Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Shack - a "Review"

About 2 months ago I finally finished William P. Young's The Shack. The first thing I want to acknowledge is the simple fact that this book has sold millions of copies, and has many, MANY people talking & sharing & reviewing and that this is merely a drop in the bucket. With that said, I also want to acknowledge that this book has a back story, a context that is important to know, especially if you want to slam it. And Chad Estes on his Captain's blog, does a great two-parter on it here: here (part 1) and here (part 2).

With that out of the way, the main thing I want to say is how glad I am that people are connecting with God through this book. That's awesome. To know the backstory, how it was self-published & written only for Young's kids, and yet it's been ready by over 7 million people. You can't make that up. That's definitely God. So it's hard to complain when you see that happening.

One thing I love is that the Shack takes head-on a very serious issue - evil in the world. It's an issue you can't really come up with an answer for. It's there, it sucks, it's absolutely painful. Young doesn't dodge that. But he also doesn't try the pat answers. He wrestles with it. He digs into it. He experiences (the main character, the supporting characters, and by extension the readers) the pain. There's a great line towards the end by God the Father - "just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn't mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don't ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn't depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors."(p. 185)

A second thing to commend is the dealing with the trinity. Certainly, it's not a systematic theological treatise. But honestly, it took hundreds of years for faithful Christians, dialoguing together, to come up with the concept of the Trinity in the first place. And still not everyone was happy. So the presentation of the Trinity in the Shack isn't going to be perfect, but it's a lot better than most come up with. What you've got to remember when reading it is that it's a parable. It sheds light on the Trinity. You can't critique it for what it's not.

So, with those positives, I want to throw out one point that I disagree with. It's minor, but in a way it's significant. In the middle of the book, God is talking with Mack, the main character, about Jesus on the cross, and he says "Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I never left him." Now, it totally serves the purposes of the book. I can't complain about that. But personally, I've hung my hat on something that I still believe pretty strongly in. It's an ontological issue, which is probably way beyond the scope of a novel like this, but I think it's pretty powerful and accessible nonetheless. I actually do think that God the Father was separated, ontologically from God the Son (Jesus), at the moment of his death. Sin did that to God.

I know there are many who would disagree, but briefly, here's why I think it's actually MORE powerful, to understand the atonement like this: God's internal separation allowed God to experience the separation that we feel from God. God, in Jesus, not only felt physical pain, emotional pain and all of the other experiences and emotions that make up the human condition, Jesus even actually felt estrangement, separation from God. That's the most important difference between God in the trinity and humanity - that connection that was lost after the Fall. But in the death of Jesus, God experienced internally the estrangement that humanity felt and has felt, and what is more, God did something about it in re-connecting internally, in re-making the Trinity in the resurrection and therefore re-making humanity. God, as the parable of the prodical son so aptly describes, was not willing to allow the internal relationship among the Trinity, nor the external relationship with humanity to remain estranged. God, rolled up His robes and did something about it - in the parable, running to the son - reaching out before the son had completed his return journey, and not even allowing him to complete his repentance.

If anything, the Shack actually epitomizes this view of God & humanity's relationship in the opening chapter, as Mack receives the note from "Papa" - God wasn't willing to have Mack's relationship severed. God reached out. But God did so because God has felt that separation, experienced that internal estrangement, which makes God's empathy that much greater.

Overall, I thought the book was good. There's spots of hoky-ness, but can you ever get away with that? Life is hoky sometimes. If I was rating it on some kind of scale, which I haven't done before, I'd probably give it 4.5 "shacks" out of 5.

One final comment - to any detractors that complain about God the Father as an Black woman called "Papa" or God the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman called "Sarayu" - seriously?! Read the bible. Wisdom is personified as a woman throughout. Song of Songs is all about sex. Jesus' parables are some of the most risque stories about God, and that's one of the reasons he was dubbed as a heretic by the religious authorities of his day. Seriously?! Don't we have better things to do as Christians than to throw stones? Happy reading...

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