Many have undertaken to write their own reviews of Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack. Most of the ones we have read are negative – issuing dire warnings against what they perceive to be a heretical, unbiblical story. We see it with different eyes; and though we know we will upset some people by saying so, we want to share a few reasons why we love and recommend both the movie and especially the book. Let us say up front that we are neither providing a thorough review of every theological point in the book; nor writing a response to the accusations of those who oppose the story.1 We also want to be clear that we are not expecting that you will agree with us (or with the authors of the book). If you have questions about the theology of the book/movie, find answers – informed answers. Then use your discernment and arrive at your own conclusions, but graciously let people think for themselves and have their own opinions.
The overarching theme of relationship: This is the story of Mack, a man who, like many of us, has experienced deep trauma and unexplainable pain in his life. Because of his pain, he is distanced from God. But it is also the story of God, who longs for relationship with His children. It is the story of a Father who extends an invitation to Mack to be restored in relationship with Him (an envelope shows up in Mack’s mailbox). Jesus expresses the Father’s heart when He prays “…for those who will believe in me … that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20-23).
The overarching theme of wholeness: This is the story of a broken man who has forgotten how to love. He is so concerned for his own pain that he has turned completely inward in self-protection and self-preservation. But it is the story of God, who reaches out and invites him on a journey of wholeness – where his feelings are validated; his questions are answered; his judgmental attitude is corrected; and his heart gets mended. As a result, Mack is freed from himself and in this newfound wholeness he is free to love extravagantly, to live with gratitude and inexpressible joy. This is what John tells us about the Father’s heart: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). (The word “saved” is translated from the original sōzō (grk), which entails salvation, healing, restoration, preservation, wholeness).
The overarching theme of forgiveness: This is the story of a man whose heart is bound up in unforgiveness. It is eating him up and affecting his whole life. Mack’s life is a picture of the unforgiving servant who is being tormented (Matthew 18:21-25). But it is the story of God, who steps into the picture to help Mack process his pain and to give him the strength to forgive and receive healing. It is a picture of how God can take our brokenness and make something beautiful out of it if we have the courage to trust Him and obey, even when it is painful. In the book version, God says to Mack, “Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation. And sometimes – and this may seem incomprehensible to you right now – that road may even take you to the miracle of fully restored trust.”
Other Salient Themes
Now here are some of my favorite lines/scenes from the book (which are slightly modified in the theatrical version without losing their meaning).
1. God’s Holiness: “I’m not merely the best version of you that you can think of. I am far more than that, above and beyond all you can ask or think.” This is consistent with Isaiah 55:9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” A key aspect of God’s holiness is that He is different from creation; He is beyond the world he created.
2. The Trinity: “All love and relationship is possible for you only because it already exists within me within God myself. Love is not the limitation; love is the flying. I am love.” John says it clearly: “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:8, 16). The relationality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is foundational to the doctrine of the Trinity.
3. God’s Design for Us: “Humans are not defined by their limitations, but by the intentions that I have for them; not by what they seem to be, but by everything it means to be created in my image.” The Bible is clear that God has created us, in His image, with a purpose (Genesis 1:26-31). David declares in Psalm 139 that God has intentions for us. God says it of specific people in Isaiah (44:2, 24; 49:5) and Jeremiah (1:5), so it can be inferred that this applies to all of us. Jesus sets us free from our limitations so we can experience abundant life.
4. Good and Evil: “You must give up your right to decide what is good and evil in your own terms. That is a hard pill to swallow; choosing only to live in me. To do that you must know me enough to trust me and learn to rest in my inherent goodness.” This points to the original sin, where Adam and Eve chose to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3:1-7); but God teaches us in Proverbs that the antithesis is to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). When we are tempted to think that God is the one causing the evil we see in our world, we do well to listen to Jesus who tells us, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11) and “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18).
5. Judgment and Redemption. In the judgment scene “Wisdom” asks Mack to be the judge of the world. In doing so, Wisdom exposes the folly of man in contrast with the heart of God that seeks to redeem and restore all who are lost: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In the movie the Father speaks of an evil man and expresses His desire (but no guarantee) that he be redeemed. This is consistent with Peter’s statement that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The Bible is clear that Jesus’s forgiveness is extended to all humanity; but we have a choice as to receive or reject His gift (John 1:12).
6. Pain and Suffering: “Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” God never promised us a pain-free life. In fact, Jesus says that “In the world you will have tribulation;” but He also promises that amid trials we can take heart because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). Many of us can testify that God can (and does) work amazing good from tragedy; but we must not allow that to confuse us. Jesus is very clear when He says that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). He shows us that He is the Good Shepherd who lays His life down for the sheep; not the thief that comes to do harm. Likewise, Peter shows us who initiates the suffering, and what God does about it: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour … the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:8-10).
7. Fear: “Do you realize that your imagination of the future, which is almost always dictated by fear of some kind, rarely, if ever, pictures me there with you?” The most frequent commandment in the Bible is “Fear not.” But this is not a request that we choose not to fear; but an encouragement that we can face whatever trials make come because He is with us. Deuteronomy 31:8 is one of the many instances where God says something to the effect of, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” So, Jesus declares, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). This is good news.
The conclusion of the matter:
In the words of our dear professor, Dr. Wess Pinkham, The journey toward wholeness starts with a whole relationship with the Heavenly Father, where we see our Heavenly Father as healthy, loving, forgiving, and accepting of who we are right now. An intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father is the only way to be whole.2 This is what the beautiful story of The Shack depicts. If you insist on knowing God as angry, punishing and judgmental, our advice is that you don’t read the book or watch the movie; it will upset you. But if you are open to seeing what it means to be made whole in the loving arms of the Triune God, you will not be disappointed.
1 For a thorough response by one of the authors of The Shack see Wayne Jacobsen’s “Who’s Afraid of The Big, Bad Shack?” at http://www.lifestream.org/whos-afraid-big-bad-shack. For a look at the theological underpinnings of The Shack, see C. Baxter Kruger, The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going On Here than You Ever Dared to Dream (FaithWords, 2012).
2 Chris Waters and Wess Pinkham. Finding Closure to the Pains from the Past (Lookout Mountain, TN: Journeys to the Heart, Inc., 2006), 18.
Dr. Kerry Wood and Dr. Chiqui Polo-Wood | All Rights Reserved 2017