I am writing my review for those of you who have read “The Shack”. This is not intended to hide the plot of the story, so be prepared for that as you read on. I am simply giving my personal reflection of William Paul Young’s novel. I am new to my journey with Christ, so I am unable to quote scripture from memory or connect specific lessons with Bible verses. Nor am I a professional book reviewer. I finished the book awhile ago and have been struggled over the review. So I decided to document the portions or messages in the story that reached out to ME. I reviewed what I was able to take with me after reading The Shack.
There is a bit of controversy stemming from “The Shack” that I will quickly address and then dismiss. I found this tidbit from “The Real Controversy about “The Shack” by Kim Gentes” and I felt her words said it perfectly:
“One could argue that the images and metaphors may not sit well with the buttoned-down theocrats , and that, yes, perhaps the allegories aren’t perfect at every level. But the over-arching nuance of Young’s book is not that we need a theology class- it’s that we need to actually live what we say we believe. That God is love. That His efforts towards us have always been completely done in love, and will continue so. That His primary purposeful intent in dealing with mankind is to make Himself and His love completely and gloriously sufficient for us, whilst giving us the freedom to reciprocate that love back to Him in words and lives of praise, thanksgiving and worship.
... That said, I would also argue that even more controversial than the rendering of God as a woman, is a more fundamental angst that many have with “the Shack”. Simply put, we can’t deal with a God who is so personally in love with people that He would express Himself with such unguarded intimacy. In the pages of Mack’s journey and visit with the Trinity, we find a God that is so overwhelmingly in love with each of us that it shakes us to the core. He isn’t waiting for us to “go one step to far” before He brings down judgement. He isn’t standing at a distance, concerned that He may get Himself dirty with the grime of our puny existence. In this book, we find a God so completely in love with us that He stands in the midst of our pain, of our judgment, of our destructive self-loathing, and even our anger charged accusations towards Him. He stands in the midst of it, and breathes out words of love, life, healing and invitation. He draws into our world with such intimacy, such “motherly” care (which is often a much better metaphor to which Americans could relate with real love) and comfort, that most of us simply recoil back.”
I agree that this fictional story has aspects made to represent a feel or emotion through metaphors. I feel most followers of Christ can take the messages from this fictional book at face value. I believe many of the people who hold bad views about "The Shack" are those who are looking for word for word Bible references throughout the story [which you will not find]. I do believe that Young created his character of God to speak to us in a conversational manner and not in Bible verses for a specific reason. Not everyone is able to preach and not everyone one is able to decipher the the true meaning of Scriptures without some guidance. And I suppose it's hard for me to imagine that when we finally get the chance to speak to our God, that He will speak back to us in Bible verses. (My opinion!)
Mackenzie Phillips is a lost soul who finds himself in a deep dark pit of despair. After the tragic murder of his youngest child and all the unanswered questions that followed, Mack buried himself in his guilt, grief and misery. He was withdrawn from his family and certainly disconnected himself from God. The story begins when Mack receives an invitation from God to join Him for a weekend. Mack has several conflicts with God weighing on his heart. He reluctantly and suspiciously accepts.
William P. Young portrays Mackenzie in a relative way to many of us – human! He does not understand God's ways, but doesn't pretend to. Just as all of us, human is God’s creation, do not fully understand Him. Thankfully, we aren't meant to! I found myself one step ahead of Mack during those heavy conversations between him and Jesus - my next question as a reader was always his next question. This book probably hits close to home for many readers. You can substitute Mack’s heart wrenching loss for any other life altering event that would shake your faith (addiction, depression, loss of finances, illness etc.) I believe the writers chose this scenario because it has to be one of the most difficult to accept let alone move forward from.
Mack learns a great deal about believing, forgiving and accepting during those few days spent with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit (yes, that are three different beings in the story... but are all the same God as well.) "The Shack" has a way of making God’s will tangible by creating the fictional environment. Giving the reader a third person point of view, we are able to see what God is trying to accomplish for Mack's life without personally being weighed down by Mack's grief and guilt. And yet as the story progresses - I place myself in the story line as Mack, saying to myself "God must have similar plans for me too - if only God could invite ME to the shack." How awesome would that be?
Because of Mack’s repressive state of mind upon arriving at the shack, Jesus chose to take things slowly with him, but wasted no time in getting started! Here are a few strong points that God lays before Mack. They are the ones that reached out to ME... I am not quoting the Bible, just referencing the book and the characters within the story.
One fact that continues to pop up throughout the story, something that all humans forget, is that faith should not be masked by politics, religious denominations, or social systems. Having faith and accepting Christ has nothing to do with being Christian, Catholic, Mormon or Jewish. [p.184-189] God is God. He tells us to not be judgmental and yet I have not found a group yet that is not stamped with a stereotype of being judgmental. I am a Christian and we have the branded stamp.
Jesus talks about how we as humans have chosen to live independently from God. How we have fashioned our own rules of right and wrong, of good and evil.[p.100 p.193} We have become judgmental based on false assumptions that we created for ourselves. We have constructed a set of rules and laws to abide by so that we are kept "under control".[p. 205] Jesus says that we have made false accusations that He is a God who judges us on performance. [p.203] He describes that we need to leave this hold of power, surrender all to Him and only then can we be saved. [p.149]
The only way to achieve eternal life is through Jesus Christ. There is nothing that we can physically do to earn brownie points. Only by accepting Christ as our savior, his grace - can we enter into heaven. [p.202] We find the meaning of what a true love relationship consists of. [p.200] We accept the invitation to leave our independently driven lives. We ask Him to lead us and live within us. He will begin to emanate through us and it becomes the type the person that we are. His love will shine through us.
God does not create tragedy to make His purpose. He does not need to. Can He save us from tragedy? Absolutely - but is it His plan? He does not need to create evil in order for us to turn to Him. [p.191] Because we are consumed my our loss, fear and doubts, we make false accusations. On the same token, we are not shielded from the evil because it became a repercussion from our choice to be independent (or Adam's choice). "IF I take away the consequences of people's choices, I destroy the possibility of love. Love that is forced is no love at all." [p.191-192]
A huge milestone for Mack, and the hardest for so many, is forgiveness. God goes into some heart wrenching explanations of the importance of forgiveness. Why reconciliation is necessary for the growth of our personal relationship with Him. [p.226]
The last two things I want to touch on are what God was driving home throughout the story. He has never abandoned us. He is always by our side, no matter what the rain brings. Whether we feel His presence or not, that is not the issue - we are never forsaken. [p.177 p.197]
And my ending quote from the book, I feel is what wraps up all this information is a pretty little package. Spoken to Mack by The Holy Spirit, "This life is only the anteroom of a greater reality to come. No one reaches their potential in your world. It is only in preparation for what Papa [God] had in mind all along." [p. 169] This statement answers so much for me personally and helps me to understand when I feel understanding is impossible.
I am curious to hear your comments on how YOU felt about "The Shack".