By Lauren Yarger
It’s a self publishing sensation, a best seller and one of the most controversial books of our time, as Christians either love or hate “The Shack” by William Paul Young (2007 Windblown Media in association with Hachette Book Group) and its unusual depiction of God. I have to admit that I resisted reading it for a long time, mostly because I’m not a big fan of most “Christian fiction,” and also, because people kept telling me it would change my view of God.
My view of God is pretty big already: he’s the creator of the universe, all knowing, all powerful and my savior. I am nothing without him. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. I suspected that the book’s following was a result of a “humans are smarter than God” message, à la The DaVinci Code (a terrific read, but hardly the canon for alternate faith many adopted from it), so I kept avoiding Young’s novel. Finally, I gave in and decided to read “The Shack” and find out what all the fuss was about.
I found it immediately compelling and well written. When I’d finished, which was almost immediately as it’s hard to put down, I thought Young had succeeded in depicting the true nature of God, his love for us and the hope we have in Jesus in the most clear, concise and inspired words I’d read in a long time. It didn’t change my knowledge of who God is, but it helped me understand him better.
The story involves a “great sadness” that engulfs Mack Phillips and his family following the kidnapping and apparent murder of his youngest daughter, Missy on a Labor Day camping trip with Mack and two of his other children, Katie and Josh. Missy is abducted while Mack is rescuing Katie from a canoeing accident. Police discover the calling card of a serial killer at the scene and Missy’s torn and bloody dress in a shack.
Mack’s wife, Nan, who has so close relationship with God she calls him “Papa” lets Mack know that she doesn’t blame him, but Mack, plagued by “what ifs” is taken over by the “great sadness” that causes a rift in his relationship with God.
One day, he receives a note: “Mackenzie, It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. – Papa.”
Could the invitation really be from God or is it a trap set by the killer himself? Mack needs to find out and travels alone to the shack where the “great sadness” began. There, he finds God, revealed in a Father-Spirit-Son Trinity as three separate but equal persons: Papa, a large African-American woman, Sarayu, a small wind-like Asian woman and a Middle-Eastern looking Jesus.
The three share meals, day-to-day chores and conversation with Mack, who tries to come to grips with what is happening (like getting to walk on water with Jesus) and with discovering a God who is different from what he expected. The three God persons are able to help him walk through the sadness, find understanding and even embrace forgiveness.
The controversy surrounding the book comes from two main components: the depiction of God the father as a woman and from some references to non-Christians going to heaven. I think readers who are hung up on these issues may have missed some of the point.
None of Mack’s experience is depicted as gospel. In fact, there are several plot devices which make it possible for Mack‘s experience to have taken place while he was unconscious or even while he was dead. Does the bible say God is a black woman and Asian woman and Jesus? No. But do I believe God might reveal himself as a woman to a hurting child who had difficulty relating to an uncaring earthly father if doing so would allow Jesus to reach through the sadness and bring Mack to a place of healing. Without doubt.
The other comments are about how God finds followers from all different faiths, but again, the point isn’t that all faiths are equal, or that any faith provides the road to salvation, but rather that God is willing to receive anyone from any background who follows him.
Throughout Mack’s experience, Young eloquently offers terrific explanations to many question-inducing topics like the Fall of Man, free will, rules and the 10 commandments, the presence of evil and other theological perplexities, all answered with biblically sound and thoughtfully considered explanations. Actually, I suspect that most of the book, which reads like a biographical account, rather than a novel, comes from Young’s personal experiences learning from God over the years.
It’s truly a moving book and I would recommend it without hesitation to a non-Christian as a starting point for some answers and insight into who God is
. “…Religion is about having the right answers…, God says. “But I am about the process that takes you to the living answer and once you get to him, he will change you from the inside…”
If it doesn’t change you, “The Shack” will grow you. It’s a great choice for your summer reading list.