By John Paul Vicory When we are young, there is distinct virtue about humanity. Next time you walk through a local park take a look around you and observe the other visitors. Notice the children; their freedom to laugh, to play, to sing… to freely love. They don’t try to hide who they are. As we get older the more we are exposed to the calamity associated with sin, and though we try, we cannot hide who we are. We are robbed of our innocence by small or great tragedies that end up shaping who we become and, in turn, are responsible for the tragedies of others as well.
We never outgrow what happens to us, but we do respond with various consequences; the young drug addict, homeless elderly, the bitter spouse; all of us shaped by tragedies of sin. Take the same children’s mothers and fathers at the park and even take a few minutes to examine yourself. There is no telling the places we are in our lives. We could be in severe depression, suicidal, addicted to drugs or pornography, or abusive of our spouses and children; products of a lifetime of catastrophe, evil, and poor choices. These events lead to the timeless and unanswerable questions we wrestle and engage with every day–Why do bad things happen to good people? What is the freedom of choice? Is God really good or is His face turned when we need Him the most? How does God’s wrath relate to the love of Jesus and the role of the Holy Spirit? The Shack is William P. Young’s response to these major questions.
As we begin the book we find Mack in the middle of Winter, going through the motions of life as we do much of the time. “The Great Sadness” had taken his youngest daughter Missy from him three and a half years prior to the afternoon he received a mysterious note from “Papa” in the mail, inviting him to the cabin where the brutal events had transpired three and a half years earlier. She had been a victim of a tragedy that we hear about every now and then but never want to repeat – the kind of situation that breaks of families and ruins lives. Out of desperation, Mack answers the invitation by driving out to the shack, not quite knowing what he will find. At the shack, he experiences God like he never thought possible, in profound and real ways that would change the way he sees God, tragedy, his family, and his life.
The tragedy is laid out by chapter 5, and by chapter 6 the fight begins – in one corner human reasoning and brokenness, in the other God’s wisdom and love. Even though your hardships may not the same as Mack’s, you will be able to take a look inside yourself and see the condition of your heart. Emotions will have words and thoughts will move up from the subconscious. Young’s explanations may speak truth into your heart and give you new perspective of who you are, and more importantly, who God is. Be prepared to have conceptions challenged and possibly changed as Young steps away from the traditional outlooks and ideas. The subtle allegorical style taunts the reader to struggle with his or her beliefs. The genre and basic story may be fiction, but the content of the book is the author’s take on truth.
Young breaks the rules, so to speak, with regards to the institution of the Church and many of the traditions that have been passed down to us over the centuries. In response, Young has been labeled both a saint and a heretic. When I first heard about The Shack and the propositions that Young puts down, I was skeptical about his theology but intrigued as to the context of what he has to say. By reading for myself, I could understand why there is some controversy, but also believe the reason – even the wisdom conveyed supersedes anything that comes across as heresy. The Bible is filled with mystery and intrigue – God can’t be fully known, He is too great for our minds; Young simply tries to make sense of what God might say and be to him personally. We can all learn from the same thoughts because we can all relate to life and the tragedy that so frequently interjects.
Many critics have come down on Young, calling him heretical for some of the content saying that his portrayal of God is absolutely wrong. Others say that Christians shouldn’t read it. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who have said that they believe the book should be canonized. The Shack should be read and analyzed with an open mind, and an open heart. The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. He is truth and His truth can be found everywhere. Truth can even be found in the pages of one man’s struggle with life and a common tragedy found in us all.