Friday, January 16, 2009

the shack


i wrote a couple of days ago about shaq, and here i find myself writing about a different kind of shack. i finished the very popular novel this week, and just thought i would offer my two cents on it, although the world probably doesn't need my two cents as this book has been the center of a great deal of discussion and even controversey. still, just for kicks and grins, and for my own ability to process, i thought i'd give a few reactions.
****spoiler alert: i am making no attempt here to guard the plot in any way, so if you plan on reading the book at some point and don't want to know yet what happens, i would recommend that you not read this.
i wasn't exactly sure what to expect as i began reading the shack, having heard so much hype about it, but what i soon discovered was a captivating story about a man and his pain, after losing his young daughter to a kidnapping and murder. in the places where this book was a story about a man and a family working through their grief, struggling to understand God's role in all of it, and finding ways to make sense of it all, i was deeply moved and couldn't turn the pages fast enough. however, this was not the only aspect of the novel.
mack, the man who has lost his daughter, receives a strange note from "papa," which strangely enough is the name his faith-filled wife uses for God. this note triggers a whole series of events which result in mack literally spending a weekend with God, who is represented in three separate individuals (as in the trinity). this is still story, and compellingly so, but where the book begins to lose a little momentum and some of its vitality, in my opinion, is where it begins to transform into a theology textbook embedded in long sections of dialogue between mack and God. as a reader who was really into the story of this family's journey, i was disappointed by these didactic dead ends, and the somewhat awkward theological prose. in the end, the story returns to center stage, but a great deal of momentum has been lost on the way.
now, as for the theology itself, i have no particular problem with it. again, i was reading the book as a novel, not as a textbook, so i'm sure if i read it differently i might take issue with a few things, but in general, i feel that my theology lines up rather well with the one this book espouses. many have argued that what is presented here is postmodern theology. or process theology. or cheap grace (bonhoeffer). or panentheism. or universalism. and so on and so on, and while it may contain bits and pieces to a lesser or greater degree of all of these, it is basically a theology of relationship, which i strongly resonate with. at the very least (and this is the one part of all the theology stuff that i really loved), it is a theology that isn't afraid to deal with the very difficult and painful parts of life. it is a theology that doesn't always give reasoned answers but is content at times to live with questions.
i've read in various places that this book will fundamentally inspire your relationship with God, challenging you to think differently about your preconceptions of God's character. i've also read that this book is like a wolf in sheep's clothing and that it is a false witness which comes in christ's name and will only serve to separate you from God. for me, i feel that, insofar as it is a story that chronicles one family's journey from despair to hope through the intense pain of loss, it serves as a powerful reminder of God's love for each of us along the way. insofar as it is a treatise on theology, while it may fall quite a bit short, i think it may very well help many folks understand a God who loves them deeply even in the midst of their own pain and guilt and despair. and that, by any account, can only be a good thing.

5 comments:

cathyq said...

Yea, the middle is definitely the controversial and sticky part of the book; however, I have read the book three times, and each time I find it easier to read and discover some interesting aspect of what Mr. Young is saying. Of course this is not the Bible; it is a fictional piece containing one author's ideas about the trinity and how this three-fold God interacts with creation and with Himself/herself. I find it fascinating that so many people see an evil motivation here; all I see is a loving God who wants relationship with all of humanity and is particulary seeking to draw those who are in great pain to this relationship. Theology, Theodicy, Biblical accuracy, etc. just don't mean that much to the average person/reader; most of us are just trying to find purpose and fill that void in our hearts. This book can and has helped people with that. Our church is using this novel as a discussion starter for a Sunday morning class. It has been eye-opening as the participants discuss, laugh, struggle, and share their viewpoints about this short fictional piece of literature. Metaphors abound and lessons are prolific, and I would highly recommend it for any of the "Macks" out there who have had any "Great Sadness" in their lives or who just seek for that intimiate relationship with the One who made us all. Love it!!!!!

Rebecca said...

greg,

i am so glad to read your "review" on this book. it has been on my to read list for quite awhile now, but seems to be getting pushed to the end of the list for a few reasons, two of which are a.) the controversy surrounding it and b.) the delicate subject matter of losing a child...i have to be in a certain frame of mind to read that.

i think i'll move it back to the top of the list! thanks for clarifying a few things for me!

oh, and GO STEELERS! in all caps because it is that important.

Erin said...

greg,
i had the exact same experience reading this book. i read it the first time and got bogged down in the middle, where i literally put it away for a couple weeks, which is very unusual for me. Especially after reading the first 6 or so chapters as quickly as possible. Then, we decided to do a Bible study around it and dig a little deeper into the theology. Keep in mind this is a very small group of 4 women, 2 of which are unchurched. One of them works in a funeral home and one of her biggest hang ups with God is why does he allow senseless tragedy...something she deals with on a daily basis. While this book does not completely answer that question, it did give us a lot of great discussion on the subject and come away with some peace and a few unanswered questions. We had come back to the fact that this was NOT the Bible from time to time, and there were a couple areas where our theology and that put forth in the book does not agree. And that's when we'd remind ourselves this was a novel.
Long story short, i'm not familiar with all the controversy, but my take on it was that it was a very interesting read that provoked good thoughts and made me think about my relationship with God; who God is, how He relates to us. I'd recommend it.
Note: it is a bit tough of a read when you have small children, particularly girls...

NJ Grandma said...

Hi Greg - I agree with everyone else - I was flipping through those pages like I have never flipped and then all of a sudden I had to put the book down for a bit to try and absorb it all. I have finished it and will pick it up again soon and maybe it will go a little more smoothly for me. ~Gail~

julie said...

having read the book during a very sad and difficult time in my life, it was just what i needed to hear. it touched me and God spoke to me through it. the "story" captivated me and i did sense the relationship aspect of the book more than anything else. i recommend it to anyone experiencing loss or grief.