I do know that the book was written as ‘fiction’ so I’m confident that no theological dogma’s were intended. I might have to pick that book up sometime and read it. Wish I had time!!


  5. Jason
    Jul 14, 2008 @ 21:41:42

    Oh, shoot. I forgot to post another link. It’s a long review by a guy who does book reviews for a living…take it for it is…It’s rather long, but I’m still working my way through it.



  6. krisanneswartley
    Jul 14, 2008 @ 22:47:48

    An interesting review (see the link above). I disagree with him on several points… his treatment of the Trinity, of forgiveness, also his discussion of submission. Women and men are both called to submit to one another, see the verse just before that famous chapter in Ephesians, please.

    He does make some valid poitns, about the absense of scripture in the story, but I think his critique of “religion” is right on! There is always danger when we think we have this thing figured out and packaged. We often are not aware of how power corrupts our human systems… yes, even the church.

    The one thing that I questioned in the story was when Jesus talked about having followers among the Muslims and Hindus and other groups. He even says that he does not want them to become “Christian.” Now, if he means North American Christian, I get that… because we don’t have the corner on truth or righteousness. There are many expressions of Christian that are faithful and look very different than our forms and structures and traditions. I just wonder where he was going with that thought…

    I disagree that this book is trying to undermine the church or right doctrine. I think it pushes us to consider the three-fold nature of Christian authority, rather than relying solely on scripture (since it can be complex to interpret and in our humanness, we often get it wrong)– authority being given in Scripture, Spirit and Church (past and present).

    Thanks for posting comments, Jason, you know I like to be pushed and that I’m not afraid to push back! 🙂 I appreciate books that raise questions and make us think. I know a lot of people don’t like that, but I do. I think that’s the only way we grow, when we have to consider another side, another perspective… when we are humble enough to say, “what if I’m wrong about this…”


  7. Jason
    Jul 25, 2008 @ 14:16:36

    Hey! Found another interesting review from a scholar I’m a big fan of…Ben Witherington III…



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