The Shack

So I read The Shack

I’m apparently not alone in that fact, though a substantial part of me fails to understand why.  It’s not great literature.  The dialogue is stiff and stilted and basically aimed at allowing God to explain things in a variety of ways. 

Theologically, it’s not exactly groundbreaking.  Young does a good job of remaining fairly orthodox to the traditional Christian description of the Trinity.  You can’t really explain the Trinity, since God has not revealed any explanation.  He’s simply stated in a variety of situations, that our concepts of oneness are somewhat limited.  Young doesn’t waste time trying to come up with explanations of the Trinity, he simply poses it as a fact to be gotten used to and moves on from there.  He does a relatively good job of honoring the Biblical description and traditional Christian explication of the primary roles of the three persons of God – Father/Creator, Son/Redeemer, Spirit/Sanctifier.  Considering all the weirdness in Christian circles today, and Young’s own apparently inclinations away from traditional understandings of at least church, this was a pleasant surprise.

Of course, any time you talk about the Trinity you’re liable to misstep in some way.  But Young’s seem relatively minor.  God the Father is portrayed as having nail marks in His wrists, as a result of the incarnation of the Logos, and the subsequent death of Jesus.  Theologically, Christians have always attempted to make it clear that the suffering of God was limited to the incarnation of Jesus, so far as his fleshly nature allowed.  In other words, Jesus as the Logos made man actually lived and died and was resurrected.  However God the Father & Spirit did not also die or suffer in the manner specific to the incarnate Logos.  I tend to be willing to defend Young though, in that he’s taking the step (theologically questionable, but not crucial) of having God the Father appear in human form to the protagonist.  And if God the Father were to have a corporeal nature, perhaps the idea of shared scars – if not shared death – is within the realm of possible.  To me it’s not a make-or-break sort of issue.

I don’t care for the Eastern overtones of the Holy Spirit’s name in the book (Sarayu – Google it).  And overall the personifications of each person of the Trinity seemed awkward at best.  However, they’re workable for Young’s purpose – which is not an explanation of the Trinity, but a defense of God.

That sounds like a tall order, and it is.  And theodicy is generally a no-no.  However, Young’s theodicy is well in keeping with other writings that attempt to understand the presence of suffering in the light of an all powerful and all loving God – most notably the book of Job.  Ultimately, for Job as well as in Young’s work, we are reminded that we are in no position to question God.  We can only decide whether or not we are willing to trust God. 

It’s this which I think is probably the appealing part of the book to many people.  And it reveals a shortcoming in the Church that is dangerous – that the Church is not doing a good job of reminding people that God is trustworthy.  Suffering is so painfully obvious everywhere we look.  Flip on the TV or the radio.  Pick up the newspaper or a news magazine.  Listen to any number of the people that you pass by each day, or work or live with.  Suffering is rampant.  People are hurting.  Some hurt is obvious.  Some is not.  Yet regardless of whether you’re living in fear of being raped and killed for voting against Mugabe in Zimbabwe, or whether you’re dealing with the suffering brought on by broken relationships with family and loved ones, suffering is all around us.

If God is indeed all powerful and all present and all loving, then the existence of all this suffering seems hugely problematic.  Many people take the step of saying that God’s doing a pretty crappy job of running things, and thus either He doesn’t exist, or He isn’t worthy of the worship and respect which He commands from us.  It’s an ancient theological conundrum, and anytime we address it, we ultimately have to end up saying we don’t know why God allows such suffering to continue.  Or more criminal yet, why God apparently steps in for certain people – delivering them from the death of cancer, or the assasin’s bullet – but not others. 

The Bible calls us not simply to acknowledge and worship and respect God, but also to trust Him.  To trust that, despite our broken selves and broken world, God is acting on our behalf.  God is truly for us.  He has held nothing back to offer us reconciliation that we could never have created or brought about on our own.  We tend to focus and obsess about God’s judgement, without remembering God’s mercy.  And we tend to let the overwhelming nature of the here-and-now eclipse the reality of God there-and-then – both in the past as well as already in the future. 

Young’s book posits real and devestating loss and suffering, and brings it into the presence of the Triune God to be examined, explored, and ultimately healed.  The answers Young throws out are not original, and they aren’t completely satisfying to someone who already distrusts or disbelieves God.  But they are very true to the Bible’s depiction of a God that acts mercifully and with love and grace far more often than not.  A God who has promised us that the suffering of this world and time is not the final Word.  That there will come a day of reckoning, a day when all will be made right.  And the fact that we can’t imagine how God can make right the murder of your child or the death of your spouse or war or hatred – does not in and of itself strip God of His power and ability to do so. 

The question every Christian needs to be able to examine and answer is whether or not we trust God.  Not just when things are good, but when things are very, very bad.  Is our God only a God of the good times and the pleasant memories, or is our God the God who is present and sustaining in the midst of tragic loss and horrifying evil? 

The answer for that, our assurance of God’s trustworthiness, is the cross.  The fact that God held nothing back, was willing to send His Son to take on our limitations and our infirmities and to dwell in the midst of our suffering and pettiness.  The fact that Son was willing to begin the difficult task of attempting to clarify – to open our eyes a bit more to the presence of God not only in the there-and-then, but in the here-and-now.  To assure us that God is good beyond our wildest imaginations, and is able to supply so much more than we could ever imagine needing, whether that’s more wine at a wedding, or eyesight for the blind, or working limbs for the lame, or life for the dead.  The fact that God demonstrates on the cross that He can take on our suffering.  The worst we can dish out to one another, we have dished out to God.  And the empty tomb demonstrates that God is bigger than our worst.  He’s bigger than injustice, bigger than hatred, bigger than the designs of evil itself – bigger than death. 

That’s a trustworthy God.  A God who created something beautiful, sustains it when it becomes broken and belligerent, and offers to restore it completely – in God’s time, not ours. 

Can you trust God?  In your suffering?  In your joy?  In your loss?  In life?  In death?  The witness of the Bible – and of thousands of years and millions and billions of the faithful – is that yes, you can trust God.  You can trust Him always and forever. 

This is the message the Church needs to be proclaiming.  Hope.  Forgiveness.  Grace.  All from a God who can be trusted – a God who alone
can be trusted to truly love, truly care.  And the Church needs to be firm in proclaiming that in light of this, rejection of God is seen for what it truly is – ungratefulness.  Arrogance.  Pride.  Dangerous, dangerous, untrustworthy emotions and thoughts and actions.  The Church needs to be bold beyond pointing fingers at those hurting people.  Young never has God berate the protagonist in the book.  But in promising them that if they will allow Him, if they will trust Him, God can free them from their pain and their anger and their distrust.  That He desires to do so, and is more elated when that happens than when scores of folks who already believe and trust gather to praise His name. 

That’s what a trustworthy God ought to do and be. 

One Response to “The Shack”

  1. kvartirnie Says:

    What can you give a girl on her birthday?

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