Re-Visiting The Shack (1)
The Shack by William P. Young took the Christian world by storm in 2007 and quickly became a worldwide bestseller. Ostensibly a theodicy – how to understand God’s ways with us in a season of unfathomable and meaningless hurt terror, and grief, it has proven to be far more than that. Young walks us through a fictional account of his eleven year struggle to deal with a “Great Sadness” that engulfed, stripped him down, and reduced him to mere existence and how he emerged from that maelstrom a new man. The creativity, energy, depth, and insight of his account bear the marks of one who has met God, the biblical, triune God, been grasped and delivered by him, gripped by his beauty and faithfulness, and drawn close by him in an intimate and life-giving embrace. None less than Eugene Peterson calls The Shack a Pilgrim’s Progress for our generation. And he is surely right about that!
In this series of posts I want to revisit The Shack nearly eight years later. I read it because so many others were reading it and asking me about it. The same thing had happened a few years earlier with Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. That was several hours of my life I’ll never get back! So I had no idea what to expect and I tried not to prejudge what I’d fnd there.
Even after the terrible and gripping tale of young Missy’s abduction and murder by a serial killer in the first several chapters, I was still had my reservations. That scenario, after all, would grip and draw in most readers. But I read on to see what Young had to say about God’s relation to all this horror and grief.
And when Mack (the protagonist) met God at the Shack, I was captured! When Papa, God the Father, a large black woman, met and embraced Mack on the shack’s porch, I had to read on. This was going to be either a creative retelling of the gospel or rank, and even silly, heresy. But I had to find out.
And did I ever! I found Young’s story the most coherent and compelling of the presence and work of the biblical, that is, triune, God I’ve ever read. And the most real! I was pulled in not just with my head but with my whole self. My life with God was on trial as I read. I couldn’t put the book down. I read it one Saturday, taking it with me to the dinner table, the bathroom, and everywhere else I went that day till I finished it. The horizon of the story and the horizon of my life had merged; Young’s story was mine, in my own way. The Shack addressed me where I was and pulled me some ways toward where I needed to be. Its images brought mere concepts to life and unleashed the transforming power of the Spirit in my life in a fuller and deeper way.
On reflection I account the power of Young’ narrative to his reworking of the Christian doctrine of God, his being as always and at the same time Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and attacking and defanging the ubiquitous default deity most of us (Christian or otherwise) assume is the biblical God, the one I call the “God with a Scowl.” The Goddddd – distant, domineering, demanding, disapproving, and damning. These strengths far outweigh any other weaknesses critics may find in the story.
These are, in my judgment, the two weakest aspects of the North American Christian version of the gospel. Lamentably, God as triune and unfaltering loving, are the power source the gospel! Their absence and distortion in our default cultural view of God go a long way to accounting for the irrelevant powerlessness of the church in our place and time.
I hope my revisiting The Shack will introduce or reintroduce you to this special story. Young’s fictional narrative account of his own “descent into hell” only to find the triune God of the Bible - Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu – there to welcome, comfort, encourage, and deliver him, sound just the notes of the biblical gospel that need to heard loudly and clearly in our time and place. I pray our God will enliven you with the astonishing reality of both as you encounter again or for the first time William P. Young’s The Shack.