Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The Shack

Warning: spoilers.
I have now finished reading the book The Shack by William P Young. After all the hoo-ha surrounding the book I was a little disappointed to be honest. It wasn't as moving or compelling as I expected, but of course 'moving' is in the heart of the beholder...or something :) Neither was it terribly, terribly heretical.

What I did like

There are three things that have stayed with me.

One, that the book places great emphasis on, is that we can have a personal, deep, loving, honest relationship with God our Father. He loves us, cares for us and takes a deep abiding interest in every tiny aspect of our lives. He wills us the very best (though we don't always see it as the best, us being full of flaws n' all) and He wants us to know Him better through His Son, His Holy Spirit, His Church, and of course the Holy Scriptures. I believe that if we were aware of it we would find that God is communicating with us constantly if only we were attuned to His voice.

A specific section that grabbed me takes place in the chapter entitled Here Come Da Judge (what's the lingo all about? are we in the 'hood'?). The 'judge' is Sophia - Wisdom (as written in the Book of Proverbs) and the main character is Mack.

"Then", she said with finality, "if you are able to judge God so easily, then you can certainly can judge the world." Again she spoke without emotion. "You must choose two of your children to spend eternity in God's new heaven and new earth, but only two."

"What?" he erupted, turning to her in disbelief.

"And you must choose three of your children to spend eternity in hell."
Mack of course goes through panic, desperation and fear at the thought of this. The harrowing awful decision. Which child does he choose? (Rather like the awful scene in the film Sophie's Choice). Reading this for me was terrible, because the choice is just too painful to bear; even if they'd committed some awful crime one could never make that choice.

It was this part that really got me where 'Sophia' says:

"So you suppose, then, that God does this easily but you cannot? Come now, Mackenzie. Which three of your five children will you sentence to hell?"
That stopped me in my tracks. I knew that God loves the whole world, I know that God doesn't want the wicked to die from their sins.

As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.' Ezekil 33:11 (part of verse)

But I had never equated it with a parent having to make that choice between children. To send one of His own children to hell.

Terrible. Painful. Unimaginable.

The other aspect of the book that I found edifying was towards the end of the book where God points out to Mack that mankind sees independence as freedom, when really it is dependence on God that brings true freedom. Instead of relying on the Sovereign will of God we have wandered in the desert for too long. Even as Christians we too much rely on the systems of the world that ultimately bring no comfort, nor eternity into our lives. Most likely that's why Jesus told the rich young ruler to give up all he had to the poor. Not just because the poor needed it, but because when we have crutches - something else to prop up our lives - we cut God out. It was Eve's independence that caused her to reach for that fruit. She didn't depend upon the Sovereign Word of God, no she chose to believe the serpent...and the world and mankind went crashing down.

The flesh sees dependence upon the ways of godliness as constraints on its life. For example, the teaching from God that s*x ought to be contained within the bond of marriage. For the flesh this is constraint, but given to God this is freedom. The freedom to be who we were designed to be.

Having said that, the author does seem a bit airy-fairy and hates 'institutions' and rules and accountability to one-another in the sense that he seems to want to take away from the concept of church as a body of people as described in the New Testament. Instead, for the author, everyone who believes in God is 'church', lots of individuals individually loving God dotted about the place. There is of course a worldwide church, but we need a local church to belong to. We are to love and rely on one another. We NEED one another to bear one another's burdens, to rebuke, pray, encourage, teach, submit to...all the things that the apostles teach in the letters of the New Testament. How can we do that if we aren't connected into local churches but are individuals trying to live out an individual life in the wider church? Yes everyone who believes in Jesus Christ and for whom He has become their Lord is bound for the Kingdom of Heaven, but we cannot live out the life He has set before us alone.

What I didn't like

Loads - and I won't cover all that I didn't like.

I realise that making God to be a woman was not because the author wished us to see God as a woman but because the character Mack had issues with his father and wouldn't have accepted God as a father-figure. But I don't agree with that premise. If God chooses to reveal Himself to someone then the overwhelming urge I see from scripture is to fall to the floor and cry out, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man". God's presence is overwhelming - He doesn't need to take on the form of a woman to help some tortured chap overcome his pain.

Also I have a problem with the character of God the Father - and God the Holy Spirit - being in human appearance. God has revealed Himself in human form - as Jesus. So why would God need three characters to reveal Himself as human? He has already revealed Himself as fully human and fully God in Jesus. Jesus is God revealed. I would perhaps have accepted an account of Jesus revealing Himself...but then does Christ do that today in bodily form? I know of no accounts of Christ physically appearing since the time between His resurrection and ascension into Heaven. He is now revealed through His Holy Spirit in the Church and in Scripture.

Having said that, we know that God did walk with Adam in the cool of the day right before the fall. But I can't see that happening again until all things are restored at the end.

There was something just wholly...dissatisfactory about the three characters of God and how they interacted. I wish I could explain...but it was just not right. The glory had gone, the reverence. There is nothing in scripture that the Holy Trinity interacts like a jolly family from an episode of Barney and Friends.

The last thing I'll mention is the point in the book where God the Father said that He was on the cross with Jesus (and He shows the scars to prove it). But scripture tells us that Jesus was for at least those last moments separated from His Father.

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Matthew 27:46
God the Son was on the cross of course. But God the Father turned His face away - He had to forsake His Son as the veil of sin placed between mankind and God was placed on Jesus. He won the victory at the ultimate cost. Jesus was the perfect Lamb of God, Holy and undefiled and yet He became sin for us. His whole life preceding that moment had been to please His Father and His Father alone - that moment of turning away by His Father would have been the ultimate abandonment. Christ had to be abandoned - for that short while - so that we could be accepted.

So to make some warm and fuzzy statement about how God the Father was on the cross too because He couldn't bear to be separated from His Son, is just a nicety that takes away from the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made.

To conclude

This is not a theological treatise on the book. Neither do I think that the book itself claims to be a theological treatise. But its portrayal of God was too warm and had it's good moments, but too many dissatisfactory issues to please me greatly.

God is greater than the God portrayed in this book. God can be our 'papa' (the name the character gives to God in the book) - we can cry out 'Abba, Father' because of what Christ has done. But I felt the book glossed over the pain that mankind causes God somehow - the dreadfulness of sin. God is merciful and loving of course. He is our Father and we can approach Him as His children. But at the end of it all, He is the great and HOLY 'I AM', not an African-American woman who is warm and jolly and enjoys cooking!

This is just my humble opinion dear readers.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is a fair summary. My overall feeling was that the best thing about it was the way it made ME think about my OWN understanding of God - Father, son and Spirit. And that has to be a good thing.
    ut tere were points when I could have flung it out the window!