Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Visiting "The Shack"

Finding God's Love in The Shack

I recently saw the movie based on the bestselling book “The Shack” (Windblown Media, 2007) by William P. Young. I confess that I did not finish the book when I first bought it back in 2007. At that time, the themes and storyline just didn’t resonate with me. But it is now 10 years later, and I am 10 years older.

If you are interested in pulling the characters apart theologically, you can go online and find all sorts of heretical accusations. But since it was not meant to be a documentary on systematic theology, I would like to tell you what I liked about it, and what I did find to be theologically sound, because there is much to commend it. As always, though, you see what you look for.

The ‘shack’ is a real building in the story, but it is a metaphor for our inner-life where we carry our secrets and our pain. The main character, Mack, personifies the problem of pain that many people suffer from as they wrestle with the “why?” of tragic events and the “great sadness” that follows. The movie quickly takes you to the heart of that struggle and the conclusion often rushed to, that God is not good -- and furthermore, he is to blame.

In my opinion, the movie did a good job of contradicting a popular and powerful assumption that God is indeed very mad at us humans and really doesn’t like us very much – an image of God that evolved from very poor Bible teaching.

In its place, the movie introduces the main character (Mack) who has suffered an unspeakable loss, to an ever-present, loving God -- who is at first shockingly portrayed as a black woman (Actress Octavia Spencer), but for a very good reason, that was easy to understand. He then encounters the relentless affection of Jesus as an understanding and loving “friend” (John 15:15), followed by the Holy Spirit (depicted as an Asian woman) who helps him tend a wild and beautiful garden that represents his life. Together, they help Mack to understand that God did not cause his tragic circumstances, but is there to hold him lovingly through his pain, and ultimately free him from its stronghold on his life.

The storyline is very much about the power of relationship – among the members of the Trinity itself, and the relationship of each member of the Trinity to us as individuals, and the unique ways God meets us in our need. Two scenes that depicted this beautifully were (1) The Holy Spirit character catching Mack’s tears and saving them in a bottle (Psalm 56:8: "You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottlYou have recorded each one in your book.") and (2) God and the Holy Spirit dancing joyfully together (Zephaniah 3:17: "...He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”)

As tempting as it might be to criticize the method and portrayal of God’s goodness and love for us in Young’s fictional story, I encourage you to see the movie with an open mind and an open heart tilted toward the non-believer’s barriers to faith.

I’m just saying … If even one person leaves the theater more open to the truth of God’s unfailing and costly love for us, then perhaps Hollywood did OK. It may not be perfect -- but nonetheless, encouraging for many who carry a “great sadness” and believe the lie that God doesn't care. 

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you, 
 in his love he will no longer rebuke you, 
 but will rejoice over you with singing.

 I have a song for everything: "The Song of My Father" by Urban Rescue; "Amazed" by Phillips, Craig & Dean

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