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you’ve clicked a link to the most clicked-on link of my blog; welcome. however, four out of five people surveyed, with nothing better to do with their lives than search the internet’s four billion navel-gaving blogs, said that my navel, more than any other, has the most lint. obviously, with that information, you’ll want to check out other content here. i’m almost sure of it…
i can’t believe i’m starting another book review the day after finishing my love-is-a-many-chaptered-thing review of The Reason for God. but here i am, baby – signed, sealed, delivered…
the book of interest this go-round is William Young’s The Shack, published in 2007 by Windblown Media. it is a book that has had no small amount of attention within the Christian reading community. most readers are affected positvely by the story, but then split into two camps based upon the way the book handles a number of theological questions.
and, make no mistake about it: while The Shack is a work of fiction, it’s real raison d’etre is to shine light on questions of God and things of a spiritual nature. however, while the book is obviously written with a certain agenda, it only occasionally tries to disparage any opposing views. instead, it chooses to put out answers and ideas for certain theological questions we’ve all wrestled with and let the reader decide their validity himself.
the story centers on a man named Mack (short for Mackenzie). while taking his kids on a camping trip one weekend – about four years prior to the time setting for the bulk of the book – an accident occurs involving two of his kids, who capsize a canoe in a lake. Mack sees it happen and rushes to the lake, and is able to use his lifesaving skills to rescue his trapped son and pull him to safety. Mack and the gathered crowd are understandably relieved and very grateful for his timely action and the rescue of both kids.
meanwhile, back at the ranch … another of Mack’s kids is meeting a crueler fate. Missy, who Mack had left coloring at a picnic table as he rushed to the lake, is abducted by a guy we ultimately learn has the moniker “Little Ladykiller.” he has repeatedly abducted small girls at various parks and campgrounds – and none of the girls has ever been found alive. his calling card is a little ladybug pin that he always leaves at the scene of the abduction, adding an additional dot to the back of the ladybug each time he takes another young girl.
Missy winds up being the fifth dot. bloody stains are found at an old shack (hence, the title) well off all park trails.
after this horrible incident, Mack develops inward anger towards God – “how could you let this happen?!” – and himself – “it’s my fault – i left her there alone.” Mack ultimately names this dark, angry world he inhabits The Great Sadness, and it sucks the life out of him for nearly four years.
the story in the more recent present – and the timeframe in which the majority of the book takes place – begins when Mack, iced in alone at his home during a winter storm, takes on the elements to retrieve the daily mail. the only item in the box is a typewritten note that reads,
It’s been awhile. I’ve missed you.
I’ll be back at the shack next weekend if you want to get together.
‘Papa’ is the name that Nan, Mack’s wife, uses to refer to God. because Mack could never live with himself if he didn’t go as the note requests, he borrows a friend’s SUV and heads back to the scene of the crime for the weekend. he figures that, if the note turns out to be from Missy’s killer, he will at least get an opportunity to settle the score.
and, if the note turns out to be from God, Mack has more than a few things he wants to say to Him.
Mack leaves on Friday and retraces the weekend camping trip route, and arrives to find the shack much as he left it, complete with Missy’s blood stains. of course, God is nowhere in sight, so Mack goes into a rage inside the old shack, screaming at God and attempting to break anything he can get his hands on. slumping against a wall, he ponders suicide while holding the pistol he brought along with him. deciding against this solution, he drifts off to sleep. awakening a few minutes later, and realizing that he still is alone, he tells God that he’s through with Him, and heads back through the snow to his car.
on his way back up the hill to where he left the SUV, Mack encounters God, though not in a way he expects. a rush of wind overtakes him, and Mack watches as the wintry landscape is melted away and replaced by a vibrant, colorful spring, with flowers, birds, grass, incredible smells and even more incredible beauty. heading back to the shack, Mack sees that it has been transformed into a cozy cabin, complete with a fireplace from which is coming a peaceful, steady plume of smoke.
Mack walks to the cabin door. reaching up to knock, he is startled as the door swings open, and standing there to meet Mack is none other than Papa himself.
Papa, at least in this initial incarnation, is a large, lively, smiling…
Mack, obviously, is taken aback, but soon learns that Papa has a name – Elousia – and is none other than the Father of the Trinity. and in the course of the next few minutes, Mack meets Jesus – an unassuming, rather homely but muscular carpenter with a big jewish nose, arm scars, and a toolbelt; and the Holy Spirit, a somewhat transparent, Asian-looking figure named Sarayu.
on queue, Jesus grabs the OT scrolls, Papa grabs His Gideon’s pocket NT, a dusty Strong’s Concordance and what looks like a well-read copy of Conversations with Me, and Sarayu flitters about ready to provide guidance as the four of them discuss Reformed theology and how the resurgence of Calvinism in Baptist churches is a sure sign that the end times are coming.
ok, not really.
what happens over the course of the book are little scenes where Mack meets with one or more of his Guests, faces the loss of Missy, heals the relationship with his own father, forgives Missy’s killer, finds her body (with Papa’s help), gives her a proper burial, and gets a glimpse of what a restored creation will look like. the conversations cover many questions that the reader will likely find himself wanting to ask just as they are addressed by the three Characters of God. Mack’s eyes are opened to Who God really is, and he is able to cast off The Great Sadness and head back to the real world as the weekend comes to a close.
one final twist awaits. as he is driving home, Mack is hit by a drunk driver. the SUV is totalled, and Mack winds up in a coma for four days. when he comes to, he can only remember bits and pieces of his time with God. further, he learns that the accident happened on Friday – the day he left home to drive up to the shack – and not on Sunday, the day Mack believed he was driving back home. slowly, however, his memory comes back, and he returns to his “normal” life a changed man.
that’s the story, and i’m sticking to it.
in part two of this review, i’ll dig into the theology that Papa, Jesus and Sarayu lay out for Mack.
links to opposing viewpoints:
tim challies’ The Shack: Unauthorized Theological Critique (2 stars at amazon.com)