I’ve been meaning to read this for a while now, having been aware of the hype surounding it, but never got round to buying it. Having been given it for Christmas, however, it’s only taken me two days to read!
The blurb reads:
Mackenzie Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness.
Four years later in the midst of his great sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend.
Against Mackenzie Allen Philips’ better judgement he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever.
In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant The Shack wrestles with the timeless question, ‘Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?’ The answers Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as it did him. You’ll want everyone you know to read this book!
I certainly wouldn’t say it was an easy read, the first few chapter about how the daughter is abducted make your stomach churn – it’s not graphic or anything, it’s just that the thought of what you know is happening is so terrible – and then when you get into the theological bit some of it’s a little abstract/ different to what you’re used to and I had to re-read a couple of bits a couple of times.
The points which Wm Paul Young puts forward about God, our relationship with Him, our relationships with one another and where God is in all the world’s suffering are challenging and well worth reading. There isn’t much of a narrative – at times it feels more like a sermon – but it’s certainly a sermon worth listening to. I wouldn’t call it a page turner (despite the contrary evidence in my devouring it in two days), it didn’t grip me like some books I’ve read, but it is an engaging read which is well worth the little perseverence required.
Before I start rambling, why not take a look at Scott Lindsey’s great review/critique of the book from the Resurgence Blog (the pdf is available here).
So it has some pitfalls, some questionable theology but as Lindsey says, “those who are well-grounded in the Word won’t be harmed by the weaknesses and deficiencies of the book”. If we remember that this is one guy’s interpretation and not the inspired and infallible word of God, I think it can be useful to help us better understand and relate to some of the most difficult doctrines and concepts within Christianity. I particularly think that if it makes us turn to scripture to better understand the God it describes and learn more about our relationship with Him then it can be considered a very positive influence.
The first thing which Paul Young adresses is the Trinity. God is presented as three people: the Father as a large African-American woman, Jesus as a middle eastern guy wearing flannel; and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman who “seemed to shimmer in the light”. Some people take issue with this straight away but I can cope. What struck me was the one-ness of the three. I can understand these three aspects of God separately quite easily, they make sense to me, as does their role in my life. But reconciling them as one being is tough – it’s not something that really computes in a human mind because it’s not something we can experience. The book puts it across very well though. Every converstion which Mack has with one character is heard and later referred to by the others. They always refer to themselves as “we”. When they’re eating together Mack describes it as “never [having] seen three people share with such simplicity and beauty. Each seemed more aware of the others than of themself”. It is said that there is no hierarchy amongst the three (which doesn’t seem Biblical) but that they are in a circle of relationship and intrinsically one – and it’s a better understanding of that closeness which I took away with me.
And when we begin to comprehend the relationship God is in within Himself we can understand better the relationship we are supposed to have with Him. God exists in community and, being created in His image, we are supposed to exists as such too – with Him and one another. Jesus tells Mack: “We’re meant to experience this life, your life, together, in dialogue, sharing the journey”. And He makes the point that God’s not looking “to be first amngst a list of values” but longs to be “at the centre of everything”. Rather than Jesus slotting into our lives and becoming a part of what already exists, He should become life itself – the one whom we live through.
The book also speaks a lot about our human relationships and our attitudes within them. The need for us to be selfless, servant like. The way we shouldn’t place expectations upon them but should instead live in expectancy: “expectancy is . . . alive and dynamic and everything that emeres from our being together is a unique gift shared by no one else”; because when there are expectations it creates a law and becomes about what friends are supposed to do: “You are now expected to perform in a certain way that meets my expectation”. And it also considers the need for us to be willing to forgive one another – Mack is encouraged to forgive his daughter’s murderer.
There’s a lot of other good stuff in there – about the depth of God’s love for us, the immensity of his character and it’s unfathomability, the way God works in our world – through the pain and suffering and our own sinfulness – and the depth of his forgiveness.
The picture of God which is painted is a little too cuddly and I’m one of those people who would prefer more footnotes referring to scripture but it’s a good read that’ll make you think.