The book “The Shack” has been sitting on my bookshelf for a few months and I finally read it this past weekend. It has some good points and bad points. I’m trying to decide if it is much better than what a lot of people already think about God. Some of it is made up of American-isms that appeal to most Americans but are not very good in reality.
Mr. Young does a good job of capturing where most people, especially in the western world, are at (although the “theological training” that “Mack” received is very worrisome). It demonstrates well how much we walk all over God and then expect him to answer a 30-second prayer. The story of the indian princess is a good illustration of how little most understand of what Jesus really did.
But then the book says that God does not have a hierarchy. Almost all Americans despise the idea of being under another—from liberals to conservatives. Isaiah says that God gave his holy one the authority to judge. That Authority comes from the Father. It is stated that way all through Scripture. Even in the garden of Eden, before the fall, it is evident that God had left it to Adam to relay his commands. God told Adam that he was not to eat from the tree. Adam told Eve not to even touch it. We do tend to create more hierarchy than is good, but some is necessary.
Another problem that particularly worries me is that the book says Jesus now continually limits himself since becoming fully human. That completely ignores the implications of the mount of transfiguration and the way that Jesus appeared to John on the isle of Patmos. There is also one point in this book where “Jesus” says that he had been a part of the creation “when he was the Word before he became human” (I may have the wording off a little). While Jesus’ humanity is extremely important in our faith, that statement is wrong too. When Jesus returns on the white horse, a great sword comes from his mouth. He is still the Word. Hebrews talks about how penetrating that double-edged sword is.
One extension of this view of “Jesus” in The Shack caused him to make mistakes such as dropping a bowl that contained part of the planned dinner. We need to be careful about such analogies since Jesus is the Word and without him nothing was made that has been made (John 1). To make him a klutz is akin to saying he could make mistakes in how the world has come into being. Granted, that offered a good view of how love operates, but we need to be careful…
That “Papa” would hold the gun at arms length as though it were contaminated is laughable. (And did you notice that it was not returned at the end of the story?) This is the same God who slew the firstborn of the Egyptians. Who ordered the death of many Israelites because of David’s census. Who killed Ananias and Saphira for lying to the Holy Spirit. Etc. Ezekiel 18 says that God has no pleasure in anyone’s death, but it is evident that he does not shy away from it when necessary either.
It is also strange for Mr. Young to write that God purposefully limits himself in what he knows when he listens to our prayer. My, that would get annoying. To have to tell God every day the reason for why I would like for something to be a certain way. I think it would be better said that God enjoys hearing what we have learned, come to understand and to desire.
On a side note, another book that I have been reading makes the point that unanswered prayer is perhaps one of the greatest gifts to the church. Because God worries about the consequences, we don’t have to.
To a lesser degree, I do wish that The Shack didn’t have female characters to represent the trinity. The author made the observation that male examples were needed in our world, but then denied them to Mack when he needed them the most—at the beginning of the story. If any of the trinity were to be portrayed as feminine in the book, this is the way it had to be done. If it were the holy spirit only, the story would fuel the ideas of some that Jesus was born because of a sexual union between the father and the holy spirit. That is as heretical as the contrasting belief that the virtues we see as “feminine” are ungrounded in God, though the latter is a little more accepted.
“Jesus” said that the world would be a much better place, with fewer children sacrificed to the “gods of greed and power” if women ruled instead of men. Wow. Among homeschool families there is a big push for what is called “patriarchal leadership.” They have been growing in popularity but most of the ones that are problematic seem to really be “matriarchal” in how they operate. That has been reported by men such as Michael Pearl and confirmed by his readers—many of them daughters in such families. C.S. Lewis wrote about how “love” can be abused in a selfish way in The Great Divorce and, I’ve heard, in The Four Loves. Men find their value in the sweat of their brow “Jesus” had said (just a few pages earlier) while women find their value more in their relationships with others. Both of those points are true, but they also mean that men are (or should be) more willing to make the harder decisions that life requires. “Jesus” was right about men and women being equals, however.
The book states that Jesus’ life was not meant to be an example for us. What else did Paul mean by “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1)? Our lives our examples too.
It is said in the book that marriage is not an institution but is instead a relationship. That is not fully true either, unfortunately. Marriage is supposed to give stability for the spouses and their kids. If God did not see families as institutions, why was the whole of Noah’s family saved from the flood? It is obvious that Ham was heavily influenced by the pre-flood world. God said that *only* Noah was righteous before Him. Family is a unit and an institution. While Mr. Young is partially right about governments, a small amount is actually commanded by God also. Consider how Genesis 9:6 would have to be implemented. If in doubt, ask and I’ll expound a little about the safe cities that God set up in Israel despite there not being a central government.
Independence is another fun topic. There is a balance beyond what the book admits. Imagine if Adam were so reliant on God that he could not walk without his creator propping him up. How would this image of the final, crowning creation reflect on God? Yes, this is a ludicrous example intended to demonstrate a fault in the arguments used in the book. Just as you can be overly independent, you can also lack the abilities we were designed to have.
While it is easy to hide behind the rules to judge others, there are legitimate uses for those rules outside of demonstrating how far we fall short. How many commands did Jesus, Paul, or the other authors of the New Testament lay out? One verse that is often referenced is John 14:15. Or what of the commands for the types of men we should have for bishops and deacons in the church (1 Timothy 3)? Mr. Young says that we are not bound by any rules. Let me ask this: Should we let the man who brutalized Mack’s daughter be a pastor? Do you think that such a lawless man knows God and would be in heaven unless he turned his life around? Because we fulfill (most of?) the law out of love does not mean the the rules are not still there.
Responsibility—the idea does occur in the Bible actually. Just because one particular word is not used does not mean that the idea is absent. Consider Micah 6:8. It uses “required.”
The topic of responsibility leads to the conversation about expectations. In this part of the book, the characters said that no expectation has ever been laid on any human. OK. Were the prophets not expected to say anything then? Jonah was forcefully taken to Ninevah when he did not want to. God fully expected him to proclaim the destruction of that great city if they did not repent. Do you somehow think that we are better or different from the prophets in that nothing is required of us if we truly profess to know Christ?
Near the end of the story, “Papa” says that the the man who abducted and killed the young girl was his (“Papa’s”) son. A few moments later he said that he did not have a relationship with the man. In the first chapter of John, it says that those who received Jesus were given the power to become sons of God. One who is not walking with God is not his son; no, not even by his being a creation. If you do want a God that does not cast into hell, you need to read 2 Peter 2:4-22 again.
Sadly, these are about half of the points that are made in the book. There are other points made that are very well explained, and several others that I don’t feel qualified to judge yet on one side or the other. I understand the reason that the author makes the points as he does, but they are as unbalanced as what others believe already. Any thoughts?