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.