In this cleverly titled chapter, Mackenzie begins his journey into the heart of the Great Sadness that afflicts him. This “shack” is a whole new world for Mack and he struggles to get oriented to it. In a telling line that echoes a similar comment from C. S. Lewis’ Narnia story The Last Battle, Young writes, “The inside of the cabin was roomier than (Mack) had expected” (90). Yes, this is a new world full of possibility and hope that does not exist outside it. For this is the place where the triune God is present to meet Mack.
In conversation with Papa, she opens up Mack’s inner “garbage can” and drags out the “trash” that is burdening him. She wonders if his difficulty accepting her as Papa is due to the failures of his own Papa. She offers to be “the Papa you never had” (92) but Mack bristles at this and gets to the heart of his trouble: “If you couldn’t take care of Missy, how can I trust you to take care of me?” (92)
Now with the cards on the table, Mack and Papa get to business. She advises him that his healing will take “a bit of time and a lot of relationship” (92). Further, her appearing to him as a woman is to flummox his traditional imagery for God and enable him to more easily interact with her. Mack acknowledges that this unconditional approach had gotten behind his “watchful dragons” and opened him more to her love (94).
Freedom and Love
Their discussion turns to freedom and Papa tells Mack that she is the only source of true freedom and that becoming free is an “incremental process” (95). Further, the Truth that will free him is personal, a person, Jesus. And, thus, freedom comes through a relationship with him (95).
Mack questions how Papa can really know how he feels. In a brilliant move, Young captures the unity of the trinity, by having Papa look solemnly at the scars on her own wrists! (96) She and Sarayu were with Jesus even in his suffering on the cross. Mack can’t comprehend that. After all, Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” a text that seemed to map Mack’s own experience to a tee.
Shockingly, to Mack, Papa denies that this is the case: “I never left him and I have never left you” (96). And she tells him, “When all you can see is your pain, perhaps then you lose sight of me.”
“I’m not who think I am, Mackenzie” (96). And that pinpoints the heart of Mack’s problem. He still tethered to his Goddddd (distant, domineering, demanding, disapproving, and damning) view of God. Here is where Mack’s healing begins.
And it begins by Papa’s reorienting Mack: “You . . . were created to be love. So for you to live as if you were unloved is a limitation” (97).
But, Mack’s problem is he doesn’t feel loved.
Pain, Papa says, has a way of obscuring the truth about us and over time can even make us forget who we really are. Papa affirms that she, as God, can never be other than love. And, after Mack asks where that leaves him, Papa replies, “Smack dab in the center of my love” (98).
She goes on the reorient Mack by critiquing the way many people (Mack included) think about God. We take all the best attributes of humanity, magnify them to the nth degree and call that God. “I’m not merely the best version of you that you can think of. I am far more than that, above and beyond all that you can ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
The philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (19th century) famously propounded this “projection” theory of God. It has had wide influence and continues to be many people’s default way of thinking about God. It always leaves us far short of the true, living, and loving God.
God’s Big Plan
Papa next gives Mack an overview of the big plan she, Jesus, and Sarayu are working out. She tells him human beings are created to share in God’s own triune life. “We created you to share in that. But then Adam chose to go it on his own, as we knew he would, and everything got messed up. But instead of scrapping the whole Creation we rolled up our sleeves and entered into the middle of the mess – that’s what we have done in Jesus” (99).
Next, on Jesus: “Although by nature he is fully God, Jesus is fully human and lives as such. While never losing the innate ability to fly, he chooses moment by moment to remain grounded. That’s why his name is Immanuel, God with us or God with you, to be more precise” (99). Even Jesus’ miracles derive from his dependence on Papa, “living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being . . . That’s how he lives and acts as a true human, how every human is designed to live – out of my life” (100).
Further, she tells Mack that human beings are defined by her intentions for them not by their limitations! This is crucial, I believe. That means we approach others on the basis of who they are (royal priests created in God’s image, Genesis 1-2) rather than who they have become (sinners, Genesis 3- Revelation 20). The good news of the gospel is that God has restored us to who we are not simply that he has forgiven who we had become. This is what Papa wants Mack to know, and something each of us need to know and embrace ever more deeply!
Mack then questions why God needs to be triune (101). A question many people have, right? Papa’s answer is as simple as it is profound. If we lived in a world without a triune God, we would live in a world without love and relationship. She continues: “All love and relationship is possible for you only because it already exists within me, within God myself . . . I am love” (101, author’s emphasis).
“You do understand . . . that unless I had an object to love – or, more accurately, a someone to love – if I did not have such a relationship within myself, then I would not be capable of love at all? You would have a god who could not love. Or maybe worse, you would have a god who, when he chose, could only love as a limitation of his nature. That kind of god could possibly act without love, and that would be a disaster. And that, is surely not me” (102, author’s emphasis).
Confused and disoriented by all this, Mack struggles to regain his equilibrium. Finally, he tells Papa that he was so sorry Jesus had to die. “I know you are, and thank you. But you need to know that we aren’t sorry at all. It was worth it” (103). And Jesus, who had wandered in, adds “And I would have done it even if it were only for you, but it wasn’t.”
Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. It works out to 3.14159265358979323846 . . . and the numerals go on forever without repeating. Young’s title for this chapter, you remember, is “A Piece of Pi.” This infinitely ongoing but never repeating is called an “irrational” number (that is, one that cannot be fully represented within the current rationality of mathematics).
The “piece of ϖ” that Mack experiences in this chapter is that God (Papa, Jesus, Sarayu) is love and relationship – and that is the mystery (the ϖ) of the Trinity. We can never understand or explain it, though we can describe it because God has made it known to us. But we can experience it, and experiencing it is definitional for who we are and what we are to be about in the world.
What stands in the way of our experiencing the living and triune God? In this chapter of The Shack we learn that our corrupt default understanding of Goddddd and a failure to grasp the crucial truths of the trinity that stand in the way.
In the next chapter we turn to look more at Jesus.