Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Shack

My mother recently asked me what I thought of The Shack.
The Christian novel by William P. Young has sold over 5 million copies and spent 35 weeks at number one on the New York Times bestseller list.
I related a few second-hand criticisms and then told her I hadn't read it. The popularity of the book was enough to disparage it in my estimation.
But, on second thought, I decided to read it. I was prepared to come away with a laundry list of what is wrong with the reading public.
But, although I take some definite issue with the man's theology, I think the book's popularity says more about the pain that is out there than it does the lack of depth that is out there.
Perhaps it was exactly my expectations that served to give me a better look at the book.
If I honestly believed that Michael W. Smith (very talented musician and composer), Kathie Lee Gifford, and Wynona Judd were credible blurbers, I would have been bitterly disappointed.
But having also been forewarned by critics of his violent misuse of theology, I found a few pages in between the awful ones that were surprisingly profound, startlingly frank and even deep.
Let's deal with some of the awful ones; his depiction of the Holy Trinity.
God the Father is a large black woman named Papa. God the Son is a Jewish man in a plaid shirt and jeans. Perhaps even more cringe-inducing is his attempt to incarnate the Holy Spirit; a female Asian gardener.
To be fair, Young is not saying that God is female. He is saying that He is not male, in the very mortal sense. Young is not saying that God is black, Jewish or Asian. He is saying that He is not white.
But, why people keep insisting on correcting the idea that God is a white man, I don't know.
Because I don't know of anyone who thinks that God is a white man.
More awful; the ill-advised attempt to parlay the relationship between the members of the Trinity into a happy, funny multicultural laugh fest.
Apparently, some of us are still hung up on religious stereotypes, because Young spends an inordinate amount of time getting us unhooked from those arcane delusions.
The author obviously also has trouble keeping the lid on his dislike of organized religion.
Considering all there is to dislike about the book, it is even more disconcerting to stumble into a few two or three page long chasms, where there is only the problem of pain and the fact of God and no positive thinking rickety rope bridges to offer you a chance to escape plumbing the depths of the question.
It is in these pages where Young shines.
Like the page where Mack finally erupts and spews the volcanic bitterness that has been boiling in his soul since the disappearance of his daughter.
Why couldn't you take care of my daughter?
God's answer?
Mack, you don't have the right to demand that I allow no harm to befall your family.
There is communicated the idea that we have set up in our minds what we feel we should be entitled to, such as a world without severe pain or a world where little girls are not kidnapped and assaulted.
And the anger that builds at God, the Divine Interloper, the hunting Hound of Heaven is simply the result of viewing our lives within these measures of fairness that we have established.
It is a brutal answer, but in the end the only one that satisfies.
Obviously, entirely within the limitations of our own minds, we would never be able to completely reconcile the pain of a child or the pain of anyone with an all-seeing, all-powerful, fiercely protective God.
But in the end, it seems that Young may remember what God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, that we are finite, that He is infinite, and that our only option is to latch on to what we know of God; His love, boundless and bottomless, and hold on for the ride.
I can't really recommend the book, based on his metaphorical and analogous nonsense, which might be what Chuck Colson was referring to when he criticized Young's "low view of Scripture", his attempt to flesh out the Holy Trinity, which, believe it or not, Mark Driscoll calls "graven imagery" and his occasional outright irreverence, which R. Albert Mohler calls "undiluted heresy."
But, having read it, I can see the appeal of a few select passages in the book. And there is an honesty in those few pages that I suspect God, (not Papa) smiles upon.


Charity said...

Very interesting. I had heard a lot of negative about this book as well. (And still haven't read it.) It seems to be a very polarizing book - people either love it or hate it. I too would have a hard time with a book that portrays God as human, although I know it is meant to be somewhat of an allegory.

Thanks for the review!

Mom said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I think I'll let your review suffice for actually reading the book. :-)

wncjr said...

Next blog please!

Jennifer said...

I'm with mom.