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.


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.


~ by graceshaker on April 16, 2009.

9 Responses to “some thots after a week in the shack”

  1. I could not help thinking of you when I was reading this post:

  2. I LOVED THE BOOK!…I can understand it being a problem reading a book that goes against everything we have learned in the book.
    what I can say, is that this book has given me a gift that draws me far more intimitely to my God. As I have just finished reading this book, It has answered many questions that were in the back of my mind. God is Way bigger then I could fathom…bigger then that even, The way that I can only judge this book is by how it has affected my own actions. It makes me want to draw closer to a Loving god. Im aware that God has wrath and hates sin, But more and more aware that he passionately, crazy…Loves us more then that. it only fuels me to do whatever he wants me to do right, and not out of fear…

  3. Good review and thoughts on the book. I bought it but i haven’t got the time to read it yet because of other books i’m working on and other commitments. I think you pointed out some important points here like the tendency to ‘box’ God to our on perceptions, like in the case of wrath. I don’t think we can ever pin God down and say “Yes, I finally figured out God!”. But apart form that i do intend to read the book just to see what the buzz is all about. Anyway i enjoyed your take on it.

  4. eu sou do brasil,e como meu ingles não é dos melhores irei escrever em portugues mesmo…
    Eu só tenho a agradeçer o willie por escrever a história do mack,
    aumentou e muito minha fé!!
    obrigado(no brasil o livro já esta virando uma febre,todos querem)

    I’m from brazil, and my English is not the best that I write in Portuguese … I just have to thank the willie by writing the history of the mack, and much increased my faith! required (in the book world is already turning a fever, everyone wants)

  5. I just read the shack and I can say I am profoundly changed! This book goes to a place religion cannot, to the heart of the matter. It is about relationships, and this author got it right from my perspective. I am a follower of Yeshua and this has made me fall more in love with Him then ever before! I truly wept when I read this book and Missy’s song brought me to my knees with praise and gratitude that “Papa” loves us so much! I can see my “Papa” in a clearer light and realize His unbounding love for His creation. This may not meet some peoples scriptual accurateness scale, but I feel with all my heart that “Papa” dropped this nugget of truth into Paul Young to share with the humans He created and loves. I have learned that when you love with an open heart the fear goes away. That is a very good thing! :)

    • Eu, também li este livro, que a principio quando me veio as mãos até que não dei muita importância, mais ao começar a ler, pude verificar dentro do seu conteudo e contexto a real importância que o Senhor Deus tem para os seus filhos aqui na terra, como Ele realmente pensa e age na vida do tão caido ser humano, pude ver o maor do Papai, de Jesus e Sarayu, gostei muito de seu conteudo, isso veio quebrar os paradigmas que existia dentro de mim, senti a presença do papai,o amor de jesus e flagrançia e toque de Sarayu enquanto eu orava dentro do meu carro hoje de manha, e digo eu quero mais e mais a presença deste Deus em minha vida, eu recomendo a todos a lerem este abeçoado livro, e acho que Ele usou Mack para fazer a diferênça, eu gostaria muito de poder conhecer esta familia americana.

  6. ola,sou brasileira,mas moro em Paris,e gostaria de dizer o quanto esse livro mudou minha vida,aumentando de uma vez meu relacionamento com Deus.Muito obrigada.E sinceramente,que vontade de estar la com Papai,Jesus e Sarayu…Eu precisava demais de uma oportunidade como essa.Deus continue te abençoando grandemente!!!!

  7. You says that you like ‘Velvet Elvis’ and yet you cannot cope with God’s ‘wrath’ being simply the flip side of His Love. Your reference to those specific OT scriptures taken out of context to your argument seems a narrow perspective to me. Honestly, it sounds like you have some enlightenment yet to gain regarding the Triune God and Their intention in creating us in the first place. Paul Julian. Tauranga, New Zealand.

    • howdy paul. welcome to the holy wild. i think you may have misread this post. my comments are directed at author william paul youngs dismissal of gods wrath. essentially i believe scripture reveals god as he is and displays him as a god of both love and wrath. this is the enigma we must wrestle with as believers. give it another read and let me know if your critique persists eh?

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