I recently completed reading The Shack, by Wm. Paul Young. It is a tale of spiritual renewal, and comes at a time when I am seeking renewal of my own spirit. It is the tale of a man meeting with God, and obtaining a much needed healing. I found I could relate with the protagonist on many levels.
Having experienced Multnomah Falls and Lake Wallowa, two of the locations in the Pacific Northwest where the story takes place, I was drawn into the story quite deeply. These are places of great beauty, and I recommend them as special places to visit. The writer shared details that brought back some fond memories, and gave the tale a context of reality for me.
There are some theological criticisms of the book out there on the Internet. They are not without merit. However, this is a novel, and as such not held (I should think) to stringent theological standards. Additionally, it is presented as an individual experience with God, and not presented as normative.
Other than the normal bruising of life, the protagonist Mackenzie Phillips suffered the brutal loss of one of his children. This is a catastrophic bruising of the spirit, a deep breaking of the heart. As a consequence of this loss Mack suffers from guilt and depression, and is in need of healing.
The loss of the child through a brutal kidnapping and murder touched a nerve with me. I am of a vindictive nature, so this hit me hard. Most people (or so it seems to me) experience sympathy for victims and focus on helping them. I do experience sympathy for the victim, but my first thought is dealing with the perpetrator. I long for vengeance as well as justice. It is neither a wholesome nor biblical attitude.
Mack did not respond quite that way, but he fell into a great sadness as a consequence of this terrible event. It is the healing of Mack's heart that is the heart of this book. He had to learn to forgive and to love again, beginning with his relationship with God.
Forgiveness is also a difficult thing for me, and so this book pointed me back to that weakness within myself. It is another thing I must deal with in seeking my own healing and renewal. Forgiveness cannot wait on those being forgiven to repent and make good their failure. Real forgiveness is a difficult thing to master, and that challenge is well presented in this book.
A lot of elements of Christian experience were dealt with in the telling of this tale, far too many to list right here. For some readers this book might help resolve some of their own difficulties in their faith, redefining aspects of their Christian experience. Others may be compelled to seek the truth through Christianity. Though this book is about a Christian having his faith renewed, it can also serve as a tool for evangelism.
I did have an "Aha!" moment when reading this book. When Mack was somewhat flippant toward God regarding God casting people into Hell, God challenged him in a way that was revelatory. God required Mack to choose which three of his five children would go to Hell. Ultimately Mack was freed of this decision, but I believe that in the context of the story it was a very real challenge.
While the righteousness of God and divine justice make Hell a just end for the unrepentant person, I had never examined what this might mean from the perspective of God. He loves His children, and Hell is a great price to pay for their rebellion. The Shack helped me see a bit more of the depth of God's sacrifice and the great cost of sin.
Again and again Young returns to the importance of relationships in God's purpose for His people. Practice and performance pale in comparison with relationship as central to God's purpose for His creation. It comes down to more a matter of being than doing.
This being aspect of relationship was illustrated quite nicely through Mack's interactions with God. While Mack's journey toward healing was not painless the growth in his relationship with God as presented in the book had some moments of great warmth and beauty. It made me more conscious of relationships as a critical aspect of the outworking of my faith.
I would consider The Shack a catalytic piece of literature. The reading of this book can be the beginning of changes in the reader's life. It is not so much informative as transformative. It is an experience worth having, in my opinion. The cost is small, just the price of the book and the time to read it.
Who knows what the benefits might be? There is only one way I can think of to find out.
Two miles deep
9 hours ago