Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Relationship in "The Shack"
The Shack by William Paul Young is a publishing phenomenon. Topping its category on the New York Times Best-Seller List for months. Thrilling the churched and un-churched alike. Selling like hot-cakes in Gospel and secular bookstores.
But it was only intended as an attention-getting novella for some of the author's thoughts on faith to be preserved for his children.
The story traces a family who endure the anguish of a child abduction during a summer camping holiday. The daughter Missy is never found alive. An area-wide manhunt confirms that in her final hours she was held hostage in an old shack not far from the holiday resort.
Months pass and the father, Mackenzie Philip, "Mack" is having a crisis with God and all things noble, as he considers this senseless loss. A day's mail contains a card which says simply, "It's been a while. I've missed you. I'll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. signed Papa". This had always been his wife's expression for God..."Papa". Questions? Was this from the perpetrator? Some sick joke? Or God?
Overcome with heart-wrenching curiosity, he resolves to go and to convince the family to leave the household without him for a much needed change. At the shack he finds three curious characters, an old heavy-set black woman, a young Jewish man in workman's blue jeans and a mysterious young oriental woman. They explain that they are in fact "Father, Son and Holy Spirit". They desire to spend some time with Mack and to answer some of his deepest questions. Purpose? Suffering? Death? Forgiveness? Judgment? Retribution? The World System? Eternal Life? Destination? Effective Church?
One of the first criticisms from readers has been the portrayal of the Heavenly Father as a sort of "Aunt Jemima" figure. But God says early in the game, "Look, Mack, I know about the sad issues which you had with your own Dad, so I thought that this might get us off to a smoother start." At a later stage when the two trace some of the daughter's final movements though the bush and discover her remains, God takes on a very masculine form for the trek. He is spirit, and does and appears as He wishes.
Jesus comes off as an endearing friend and contemporary. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Mack and Jesus go down to a dock and study the stars together, stars which Jesus had made, of course. Then the Lord speaks up, "Go ahead, ask me about the nose". "Well Jesus I had expected that you would be the most handsome of men." "Mack, where we operate all such considerations appear nothing more than discriminatory judgment. We look for the good rather than the evil."
Picture the Trinity joking and preparing a weekend breakfast. Jesus drops the pancake batter all over the floor and the other two rib him. The Spirit adds, "Since he became man he has done this sort of thing a lot."
The Spirit is presented as a slight Asian woman in gardener's attire with colourful touches. Her appearance seems to shift from tangible to translucent. She has a lovely fragrance. She collects tears in a bottle. Her simple presence seems to lift burdens. In a garden encounter with Mack talking about the fall of Adam in Eden, the Spirit says, "You must give up your right to decide what is good and evil on your own terms. That is a hard pill to swallow; choosing to only live in me. To do that you must know me enough to trust me and learn to rest in my inherent goodness."
There is also a dream-like encounter with a woman named Sophia, a personification of Papa's wisdom, in a chapter entitled "Here Come Da Judge".
Finally Mack is taken on a journey to see his daughter's happy spiritual state of the present. He is made to understand how she was shielded from the trauma of the kidnapping by God. He sees how Father cannot simply eradicate all evil from the planet. He is challenged to forgive.
Obviously the book will not measure up to catechism or doctrine. That was not the author's intention. He has said in interviews that it might prove confusing to initiates in the faith. But for me, the greatest impression was that of the richness, harmony, candour and pleasure in the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Eternal Love implies that it had always been this way among them, and shall continue so for ever. The Godhead has resolved to have us enjoy such relationship with Him, and with each other. I hearken back to an early exchange in the story. Mack asks,"So which one of you is God?" "I am", the three personalities respond, in unison.
(Book cover by publisher, Windblown Media, Los Angeles,CA)