Saturday, December 20, 2008
The Shack is a novel by William P. Young that tells the story of a heartbroken father's attempt to come to terms with the murder of his young daughter. It is also a Christian morality tale. Mack, the father, receives a handwritten note from "Papa" inviting him to go back to the shack in the woods where his daughter was murdered. When he gets there, he has an encounter with three Beings who are, well.... God. A number of interesting conversations take place among the four of them, and Mack returns to his normal life a changed man.
It's an interesting book. It brought up for me many of the same visceral reactions I had to Blue Like Jazz, which I reviewed awhile ago. But many people whom I care very much about have been moved by The Shack, and the person who recommended that I read it is very dear to me. So I am trying not to see it through the eyes of my cynicism. It would be easy to rip it apart. So easy. But on the other hand, there is a great deal of wisdom in his re-imagining of God, and I don't want to dismiss it lightly.
There were a number of books published in the eighties, or maybe early nineties, where a Christian author set up a hypothetical debate between various different famous Christian and secular figures, mostly historical. The historical figures would debate an issue, and of course, the Christian character always ended up trouncing the secular character. They were entirely irritating to read, because of course it is easy to win an argument when you are setting it up, putting words into the mouths of the people you disagree with, and then skewering them. I can win an argument like that, too. But they were very popular among a certain crowd.
The Shack reminded me of this a bit. It is less irritating than they were, because it is clearly fiction. Within the story, the author does his best to set it up as being a factual occurrence, but it is marketed as fiction, and labeled as fiction. No one is trying to say that Mack's weekend at the shack really happened. And it's a good thing, because that's the only way the story works: as an author's imagining of what it would be like to be able to confront God with your deepest pain, your most difficult questions. And then to imagine how God would respond. Young's vision is compelling in many ways. He points out, as does the author of the book of Job and many others since, that God is far more vast than our tiny human brains can comprehend, and that what seems painful and difficult to us may be part of something larger that is beyond our comprehension. But he does it in the context of a story that makes it particularly accessible to someone who has similar questions. I imagine there are a lot of people who have found a great deal of healing through reading this book.
But the fact remains that of all the multitudes of human beings who have had their hearts broken, not a single one has received a handwritten note from God inviting them to a weekend of direct interaction with the Almighty, much as they might wish, pray and even beg for the opportunity. And although there's little in the book that I flat out disagree with (since it's fiction, after all-- it's hard to disagree when all the author is saying is "This is what I imagine it would be like to talk directly to God"), there's a great deal that he seems to feel that he has "proven" through this story, when actually he hasn't proven anything at all. He's just shared his ideas of what such a weekend might be like. If you read it from that perspective, it's fascinating, and thought-provoking. I'm glad I read it. It helped me define somethings for myself, but maybe I will save that for the next post, as this one has gone on long enough.