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The Shack

I thought I could avoid this little chat altogether until I read Katherine Jeffrey’s review of The Shack in Books & Culture, January/February 2010.  You can read it here.

Jeffrey was brief and fair on the literary merit of The Shack.  The book is not beautifully written, but then the message is not in the stitching together of words; it’s in the story, the experience, the newness of the narrator’s experience.

Jeffrey is slightly appalled that The Shack can be placed next to Pilgrim’s Progress on book shelves and credits that mistake to Eugene Peterson’s endorsement of The Shack as a Pilgrim’s Progress for our time.  [For those of you who don’t know, Peterson is a well-known Christian author, best known for The Message, his translation of the Bible for today’s readers.]

She goes on to say that “where Bunyan [author of Pilgrim’s Progress] counters what he sees as false religion with sincere ‘biblical’ faith, Young [author of The Shack]…identifies the Bible itself with the religion that has traumatized him.”

Let’s stop right there.  It’s important that we see this distinction, because many reviewers have written about it.

My beef with such a review is that it’s not taking into account why Young might be changing the message.  Might it be that many of us (including him) have been hurt by the Bible…and its multiple misinterpretations?  By people who have been quoting Scripture to us as they’re doing their dastardly deeds? By its message about women (that has been dragged, and I mean dragged, into our culture and mandated by well-meaning pulpiteers…okay I made that last word up, but it fits sometimes, no?)  By its confusing juxtaposition of contradictory commandments?

Here’s the deal.  There’s a reason The Shack has been flying off the shelves.  Readers are desperate to know the God of love.  They’re desperate to know something that isn’t tainted by hypocrisy, greed, pride, or evil (as they have seen and known in their churchgoing experience).

And they’ve found it in The Shack.

I’ll be the first to admit that The Shack didn’t “touch” me like it has other people, but neither did the other bestselling book, The Purpose-Driven Life.  But THAT’S OKAY.  What’s good for me isn’t necessarily good for others.  We’re all at different points in our lifelong journeys, and we all need something different.  [Haven’t you ever reread your favorite book, only to think afterwards, “What on earth did I ever see in that book?”  It was about timing.  You needed it then.]  It doesn’t mean these books aren’t relevant or important; it means that there has been a universal question that’s being dredged up and answered in a satisfying way (to many people).

Some naysayers may think that The Shack’s softening of the Gospel message might lead people away from God.  Really?  Seriously?  Not at all.  I would think that it would drive the reader to figure out, for themselves, if all this is true, if this “new” thing could possibly be real.  It’s about thinking and discussing.  And that’s always a good thing.

[You’ll notice I haven’t outlined the plot for you.  You have to read it for yourself to decide.]

Jeffrey does one last thing, which I think weakens her arguments.  She tells us that Milton in Paradise Lost was already treading thin ice by imagining the throne room of heaven (and Young is doing the same thing by personifying the Godhead), and she quotes A. W. Tozer (another famous Christian author), as if to offer up iron-clad proof that this is a bad thing.  Here’s Tozer’s quote: “It is a real if understandable error to conceive of the Persons of the Godhead as conferring with one another and reaching agreement by interchange of thought as humans do.  It has always seemed to me that Milton introduces an element of weakness into…Paradise Lost when he presents the Persons of the Godhead conversing with each other about the redemption of the human race.”  [The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 30]

What?

Tozer knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Godhead doesn’t converse with each other?  How exactly does he know this?  And why is it a bad thing to imagine God’s side of the story?  We might get it wrong, but at least we’re trying to “see” both sides.  You can’t tell me all those Hebrew scribes and storytellers were there, in person when all those things happened.  [Case in point: God talking to Satan about Job?]

Young may have given us an nontraditional look at God, but I think that’s a good thing.  The more jolting and jarring of our precious and tightly held beliefs, the better, in my opinion.

You might just see God in a different light.  And that goes for losing Him as well.  You’re on a journey.  It takes time.  It takes effort.  It takes observation and weighing of facts you do know.  Sometimes it takes a lifetime…and then some.

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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