"The Shack" William P. Young (Updated 2008-01-16 20:58 CET)
After "The Time Traveler's Wife" more fiction about love. This time the love of God.
Whereas the TTW was about passionate, erotic love between a man and a woman, with a dialogue that now and then verged on the ordinaire, "The Shack" is a vision of God's love for a person as experienced by a man in a deep life crisis.
This is a rare gem, fiction that portrays God and is carried by a gripping story line. I read through it rapidly first time round because it is a story and I wanted to know what happened - how does it end. Now I am going back over it appreciating the detail. Yesterday morning there was no need to get up. I curled up in bed reading and was in tears over the passionate, gentle love of God as told in this story.
The start of the book seemed a bit slow and dry with the change of writing style from Audrey Niffinegger in the TTW. But it became a gripping story after the scene setting.
The account of his meeting with God is very effective. (Avoiding spoilers here.) God is people. God relates. And as Mack's issues with life are worked through in his long weekend with God a whole range of common religious and theological misconceptions are brought to light, including:
- the nature of the church,
- Bible study,
- free will and its effects,
- God's time travelling! ;-)
- atonement and salvation - but such religious jargon never crosses anyone lips,
- the character and purpose of God,
- the theology of the Trinity.
They all arise throughout the weekend as Mack gets to know God and begins to see his own life and his attitudes a God sees them.
And there are lovely details all along the way. For example, God listens to all sorts of music, not just religious stuff:
'Turning to face him, she took off the earphones.
"May I ask what you're listening to?"
"You really wanna know?"
"Sure." Now Mack was curious.
"West Coast Juice. Group called Diatribe and an album that isn't even out yet called Heart Trips. Actually," she winked at Mack, "these kids haven't even been born yet."
"Right", Mack responded, more than a little incredulous. "West Coast Juice, huh? It doesn't sound very religious."
"Oh, trust me, it's not. More like Eurasian funk and blues with a message, and a great beat." She sidestepped toward Mack as if she were doing a dance move and clapped. Mack stepped back.
"So God listens to funk?" Mack had never heard the word "funk" talked about in any properly righteous terms. "I though you'd be listening to George Beverly Shea or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir - you know, something churchier."
"Now see here, Mackenzie. You don't have to be lookin' out for me. I listen to everything - and not just to the music itself, but the hearts behind it...."'
God is not so religious, delicate and precious that we have to shield Him from reality and only play religious music for Him! And yes, OK, God does reveal Himself to Mack as a woman.
"why is there such an emphasis on you being a Father?"
"Well, there are many reasons for that, and some of them go very deep. Let me say for now that we knew once the Creation was broken, true fathering would be much more lacking than than mothering. Don't misunderstand me, both are needed - but an emphasis on fathering is necessary because of the enormity of its absence."
It seems to me a good story is a much more effective way of introducing God than a pile of ancient or modern theology books. It comes much closer to the way God has introduced Himself by coming and being among us in Jesus and in the relaxed way Jesus related with people. Just hanging out, telling stories, being Himself, loving ...
This story also seems to confirm that many of us need a serious crisis in our lives before we turn to God and let our barriers down so that we can get to know Him and receive His love. This points to an explanation for Jesus' remark in Matthew 19 about it being more difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. So long as we can kid ourselves that we have everything under control we can also kid ourselves that we don't need God.
Read the book first!