I just finished reading “The Shack” by William P. Young. You should know that as I begin to write this post it is 12:23 AM, and I’ve just spent about he last hour and a half finishing the last several chapters in the quiet of my office in the late evening. A bit of that time was spent weeping. For a time, I wept about once a page in the early parts of chapter 17. A bit of that time was also spent on my face on the floor weeping and praying, praising God, and all I could tell him was that he was good. My face is stiff from the salt in the tears, and my eyes and cheeks ache from crying, but it is an ache that I would not trade for anything. You see I know now that the God I worship is good. But more about that later.
The story is told by Willie, the author, he inserts himself in the story as a friend of Mack, Mackenzie Allen Philips. Mack’s daughter Missy was kidnapped on a camping trip while he was rescuing his son from drowning in a canoe. Evidence was later found in an abandoned shack in the woods that she had been brutally murdered. More than three years later, he receives an unstamped letter in the mail from someone named “Papa” inviting him back to the shack for a meeting. He decides to visit the Shack and what he finds changes his life forever.
That is my synopsis, it is similar to the one on the back of the book, and it really covers about four chapters of info that is important for the story, but less important for the truth contained within the story, which is what I want to talk about here.
First is the familiar term “Papa” which is used for God the Father principally by
This book really does play with your mind, and it is meant to. Papa even explains that if he were to appear to Mack as someone who looked like Gandalf, it would serve only to reinforce his religious stereotypes. So Papa appeared as a large black woman named Elousia. The Holy Spirit appeared as a distinctly Asian woman named Sarayu, which apparently means “wind.” From what I can pick up in the book, she was difficult to look at, not because she was too bright or anything, but simply because she was difficult to see when looking right at her. She seemed to come and go as she pleased, appearing and disappearing at will but reminding Mack, that she had never disappeared at all, she was there all the time, and is everywhere all the time. Lastly, Jesus was portrayed as a slightly unhandsome average looking Middle Eastern man with a big nose, which Jesus was (likely big nosed and all.) There was much emphasis on Jesus being truly, fully and purely human, while at the same time being all that of God as well. I thought as I was reading that, logically speaking, if Jesus was a physical being when he ascended into heaven, then of course, he still is. He has not disappeared anywhere; he still is that way, up there somewhere. I believed it, but never really thought about it before.
Actually, I thought that way about much of the stuff in the book. Really, these things had never come to me in this way before, but I knew of them, and already believed them, but had never really understood them. It made God real to me in a way that he has never been real before. A major breakthrough for Mack, as it was for me, was that a huge gap created between us and God in our relationship with him is that we do not really believe that he is good. Sure, we say he is good, but deep down, most of us do not really believe that because all we can imagine of God is all our best traits to the nth degree, smashed together with all the goodness we can think of, with super powers, and God is not that way. God is in no way confined to our imaginations, because they don’t really exist, and God has no need to be a part of something that doesn’t even exist and never will. Therefore, we see things that we have decided are evil, and then judge God based on our own preexisting judgment. The truth is, the things around us are not ours to judge, to decide whether they are good or evil. Their inherent good or evil is in no way based on our perception of them. In the same way, if I look at a shiny piece of metal and say “That is obviously aluminum,” it has no bearing on what kind of metal it actually is, or even if it is a metal at all. Its essence and existence is entirely outside that of our own. Take that to the infinite power, God is the same way, which is why he says in the bible that his ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts.
A number of negative reviews that I have read have complained of the author doing something like creating God in his own image. I could not disagree more. God in this book is so much different from that. I think if you wanted to pare down everything he said in the entire book, it might fit into the sentence “I am nothing like you.” This is a God who cannot be predicted but can predict your every move, a God who is infinitely loving, caring, and patient and who affects change in your life. These things a human cannot do. So, no, no one made God in their image, they just stood well back and said “I still can’t see all of you Papa.”
One belief that this book specifically challenged was one of my basic beliefs about good and evil, or comfort and discomfort. When my wife and I were attending pre-marriage counseling, I told the pastor that I did not always want sunshine and roses, I was a kind of a realist, believing that you could not truly understand good unless you experienced bad. In a way, I believed that there could not be good unless there was bad, you know, to counteract it, to be the opposite of it. My belief has changed. It is the other way around. You cannot have bad unless you have good. Our infinitely good God came first. His light has always existed. His eternal good has always existed, and evil has not nor will ever overcome it because in the face of light, darkness flees. Darkness can no more resist light than I am able to come up with an apt comparison. By very nature, that is what it is, and what it does. Unimaginable distances of the pure black vacuum of space cannot erase the light of a single star. So, no, I don’t need to experience evil to truly understand what good is. Good is good, it is not confined or defined by evil, rather, like darkness to light, evil is confined and defined by good.
At one point in the story, Mack is directed to follow a trail which leads to a rock wall which he is miraculously able to walk through. Inside he finds a woman who is exceedingly beautiful, and whose words he would be happy to sit and listen to forever. We find out in the next chapter that she is Wisdom from Proverbs and that her name is Sophia, which is not a stretch since Sophia, is actually Greek for wisdom. Sophia is the one who tells Mack the way it is, not that God already hadn’t, but Mack had much to work through. Sophia told Mack that he had come to a judgment, and to his surprise, he was to be the judge. The catch was this. Mack had five children. Two of them would make it into heaven, and the other three were condemned. It was Mack’s job to decide which ones. Understandably, Mack was faced with a difficult choice, and as no father should be able, he was unable to choose which children would face condemnation, so he cried out and begged that he could take their place. We often think that God is some cosmic Judge Judy, going to sit behind a big desk on his throne and judge us for all we’ve done, and we have to find a way (Jesus) to avoid that. We end up loving Jesus, but not really loving our Father because of this misperception of him. What this part of the story says is that God no more wants to condemn us than we want to be condemned. He is our Papa, he created each and every one of us as his children, and his true love never wants us to leave him. That is why Jesus became sin for us, to take our place, because Papa loved us so much, he wanted to save us, and would sacrifice himself more than willingly to redeem us from our independent streak.
This leads to another point. Some I’ve talked to seem to catch a hint of Universalism or something in this book, but they miss what Papa says about relationships, they are a two way street. God can do all the loving in the world, he can reach out, he can perform miracles, he can redeem us from our sin, but he can never nor will never force us to come to him. That is what true relationship is, it is expectancy, not expectation. Expectations leave us hurting when they are not fulfilled, but if we live in expectancy, just waiting to see what wonderful things might happen between us, then there is no hurt, only joy.
One of the most wonderful things about this book was how it treats evil, and what happens when God works through evil to affect the best in the world. Throughout the book, Mack is overcome by what he calls “The Great Sadness,” a darkness shrouding his heart after his daughter Missy was kidnapped and murdered. Mark Driscoll of
Another complaint I’ve heard, is that Satan and his power is conspicuously absent. In fact, as I remember, Satan is not mentioned once. I don’t have a problem with this. I don’t think this is a story about Satan, I think it is a story about God’s love. It is a parable. In the same way that the parables of Jesus do not mention Satan, neither does this one because there is a specific point to be made, a hurt to be healed, and Satan is not needed to convey the love of our Father toward us. I think the only nod to Satan in this book is when one of the characters says that all sin is a result of the desire for independence from God, and that certainly fits Lucifer as much as it does us. The point of this story is to release people from sadness and anger toward God, and to show that Papa really is good, and as I mentioned before, we don’t need evil to show what good is, it is the other way around.
In conclusion, I strongly recommend reading this book, many have said that it is the most impactful book they have ever read beside the Bible, and I would tend to agree. Whether or not we know it, I think we all need the kind of healing Mack received, because we all tend to hold grudges against God whether or not we know it. We don’t understand God and in our limited human understanding, we hold that against him. We need to know him personally to understand him, all the rules we put upon ourselves do nothing to bring us closer to him unless we can realize that we are powerless to follow those rules. And that’s what the rules are for.
I dare to call him Papa,