The Shack: So God Looks Like A Lady. What's the Ruckus?
I finally broke down and read The Shack by William P. Young--since I was starting to feel like one of the three people in the world who hadn’t (if you are one of the other two, don’t feel bad). The Shack is one of those books that just sort of takes on a life of it’s own. Predominantly by word of mouth at first, and then through something that can only be called a phenomenon, millions of copies have been sold and countless people have both read and reflected upon it. Young recently confessed at a workshop that he had received requests for signed copies from, actors like Angela Bassett and Denzel Washington, President Barack Obama and His Holiness Pope Benedict.
What started as a book that dealt with the problem of evil in the world, and prompted by his own experiences with sexual abuse, grief and infidelity, quickly became a parable that presents a decidedly different understanding of Providence and the work of the Trinity in Creation. Young created a story where all of his questions about God were stuffed into a shack--a place that became a metaphor for all of the dark and lonely places that are hidden within us all.
The dust jacket reads, “Mackenzie Allen Philip’s youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later, in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to the shack for a weekend. Against his better judgement, he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s life forever.”
It has been hailed by many critics as an important theo-fictional work that even esteemed Christian authors like Eugene Peterson have characterized as being as influential as Pilgrim’s Progress. Young receives hundreds of emails and letters a day from people who have been impacted by his book. Not all of the reflections have been positive, however. Young has been accused of being a heretic, a liberal, unorthodox, unScriputural, not a Christian, used by the Devil and all sorts of pleasant things. And those are the things that Christians have called him. Mark Driscoll, pastor of the neo-conservative Mars Hill Church (a mega church in Seattle) told his congregation, “if you haven’t read The Shack, don’t!” Albert Mohler, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary called it “deeply subversive,” and “scripturally incorrect.”
The most controversial element of Young’s book is his depiction of the Trinity (God the Father appears as a large African-American woman, Jesus as a Middle Eastern man who wears work clothes and the Holy Spirit as a small Asian woman named Sarayu, a Hindi word that means “breath”). While critics have attacked other aspects of the book, most of their criticisms begin and end with Young’s decision to use female, as well as male imagery when depicting God.
Rather than listen to other people talk about The Shack, or to take the advice of religious leaders who seem to believe that if you are a Christian you should only read the books that they approve, I decided to read it for myself.
To begin, I have to be transparent. I don’t have any issues with Young’s use of female imagery for God. There are plenty of moments in Scripture where God is identified by using female images--the most emphatic is that God created both male and female in God’s image. I am also aware that there are plenty of people who have been abused or terrorized by their fathers, who have a very difficult time identifying with God in male terms. While my own understanding of God is most often as a father, I can completely understand how others might not be able to share that understanding, but I know how important it is that they find the peace to do so, if possible. It’s interesting that one of the things that often gets lost on the critics of The Shack is the fact that Young’s main character does come to grips with his inability to call God, “Daddy,” and healing is allowed to take place.
Some critics have also accused Young of being a pluralist--the kind of person who believes that there are many roads to God, and it doesn’t really matter which one you pick. These accusations stem from dialogue that takes place between Jesus and Mack, the main character of the story. Jesus states, “Those who love me come from every system that exists,” and then goes on to enumerate a number of different religious, political and racial variations that exist in the world. The critics don’t usually quote what comes next when Mack asks, “Does that mean that all roads will lead to you?” and Jesus replies, “Not at all. Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.” Young spoke about this, and related it directly to the parable of the Lost Sheep that the Shepherd left the 99 to find.
Aside from being an engaging book, The Shack is also a thought-provoking theological treatise from a man (Young) who has been “through hell,” and who was able to wrestle with his faith, his doubts and fears and with God’s help came through the other side. The truth of the matter is that each of us has a shack of our own where we store our sadness. Each of us wrestles with wondering where God is in the midst of our loneliness and pain. I believe that The Shack is the kind of book that gives people the freedom to address these issues and to begin to speak and think about their own relationship with God in different, and perhaps more constructive ways.
But don’t take my word for it. Read it for yourself!