some thots after a week in the shack
when i first began to hear about william paul young and the groundswell of people buying his book and talking about it i was pretty sure i would never read it. im not much for the next best thing. ive still not read the purpose driven life or any of the left behind books. but after hearing all the fuss about it from certain segments of christianity and being warned that i shouldnt read such a book i went to check it out at my local bookseller.
before i made the purchase i had a short but interesting discussion about the book with the two ladies who run the place. without giving anything away they told me that people have been buying this book in quantity to give away which intrigued me as i am the kind of person who is apt to do exactly that if i find a book compelling and worth reading. ive done so with several books including donald millers blue like jazz as well as rob bells velvet elvis and don everts jesus with dirty feet.
the booksellers also resell used books and smirked as they told me how often this book makes its way back thru the store. when i noted that it must not be quite the classic its made out to be they just smiled and encouraged me to bring it back when i was done.
so began my journey into the shack.
to be honest i wasnt impressed with the writing style and youngs excessive use of certain idiomatic phrases bothered me. on top of this the dialogue was a bit contrived and unnatural. maybe ive been ruined by good prose and interesting conversations but the choppy text reads more like an embellished newspaper report than a novel. at times the sense of story was completely lost amidst youngs obvious agenda to reframe the readers understanding of god.
that said i was emotionally bound to the story due to the subject matter. the main character is mack whose young daughter missy is taken during a family camping excursion and is never found. this resonates with me bc not only do i have 3 young children of my own but ive had very close friends who have lost children to miscarriage or other difficulties. so as the story unfolded i was wrenched from my comfortable life and thrown into macks world – bearing every thot and emotion alongside him.
the passages dealing with the search were especially painful. as was the description of macks return to the scene of the crime. the very notion of losing a child is something i took a look at via the lens of the movie taken in a previous post and as i read the book it seemed id stumbled into the same conversation from a different angle.
[[[SPOILER ALERT]]][[[SPOILER ALERT]]][[[SPOILER ALERT]]]
about a third of the way into it we are introduced to 3 new characters who collectively represent god. this is where a lot of the external fuss has been stirred but being someone who regularly reads fiction and understands it as a fantastic platform for relating truth i wasnt bothered by papa jesus and sarayu. so while reading with discernment i was able to allow god to be a large african american woman, a middle aged middle eastern man and a shimmery asian woman all at once.
after hearing the surge of protest against this book and its author im not sure what all the fuss is about. maybe some people just dont like the idea of god listening to funk and blues fusion? or maybe theyre upset that god isnt an old kindly white guy with a flowing beard. one of the things i really liked about this book was how god is initially portrayed in a different light than we usually envision. so many people seem to approach the divine relationship as if god can only exist in our stereotypes.
but god has never been one to fit in anyones pocket.
which is also part of what bothers me about the book. as the novel unfolds the god young depicts fits very easily into the box he creates. a box that excludes all the difficulty of understanding a god who is love yet bears wrath. one of the passages that encapsulates this dilemma occurs in a conversation about gods wrath. at one point mack asks if papa doesnt enjoy punishing those who sin. to which she replies:
i am not who you think i am mackenzie. i dont need to punish people for sin. sin is its own punishment devouring you from the inside. its not my purpose to punish. its my joy to cure it.
but scripture seems to relate a very different picture. for example in 2 chronicles 34:24-25 god states:
thus says the lord: behold i will bring disaster upon this place and its inhabitants all the curses that are written in the book that was read before the king of judah. because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands therefore my wrath will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.
and again in jeremiah 7:20 god declares:
therefore thus says the lord god: behold my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place upon man and beast upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground – it will burn and not be quenched.
these passages are generally handled in one of three ways. some people understand wrath as gods defining characteristic – driving them into a frenzy of trying to keep god appeased with good deeds and rituals – even flying planes into buildings or walking around with god hates fags placards. other people discard these passages as the old way of handling things before jesus died and god went soft. the final path is some general dismissal of scripture coupled with an ironic perseverance in holding onto the god it describes with all his more startling qualities shaved off.
but i dont think any of these options are viable bc they all make god easy to understand and a god who is easy to understand is one who fits neatly in our pocket. on the contrary a god whose very nature is love yet who acts in both compassion and anger is clearly an enigma – at least in our current way of thinking.
and the foundation of this book is explicitly rooted in a very contemporary way of thinking that dismisses any notion of gods wrath and bolsters every evidence of his compassion – unbalancing his entire nature to the point of making him little more than a charming trinket in our minds.
but god is far more than a trinket.
and knowing what a wide audience this book has found and understanding the possible subtle cultural shift it could produce my desperate desire in reading was to find mack come to terms with god in a way that expressed the mystery. but this was not the case as young plowed ahead trying to explain every possible aspect of god.
however my difficulty with youngs poor writing style and casual dismissal of gods wrath toward sin found respite in one critical scene that was easily my favorite part of the entire book.
after skipping rocks with jesus mack finds his way into a cave and stumbles into a courtroom setting wherein he meets sophia – the personification of gods wisdom. after a terse exchange in which mack damns his daughters killer to hell along with the killers father sophia puts mack on the bench linking his condemnation of them with a judgment of god. then the scene shifts as she asks mack to choose two of his children to spend eternity in the new creation.
this leads to an exchange wherein mack realizes the full nature and purpose of god in jesus:
“i cant do this.” he said softly.
“you must.” she replied.
“i cant do this.” he said louder and more vehemently.
“you must.” she said again – her voice softer.
“i…will…not…do…this!” mack yelled his blood boiling hot inside him.
“you must.” she whispered.
“i cant. i cant. i wont!” he screamed and now the words and emotions came tumbling out. the woman just stood watching and waiting. finally he looked at her pleading with his eyes. “could i go instead? if you need someone to torture for eternity ill go in their place. would that work? could i do that?” he fell at her feet crying and begging now. “please let me go for my children. please i would be happy to…please i am begging you. please…please…”
(to which sophia responds)
“now you sound like jesus.”
and all i could think was: may i be guilty of such an indictment.
theres plenty more book left after this scene and even some gripping moments as missy is recovered and laid to rest but its this moment of realization that i think keeps the whole project from being a disappointment.
i prolly wont ever read it again and i wont be giving away any copies but for whatever fussing fighting and carrying on it has ignited the shack has its bright moment.