Mackenzie Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon Wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend.
Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever.
(From the publisher’s synopsis)
The internet is chock full of both positive and negative reviews of William P. Yong’s The Shack. I don’t want to add to the noise, but I want to share some of my thoughts and concerns after having read the book just a couple of weeks ago.
My overall opinion of the book is that it was alright. It is not one of the most literarily beautiful works that I have ever read, and I don’t know that I would go so far as to compare it to The Pilgrim’s Progress, but it was not all that bad either. What makes or breaks the book is it’s honest dealing with the issue of where God is when tragedy strikes. Humankind has struggled with the problem of evil for centuries, and The Shack amounts to another attempt to reconcile God’s sovereignty, human responsibility, and human tragedy.
That being said, this book must be read for what it is: allegory. While it is true that Mack is a real person and that the events that Young portrays are events that Mack claims to have personally experienced, it isn’t so much the experience that is the point; it is what he learned from it. And what we can learn from it as well.
When Mack arrives at the shack, and finally comes in contact with God, he is an emotional wreck. The abduction and murder of his daughter by a serial child killer is controlling his life. Add to that his tragic childhood with an alcoholic and abusive father who used religion to control him, and you can see why he doesn’t like God very much. It also explains why God is not at first portrayed as a man, but as a woman. This doesn’t mean that Mack believes that God is a woman. In his vision, God portrays Himself as such to teach Mack about His character. God is compassionate and loving, more like a mother. After all, Mack would never be able to relate to God if He had shown Himself as a father right off the bat; Mack doesn’t know what a real father is and would misunderstand the whole thing.
But this portrayal of God also lends itself to some, I believe, inaccurate theologizing. Papa, the name given to God in the story, claims that He is not upset at His children when they misbehave for He already knew what they would do before they did it. He just let them do it anyway because He won’t inhibit His creature’s freedom of choice. This idea is foreign to the Biblical witness, as all throughout the Old and New Testaments, and even outside of Christianity, God does indeed get upset when His people are disobedient. He calls them to repent of their actions and is not averse to interfering with their freedom. Jonah is a prime example.
Beyond this, though, the theology is fairly sound no matter what your theological perspective may be.
To give too many details regarding the portrayals of the other members of the Trinity would require me to give away some vital plot points, and my intention here is not to give spoilers. So, for more on those either read other reviews or read the book.
As I previously stated, the main point of the book is the problem of evil: why do bad things happen if God is sovereign? The Shack‘s answer is adequate, although I do not believe that we will ever be able to comprehend the dynamics involved. According to Papa (and the rest of the Trinity), bad things happen because people demanded their freedom. In demanding that they be allowed to live free from God’s laws, they were, in essence, saying that they knew better than God what was right. As a result, people do what is right in their own eyes, and, a lot of times, that turns out to be the wrong thing.
But the book does not leave it at that. It offers a solution to the evil in the world, and one of the best calls to faith that I’ve ever read in a modern Christian work. It does not offer a sinner’s prayer or anything of the sort. Rather, it calls on us to surrender our freedom and submit to God. True freedom is found only when we live as God lives, in relationship with Himself. For us, that means that we live in relationship to God.
All in all, the book presents a lot of ideas and alot of truth. It is one of the most thought-provoking pieces of fiction that I have read in a long while. And while it is true that it is simply written, that is what, in my opinion, makes it so powerful. It lays the groundwork for honest reflection, discussion, and study without giving all the answers outright. And for that, Young deserves a round of applause.