The Glass Darkly

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Reflections on "The Shack"

Many people I know have read "The Shack" within the last year. So finally I got to it too. Considering my very fuzzy state of mind as of late, I don't have many profound reactions, but I must say it impacted me both emotionally and spiritually. That being said, however, I should also admit that after reading only about half of it, I actually put it down for a week or so. While I usually quickly identify with main characters in some way, I wasn't so sure I could hang in there with Mack upon his return to the shack. But after a while, my curiosity returned and I picked it up again to see what really happened. I'm glad I did, though I'm not sure I can articulate all my reasons why.

Most expectedly it affected me emotionally. A tragic story such as what happened to Mack's family can quickly raise one's awareness of safety and children. But then as Mack worked through his emotions upon his return to the shack, I broke down, nearly uncontrollably. I'm not sure I was weeping as much for him as much as I was for myself and so many others who have experienced similar pain in life, the tragedies in human relationships, the brokenness that leave scars that never completely heal. Tears really do feel good when one feels free to release them. That was one part of Mack's experience that made me really think. But I was surprised how the physical and emotional healing for Mack was almost secondary, in my mind, to the spiritual healing that took place as Mack faced his long-held views of God and God's character.

The major part of Mack's healing process that struck me was the constant emphasis on the Love of God that humans find very hard to comprehend let alone exhibit toward one another. I've been considering how too often I'm afraid to talk about pain in my life with those closest to me because I'm afraid of a lecture, a judgment, or a sense that I am not spiritual enough, that I am not in tune with God enough, or that somehow my human struggles are because of a lack of faith on my part. What I appreciated about "The Shack" was that I didn't see any part of that message in Mack's experience at the shack. Mack was constantly reminded that God is Love. Even God's extension of human choice and His acceptance or tolerance of human chaos is an act of love.

Some may argue with the author's perception or portrayal of the Trinity, but, personally, I found it encouraging and affirming of a healthy interpretation of Scripture and relationship between God and Man. As I reflect on Mack's conversations at the shack, my mind keeps spinning back to the question of what in Scripture is descriptive and what is prescriptive. For example, the reference in Genesis to a woman's heart turning toward her husband is so much clearer to me now when I complete the sentence by acknowledging God's pain . . . our turning away from Him as Creator, ultimate and limitless meeter of needs, to another human being who is limited by his humanness and own needs. This Scripture reference is not the voice of a judging God prescribing some order of hierarchy, as I previously thought, rather it is a loving God sadly describing what Man's independence has caused. That alone makes me weep when I think of God's longing for reconcilliation, restoration of right relationships.

It also brings a much deeper meaning to God's order of Love and Justice. Christians like to throw around the word Grace to describe this aspect of God's love toward us, but I think "The Shack" reveals how Grace is really just one small part of that picture or expanse of God's Love and Justice. God's Grace is really more like a token or gift, how we cope with the ins and outs/ups and downs of life. But all of Creation and the order of things really are guided by an incredible and expansive love for Creation and longing for reconcilliation of all things that only the Creator could have. That is just amazing. "The Shack" seemed to emphasize this repeatedly as Mack encountered the Trinity there.

Finally, I saw God's Mercy in a new way. I think that a God who chooses to limit Himself in order to show love is really extending Mercy. Our Declaration of Independence in the Beginning was the Fall of Man. Everytime God allows us to make our own choices, based on our independent mindedness, He extends mercy to us. It made me much more conscious of the times I limit myself to play with my children or assist an elderly person up some steps, all the while acknowledging the reality of the struggle. We do this to affirm their dignity and extend respect. I wonder how often our Father does that to His Children? A lot more times than we acknowledge -- and each time he extends His Mercy because, more often than not, we are going to fall and don't like to admit it. God's love extends Mercy to protect us and affirm our dignity and worth.

I started the book with few expectations, and at some points I was uncomfortable a bit with the conversations. But if one is willing to have traditional views of God and religion challenged, than this is a good book to read. The colorful images of the Trinity will remain in my mind and probably forever influence my view of God. And as should happen, our changes in views should be reflected in changes in our language and behavior, though I can't say exactly how that may evolve for me. I can say, however, "The Shack" makes an impression because Mack's story is one we all can identify with at some point. Brokenness and uncertainty are woven into the fabric of every person's story somewhere. And we all need to better understand the incredible Love and Mercy and Justice of our Creator God in order to live lives that Jesus made possible on the Cross, lives that reflect the wholeness and joy of a relationship with a Living, Loving God.