I just finished reading The Shack, stayed up most of the night diving into it. No, it’s not C.S. Lewis. It isn’t Dante either. It’s not the kind of picture we can take away from literature and then get so mixed up that we base our theology on it (like Dante and Milton). It’s an expression of one man’s adventure of words. The Shack was just as much a process for the author as it was for the reader, and that’s what makes it deep. There aren’t a lot of moments in the actually writing that take your breath away by writing ability alone. Those moments rather take your breath away because of spacing between the words. I haven’t cried that hard reading a book in a long time. But usually for me, if I cry during a book it’s because I get connected to the character. That’s why when I finally finish a book I feel like a part of me that was alive in the text, died, because the story had to end. But The Shack was different. I put it down and put it away back into the bookcase that seems to have storied in it my soul’s song, and I felt no sadness. And now as I’m processing, I think it’s because The Shack was just one man’s adventure of words, a book of 200 or so pages that attempts to put into syllables encountering the Living God. Papa. Jesus. The Holy Spirit. And the story doesn’t end there. It’s one man’s adventure: what about each of our own?
I think that what Young expresses best is the nature of the Trinity. It was the relationship that God had with itself that brought me to tears often in the book. And how truly they love each other part of the Trinity. Of that, I was awed by Young’s ability to depict, as the thought of the Trinity often leaves me completely speechless. I loved the idea of being trapped in independence, and the true picture of how God redeems all things, and about the true problem of evil in the face of the Lord of lords:
Papa (God): “There are millions of reasons to allow pain and hurt and suffering rather than to eradicate them, but most of these reasons can only be understood within each person’s story. I am not evil. You are the ones who embrace fear and pain and power and rights so readily in your relationships. But your choices are not stronger than my purposes, and I will use every choice you make for the ultimate good and the most loving outcome” (125).
“The real underlying flaw in your life is that you don’t think I am good. If you knew I was good and that everything-the means, the ends, and all the processes of individual lives-is all covered by my goodness, then while you might not always understand what I am doing, you would trust me. But you don’t” (126).
“Evil is a word we use to describe the absence of Good, just as we use darkness to describe the absence of Light or death to describe the absence of Life. Both evil and darkness can only be understood in relation to Light and Good; they do not have an actual existence. I am Light and I am Good. I am Love and there is no darkness in me. Light and Good actually exist. So, removing yourself from me will plunge you into darkness. Declaring independence from me will result in evil because apart from me, you can only draw upon yourself . That is death because you have separated yourself form me: Life” (136).
“You must give up your right to decide what is good and evil on 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” (136).
“This world is not a playground where I keep all my children free from evil. Evil is the chaos of this age that you brought to me, but it will not have the final say. Now it touches everyone that I love, those who follow me and those who don’t. If I take away the consequences of people’s choices, I destroy the possibility of love. Love that is forced is no love at all” (190).
I also appreciated this gentle reminder about the worrying about the future:
Jesus (in the Shack):“It is your desparate attempt to get some control over something you can’t. It is impossible for you to take power over the future because it isn’t even real, nor will it ever be real. You try and play God, imagining the evil that you fear becoming reality, and then you try and make plans and contingencies to avoid what you fear” (142).
I know The Shack has stirred up some mud in the evangelical church’s pretty pristine pool of clarity and divinely granted pompousness (ha!), but like I said before: this isn’t a text that is meant to be placed in the pews next to the Word of God. And if people think that’s how it should be, they are just as wrong as those who declare The Shack is of Satan (or some such silliness). While there are points in the text that I disagree with, that is what makes literature literature. If writing meant pieces of flat paper stacked on top of each other and eyes simply scanned the letters and sounded out the words, I would never pick up a pen or write again.
But if writing is an exchange of ideas, a discussion between minds and hearts and souls and songs, between the author and the reader and the inspiration that began the adventure of words, then I live to write, and I write to live. We have either forgotten how to live or forgotten how to die, and our lives have never been an almost true story, but they have been written by the Author of all living things. Consider our own stories, a breathing and alive novel, each one a work of unbelievable fiction that somehow is made true, made real. I think we regard ourselves too seriously, too often.
Could you imagine what it would be like read our wacky and scary and alive moments in some kind of bound book? And what if in the book, wasn’t just transcribed the sights we have seen or the words we have heard, but also the living mess of our noticed and hidden encounters with our Abba, with our Savior, with the Spirit that indwells us. What an adventure of words that would be! I wonder what our primary emotion would be reading, if their could even be a primary emotion. I wonder if we put those books on the shelves of pastors and theologians and scholars, if those stories would be disregarded, disgusted, rejected, torn apart, or thrown away. I know The Shack isn’t a true story, but the reaction of ‘intelligent’ people to the words, makes me wonder what would happen.
I could imagine God cherishing these books, being ‘especially fond’ of each one, and watching them be ripped apart by our hands, well, it probably pains Him to the core. We so desire to be the Number 1 book on His booklist! Can’t we understand that we are beloved and we are read inside and out, we are known as if God had spent His entire existence studying that one book?! There is an awesome quote in the Shack that reads:
Papa: “The problem is that many folks try to grasp some sense of who I am by taking the best version of themselves, projecting that to the nth degree, factoring in all the goodness they can perceive, which often isn’t much, and then call that God. And while it may seem like a noble effort, it falls pitifully short of who I really am. I’m not merely the best version of you that you can think of. I am far more than that, above and beyond all that you can ask or think” (98).
I wish that we could at least find a little truth in the promise that “if anything matters than everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will ever be the same again” (235). As Buechner puts it, “the grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”