( Note: This article must be broken up into two. One for SPOKE, and one for The Grand Book) The reason is they serve two distinct purposes that require diligence to stay very close to primary goals. If you wonder what those are…read “about” statements at both sites).
My eldest son emailed me and suggested I read The Shack and then we discuss it. He is smart, a strong believer and Jesus lover. The last time we visited in SoCal he schooled me real good on my cynicism and preoccupation with politics. He wanted to know simply “where is the love of Jesus in that?’
He was right and I told him so.
He just finished The Shack last week and wanted me to read it so we could discuss. I am over halfway through. On purpose I have read no other reviews or listened to various pastors and their critiques.
Why? Well first of all it is a piece of fiction. I have seen too many non-controversies born out of books that were “theological what-ifs?” I remember well the controversy over The Last Temptation of Christ, based on a novel (fiction) by Nikos Kazantzakis. It was a dumb controversy to begin with the Church at large missed the opportunity to dialog with those who went to see it. Their reaction was fear-based, not faith based.
Well half way through I can assume that many are up in arms over the Trinity being portrayed as a Black woman called “Papa”, Jesus, and an Asian woman named Sarayu who is the Holy Spirit.
Well first, when was the last time anybody had any kind of discussion about the nature of the Trinity anyway? In church or out?
Second, I have not finished the book. And it costs us nothing to remain open and see where an author wants to take us in his story. One of the things fiction is supposed to do is “stretch us” and give us different ways of seeing things. Nowhere (usually) is it claimed to be some kind of Ultimate Truth.
So where is the SPOKE (Christocentric) part?
Well in a wickedly fun take off on C.S. Lewis’ God in the Dock (God on Trial), in the chapter called “God on the Dock”, Mack and Jesus go out to the dock by the shack and lay back on it to look up at the stars and talk.
“Incredible!” whispered Jesus, his head near Mack’s in the darkness. “I never get tired of this.”
“Even though you created it? Mack asked.
“I created it as the Word, before the Word became flesh. So even though I created this, I see it now as a human. And I must say, it is impressive!”
“It certainly is.” Mack was not sure how to describe what he felt, but as they continued to lie in silence, gazing in the celestial display, watching and listening, he knew in his heart that this too was holy.
This is just one example among many. From there a conversation ensues where Jesus attempts to explain how the Trinity “works” or at least functions relationally. There is also a fun discussion about Jesus’ “looks”. Mack expected him to be more “handsome” (he is not).
What I think Young (the author) has keyed into is not theological statements or ideas so much as how we feel about God and our desire for God in our life in a loving and safe way. I have long held, from thousands of open and honest conversations, that people do not so much disbelieve in God’s existence as much as they disbelieve in God’s goodness and intentions.
I have heard many say “I just cannot believe in a God who…” And I would have to agree in most cases, or at least I might believe that God existed, but would want to steer clear as much as possible from such a “God”.
But laying that aside, wouldn’t we all like to lay back on a dock with the Incarnate One and talk, or not talk…just be?
While this novel is ostensibly about Mackenzie’s pain and great sadness over the murder of his young daughter, as it progresses it is more and more about God’s possible viewpoint.
I am willing to wager your hard cash that the issue of death, and suffering, will be core later on. I already have a “God’s eye” perspective gleaned from scripture (which I personally believe to be inspired, many do not) and perhaps explained best by sociologist Peter Berger who said in 1963 that “given the resurrection, nothing is ultimately tragic.” (The Precarious Vision). My culturally-accommodated version is that, given the resurrection we are all a bit like Wylie Coyote. Sure..fall off a cliff and go “poof” but there you are in the next scene. If the resurrection of Jesus is true, and His promise of that for us is true, then nothing is ultimately tragic. All is redeemed in grace and love…eventually (reminded of Anne Lamott’s book Grace…Eventually.)
Last night I read a bit more of the book, then turned out the light. Laying there alone I did not feel alone. So I struck up an inside-my-head conversation about “things” with Jesus. I have to say the nicest part was the sense that Jesus was listening. He has already SPOKEN declaratively on major issues if you care to listen. It’s in the public record, as well as His actions. No, I simply wanted to lay there, like Mack did on the dock, feeling the Incarnate One near.