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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Me and The Shack

I posted some time ago about the book The Shack and the reviews of it by Fr. Ron Rolheiser (Evangelizing the Religious Imagination) and Professor Ben Witherington (SHACKING UP WITH GOD—William P. Young’s ‘The Shack’), but strangely now I can't find it. I hadn't read the book myself and didn't especially want to, but I signed up to get the audio version of it from the library, and as I was about 40 on a list of 40 waiting for it, I felt pretty safe :) Then Mike was kind enough to send me an audio copy and I no longer had an excuse not to read it.

I certainly can't add anything to what Fr. Rolheiser and Ben have already written about the book, aside from just a personal take but since the book is about theodicy, something I struggle with, I felt it's ok to mention a few things. For those who have read the book - if I remember something incorrectly, feel free to jump in, because I don't have a text copy to refer to. And for those who haven't read it - beware, for spoilers abound.

The story is of a man, Mack, married with children, and with a good job, living in Oregon, who had had a bad childhood (abusive father), and who loses a small daughter years later to a serial child killer. He spends a few years becoming more and more bitter and distanced from his Christian faith, then one day gets a note in the mail asking him to meet "Papa" at the shack. Papa is the name his wife, a devout Christian, calls God, and the shack is the place in the mountains where his daughter was taken and killed. He keeps the note a secret and the next weekend, when his family goes off elsewhere, he drives to the shack, though he has no idea who could have sent the note .... perhaps his daughter's murderer? Once there, he steps into what seems like a hallucination - the winter cold turns to springtime, the broken-down shack is rebuilt, the blood stains left by his daughter vanish, and three people are waiting for him there ... Papa, who is God the Father represented as an African-American woman, the Holy Spirit, represented as an Asian woman, and Jesus, represented as a modern-day Jewish man. Mack spends the weekend with these three and is transformed by their interaction with him.

What I didn't like about The Shack ....

The writer of the book has God tell Mack that Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden really did exist. I'm not sure if that makes him a Creationist, but it seems (to me) to fly in the face of the theory of evolution and the scientific/historical data that says the human race could not have derived from two parents.

And, going along with this, God also tells Mack that all the bad stuff in the world has and does transpire because of Adam and Eve's desire for independence, and our continued desire for independence from God. I guess this is a kind of "free will" excuse for the problem of evil. I have to say this isn't what I call a satisfactory answer because I doubt our ability to freely choose is up to the task. As Professor Richard Beck wrote of free will in a past Experimental Theology post about the book Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology by Marilyn McCord Adams ....


[...] Adams is weak volitional because she correctly notes that free will approaches crash on the rocks of horrors. As Adams writes (p. 49), "Radical vulnerability to horrors arises because human psycho-spiritual powers are not reliably great enough to achieve and sustain an appropriate functional coordination between [the] two dimensions [i.e., physical and spiritual] of human being in a material world such as this. ..... Starting with the horrendous predicament of humankind, I have painted a more pessimistic picture of human agency than traditional free-fall approaches draw of Adam and Eve in Eden ... I insist that human agency could not have enough stature to shift responsibility for the way things are off God's shoulders onto ours. I deny our competence to organize personal animality into functional harmony, much less to anticipate and steer our way clear of horrors" (p. 50) ..... “By definition, horrors stump our meaning-making capacities. Individual (as opposed to merely collective) horror-participation can break our capacity to make positive sense of our lives, can so fragment our sense of self and so damage our agency as to make authentic choice impossible" (p. 207) ...


Me here again, continuing with what I didn't like in The Shack ....

And God goes on to say, in The Shack, that the suffering due to evil is made up for by Jesus' sacrifice of himself - his co-suffering with us (or at least, that's what I remember hearing). While I do appreciate Jesus' choice to be here with us, the idea that he chose on purpose to suffer and die, the idea that our sufferings are made ok by the chance to suffer with him, is just odd to the anti-atonement me. As David Bentley Hart wrote in The Doors of the Sea ....

[...] emphasis on our participation in Christ's redemptive suffering, in keeping with Colossians 1:24 ..... for one thing, it seems oddly imperious to impose such an explanation on the sufferings of those who are not Christian (as were most of the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami), or upon the sufferings of those who throughout the ages have lived and died apart from any knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, or for that matter upon the sufferings of animals .... The cross of Christ is not, after all, simply an eternal validation of pain and death, but their ovethrow.

I guess what I mean to say is that while it may help those suffering to know that Jesus/God understands suffering from the ground up, it's not a good answer to the question of why we have to suffer in the first place.

And finally, when Mack tells God that he accepts that it is free will that causes evil and suffering (grrrr), he then asks if God can intervene once a bad thing is about to happen (like the murder of his daughter), and if so, why God doesn't. He's told that God could indeed intervene and stop bad stuff, but that he chooses not to. And that he can't tell Mack why, because Mack wouldn't be able to understand. I know, I know, the ways of God are mysterious, but oh, such a cop-out!!! And as Ben Witherington points out in his review of the book, the God of the Bible does actually intervene, and he doesn't seem to have that much of a problem with free will (the conversion of Paul).

OK, now that I've vented, I can go on to say what I liked about The Shack ......

The best thing about The Shack, from my point of view, is that it emphasizes the importance of a personal relationship between people and God. The God of The Shack asked Mack to get together because he wanted to interact, he wanted to allow Mack to ask all his questions and have (most :) of them answered, in person. There's a lot of hugging, hand holding, and in-depth conversation in The Shack. Papa cooks for Mack and the four of them eat together. Jesus and Mack lay on their backs together at night and gazed for hours up at the stars. God is, well, a person in The Shack, and even given all the stuff I didn't like about the book, I couldn't fail to be touched by the love expressed, love that can only exist in relationship.

For those interested in reading more about The Shack or the author, you can visit his website - You are welcome here…


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Crystal,

I enjoyed hearing your interpretation of the shack, you certainly caught some points that I just kind of ran over.

I missed the point that God claims Adam and Eve to be real, I brushed over that as being an description of man in general. The way I interpreted it was that the world did not turn out as God had intended, to a large extent because man tried to be something different that what God made him to be. But rather than just erasing the creation and starting over, God decided to see what He could do about correcting it.

I don't think think the book looks much at natural disasters and the problems they bring, but rather at the problems we as humans bring on ourselves and others. Certainly the latest holocaust upset come from people exercising free will, as do the condemnations of homosexuality, or female ordination. What should God's response be to these? That is what I think the book speaks of. I don't like the denial of the holocaust, but then I don't like a law that says one can't express his disbelief. And I think the book promotes the idea that God doesn't make such laws, but does work to correct such problems.

It seems to me that the book says that in the long run, the laws and rules and structures that we build are not that important, and maybe even anti-productive. What is more important is relationship. I think that you and I have very different ideas about how things should be and what they mean. Yet I also think that we a relationship that allows each of us our freedom while still caring about each other. Boy, if there was a law that said my wife and I had to agree on everything (maybe even anything?) we would be in deep do-do! So I think the book says that God nudges gently and no matter what we do, we are still one of his favorite characters :).

When all was said and done, or at least read, I found myself much more comfortable with God and my relationship with Him and with others. And I am still laughing at the Gideon Bible in the nightstand.


Mike L

6:23 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Mike,

Are you talking about the SSPX bishop who denied the gas chambers of the Holocaust? He said "the Jews are the enemies of Christ" which, if nothing else, goes against what Vatican II (Nostra Aetate) said, that the Jews of the time of Jesus and all Jews today are no more responsible for the death of Christ than Christians. So if the church requires priests and bishops to agree with church teaching in order to be in good standing, that guy is not only a creepy fruitcake, he's a schismatic.

About the book, though - I did like the stuff about rules and heirarchies not being umportant - I agree with that, or at least I hope it's really true. Not very Catholic, though :)

What I liked best was the part about relationship with God - all that stuff was really good, I thought, and I liked the book's Jesus. Listening to the book gave me lots of stuff to talk to God about, so it was helpful too.

Thanks, Mike, for sending it to me :)

7:18 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

A serial child killer? Really? What is it with America's obsession with serial killers? It's really bizarre. And in a religious book? Can't we be more creative about "really evil" people? You notice it's always a serial killer - never a politician who decides to invade a country and kill hundreds of thousands of people, or bankers getting bonuses. Nothing that actually corresponds to ordinary reality. No, it has to be something we can't really relate to. A nice of way of avoiding dealing with the evil in ourselves, it seems.

I hadn't heard of the book. From your description, I don't think I'll be rushing out to read it. But it was interesting to hear about it and get your reactions. I can see why the "free will causes evil" answer would be unsatisfactory.

9:13 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi William,

I think the author wanted to portray a parent's worst fear (the child getting murdered) so that when he wrote God as overcoming the anger about that, he would have won over everyone .... like, if he can forgive God for allowing his daughter to be killed like that, I can forgive him for my lessor pain. Don't know if that works, though.

11:07 AM  

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