"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Shack

This book has been on the periphery of my awareness for a while now but all I really knew about it was its hype. I have vague memories of it being discussed - or at least referred to - on Facebook and various blogs so when I came across a copy on a church bookshelf and commented to my Beloved that I had been recommended to read it, she leapt straight into action - well into Amazon actually - and ordered me a copy.

This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress did for his. It's that good.
proclaimed the blurb. Fair enough, I thought, I'll give it a go.

I've been teaching a module on Suffering and Evil to Yr 10 students as part of their GCSE for many years now and it is a hard topic, although it is right to attempt it and I enjoy teaching it, so I hoped The Shack might be an aid to this. Sadly I can't afford the finacial cost of buying a class set, nor the time cost in trying to read it with them, but there is much in it that is quoteworthy: my problem now is whether the AQA GCSE RS markers would consider this book as an appropriate source from which to quote. But I'll worry about that on another occasion.

My kids can't cope with Transcendence. I have no problem with it: the otherness, the aboveness and beyondness of God makes perfect sense to me. My pupils, on the other hand, who are mainly unchurched, regularly ask "But Sir, how could one man create a universe?" The Shack is good on Transcendence and on the Trinity for that matter, although the interrelatedness of Papa, Jesus and Sarayu got a bit too lovey-dovey-cloying on occasions for my taste, although that is a minor criticism.

But I run ahead of myself. The key character, Makenzie is suffering The Great Sadness following the abduction and murder of his young daughter Missy and he is angered four years later to receive a note, seemingly from God, to meet with him at the shack in the wilderness where Missy was murdered. He does go, reluctantly, and the rest of the story charts his encounter with the Almighty in all three guises. I had no problem with the presentation of God the Father as a "large, beaming African-American woman" with a tendency to refer to everyone as Honey, although she is referred to throughout as Papa. The representation of God the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman who seemed "almost to shimmer in the light....It seemed almost easier to see her out of the corner of his eye than it was to look at her directly." increased in logic as the story unfolded. Jesus is a Middle Eastern man whose "features were pleasant enough " but " not a man who would stick out in a crowd. But his eyes and smile lit up his face and Mack found it difficult to look away."

I can see problems for the more conservative or Biblical-literalist minded with these representations but I didn't find them unhelpful.

Although it is quite a short book, the story of Mack's ultimate reconcilliation to God, acceptance of his daughter's death and forgiveness of her murderer is too detailed to go into here but I will quote this little section which made me smile:

Mack says to Papa: "I always liked Jesus better than you. He seemed so gracious and you seemed so ..."
"Mean? Sad isn't it? He came to show people who I am and most folks only believe it about him. They still play us off like good cop/bad cop most of the time, especially the religious folk. When they want people to do what they think is right, they need a stern God. When they need forgiveness they run to Jesus."
"Exactly." said Mack with a point of his finger.
"But we are all in him. He reflected my heart exactly."

And a little later: "Are you saying you have no expectations of me?"
Papa now spoke up."Honey, I've never placed an expectation on you or anyone else. The idea behind expectations requires that someone does not know the future or outcome and is trying to control behaviour to get the desired result. Humans try to control behaviour largely through expectations. I know you and everything about you. Why would I have an expectation other than what I already know? That would be foolish. And beyond that, because I have no expectations, you never disappoint me."
"What? You've never been disappointed in me?" Mack was trying hard to digest this.
"Never." said Papa emphatically. "What I do have is a constant and living expectancy in our relationship, and I give you an ability to respond to any situation and circumstance in which you find yourself. To the degree that you resort to expectations and responsibilities, to that degree you neither know me nor trust me."

If you have a copy, read up to P 208 to see the resolution of this little debate.

I hope that gives you a flavour.


  1. I read this until I encountered God as Aunt Jemima. Couldn't get past that. Friends have told me that I really need to go back and finish it but somehow that picture of God just does not sit well with me.

  2. Well I wondered about the reasons behind that and it turned out that it wasn't quite that random. The logic is that Mack had serious issues with his own father and once those are resolved Papa appears to Mck in the form of a man.

  3. A lot of people have recommended The Shack to me, but I've never got around to reading it. After reading this, I'll have a go. Thanks.