Saturday, August 23, 2008

"The Shack"

The Shack by William Paul Young is the "buzz" book of the year. Young basically "self-published" the book with his own publisher, Windblown Media, and now it has sold over a million copies, mostly by word of mouth.
The book is a deeply emotional story about why God allows suffering. I believe that Young does an excellent job in answering this question in the novel, which is probably why it has sold so well. Young imagines that a man named Mack who gets a note from God, asking him to return to the shack where his young daughter had been murdered. The man does, and finds answers to his questions and doubts about God's goodness.
However, some things about the book trouble people. I know one church library in Mississippi that has banned the book, and LifeWay Christian Stores sells the book but asks readers to read it with caution. Why?
Read the rest of this review in the first comment below...


Brother Bob said...

Some people are bothered by the portrayal of the Trinity in the book. God the Father appears as a black woman who goes by the name "Papa" because that's what the man's wife calls God in her prayers, Jesus appears as a Middle Eastern man, and the Holy Spirit appears as an Asian woman named Sarayu (Sanskrit for "wind") whom you can see through. For the most part, the portrayal of the Trinity in the book does not bother me. Although they appear as three persons, the are shown as completely one, as they answer Mack in unison from time to time, and whenever he has a conversation with one of them, they always continue the conversations he had with the others. "Papa" clearly reminds Mack that God is spirit, and since Mack had a poor relationship with his own father, he chose to reveal Himself to Mack as a woman to get around his resistance. In fact,
(spoiler warning: don't read this next statement if you don't want to know too much about the novel's plot...) at the end of the book, after Mack is reconciled to his own father, "Papa" appears to Mack as a man.
The only thing that concerns me about the way the book portrays the Trinity, is that Papa, Jesus and Sarayu tell Mack that They are equal to one another, and tell Mack that he is wrong to think of God the Father as the "boss." While it is true that the Bible teaches that all three Persons of the Trinity are equally God, the Bible also teaches that Christ is submissive to His Father. Jesus said, "The Father and I are one" (John 10:30), but Jesus also said, "The Father is greater than I am" (John 14:28).
Some people are bothered by the way church and established religion are criticized in the book, but I think they have to understand that it is expressing the feelings of Mack, who is disillusioned with God. For example, it bothers some readers that Mack refers to the Bible as having "guilt" edges instead of "guilded" edges. Yet later in the novel, Mack chuckles when he notices that God has placed a Gideon Bible in his guest room at the shack.
Some people will be put off by a few uses of profanity in the book in the dialogue. There is one use of S.O.B., and a few other milder profanities spoken mostly in passages where the speaker is angry.
Another controversial part of the book have to do with the picture of God as love. The love of God is stressed so much that God's role as the holy judge is played down. However, in His conversations with Papa, God does say that while He lovingly offers forgiveness, reconciliation depends upon the response of people to Him. That is certainly in line with the New Testament.
The most controversial passage in the book occurs on page 182. Jesus is talking to Mack, and he says, "Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don't vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions..." At this point, Jesus appears to be teaching universalism, that everybody will be saved. However, as we keep reading, it appears that Jesus is saying instead that he has taken people from any background and transformed them. Notice the next words that William Young has "Jesus" speak:
"...I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some were bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved." Earlier, "Jesus" had reminded Mack that "I'm not a Christian," and Mack responded, "No, I suppose you aren't." We could get into another big conversation about all of that, but I can give Young the benefit of the doubt that he is saying that salvation is a relationship with Jesus, not a religion. Anyway, notice what comes next:
"'Does that mean,' asked Mack, 'that all roads will lead to you?'
'Not at all,' smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. 'Most roads don't lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.'"
At first read, that statement is confusing, and may even sound like universalism. However, notice that what Young is saying is the opposite of universalism. He is NOT saying that all roads lead to Jesus. He is just saying that Jesus will do whatever He can to reach you and me. I do wish Young had added that the one road to Papa is through Jesus. It would have made that conversation less confusing for the reader.
While this review has mostly focused on the controversial parts of the book, I do want to conclude by saying that the book does a beautiful job of showing that following Jesus is more a matter of relationship than religion, and that suffering cannot be understood because we cannot understand all of God's purposes or all of the complicated and intertwined effects of our actions upon one another, and because if we did not have freedom to choose evil, we would not have freedom to love. Thus we simply must trust God.
(Spoiler warning: skip this paragraph if you don't want to know too much of the plot...) Perhaps the most powerful parts of the book is when Mack is asked to "play God" and decide to send which three of his children will go to hell and which two will go to heaven. Mack's reaction to this awful choice helps him see how God works through suffering.
There are several good quotations in the book:
God says, "When all you can see is your pain, perhaps then you lose sight of me?" (p. 96)
"Grace doesn't depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors." (p. 185)
"If your perception is false, then your emotional response to it will be false too. So check your perceptions...Just because you believe something firmly doesn't make it true. Be willing to reexamine what you believe. The more you live in the truth, the more your emotions will help you see clearly." (p. 197)
God says, "I am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a being verb." (p. 204)
God says, "Forgiveness is about forgetting, Mack. It is about letting go of another person's throat." (p. 224)
If you can read The Shack with a critical eye but an open heart, I think you will be blessed and challenged to go back to your Bible and seek to know God better than ever before.

Brother Bob said...

Correction: The correct spelling in the third paragraph of the review above is "gilded," not "guilded."

Anonymous said...

I thought you did a great job with your blog review. If you were
to hear Paul Young in person, you would know that he is the real deal - what
he portrayed as a 3 day weekend of healing for Mack was actually an 11 year
real life healing in his own life. I'm sure you've read some of his
background, but in case you haven't - he was raised by missionary parents in
New Guinea who were, unfortunately, much like Mack's parents (harsh dad,
ineffective mom), but his greatest suffering came in the boarding school he
was required to attend with other missionary kids(from age 5 or 6 on, I
think) - he and the other children there were sexually abused and mistreated
horribly. It was interesting to hear him address people's concerns about
universalism in his book, and you interpretted it perfectly - he is all
about anyone, anywhere, any religion coming to Jesus - and he has seen so
much first hand in other countries it is amazing. He said the only country
that has a problem with him portraying Papa as an african american woman is
the USA! He's really funny and so in love with the Lord for all He has done
in His life.

Bobby Braswell, Jr. said...

Brother Bob,

I read "The Shack" recently and agree that you did a great job in your review. I recommended it to my congregation only to later learn that it had been censored by some folks. How sad. The book reminded me that Christ is truly present with me which is a real key to personal holiness.


Pineora Baptist