I finished The Shack by William Young last night. A number of people had recommended the book to me, but I purposely read very few reviews of the book before I read it. I heard that it dealt with the doctrine of the Trinity, which I am very interested in and that it was a good read. It is (or was) the number one paperback best seller and it was self published. I read the bulk of it this weekend as Tropical Storm Fey dropped buckets of rain on the Southeast.
Buckets of rain / Buckets of tears
Got all them buckets comin’ out of my ears.
I finished the book with a smile and a number of thoughts about my own relationships, particularly my relationship with my sons. I am not going to give away all of the gems in the book, but this review will include some plot spoilers. The book is essential one man’s spiritual journey. He experiences tragedy and walks around with the “The Great Sadness” as he calls it. He receives an invitation to meet with God at a Shack in the woods. Not any kind of shack, but an old abandoned shack that is connected to his great sadness.
What he discovers at the shack is not what he expected. He encounters God, revealed in three persons. God the Father, who goes by the name “Papa” is s stout, loving black woman. Jesus is a blue-jean & plaid shirt-wearing Middle Eastern man (of course). And the Holy Spirit is a luminous Asian woman, who calls herself Sarayu.
His encounter with the Triune God heals him and restores his soul. He is completely transformed. He strolls through the garden of his mind and is corrected by Wisdom herself. He leaves this encounter freed from his great sadness and restored in his relationship with God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I recommend this book as a wonderful introduction to the doctrine of the Trinity. In The Shack, you see the love and camaraderie and joy God has within himself, within a holy community of three. The book touches on the nature salvation, the church, transformation, forgiveness, and of course the nature of God. Theologically, I found the book to be soundly within the confines of biblical, historical Christianity.
Here is one of the beautiful exchanges between Papa (God the Father) and Mack (the main character):
[Papa/God the Father says], ” It’s because you have such a small view of what it means to be human. You and this Creation are incredible, whether you understand that or not. You are wonderful beyond imagination. Just because you make horrendous and destructive choices does not mean you deserve less respect for what you inherently are—the pinnacle of my Creation and the center of my affection.”
“But—” Mack started.
“Also,” she [God the Father] interrupted, “don’t forget that in midst of all your pain and heartache, you are surrounded by beauty., the wonder of Creation, art, your music and culture, the sounds of laughter and love, of whispered hopes and celebrations, of new life and transformation, of reconciliation and forgiveness. These also are the results of your choices and every choice matters, even the hidden ones.
The book is not without its flaws, but to point out all the theological weaknesses would be to steal from the beauty and thoughtfulness of the book. I will mention just one deficiency. I found the appearance of God the Father as a woman a bit cumbersome. I did not mind the title “Papa.” It is a very good translation of the Aramaic word “Abba.” But God the Father as a woman was distracting.
I understand what Young was trying to do here by presenting God the Father as a woman, but I think the book would have been stronger had Papa been a man throughout the book. (Near the end of the book, he does appear as an older man with silver-white hair, pulled back in a pony tail, with a matching gray goatee.) The main character had trouble with his earthly Father and so God the Father chose to appear as a woman, because God is Spirit and has no gender. I see where Young is coming from, but it was awkward seeing references to “Papa” as “her.” Plus it would have been a stronger image to see God the Father appear as a Father, as a man, throughout the entire book redeeming masculinity in the eyes of the main character.
Outside of this one difficulty, I found The Shack to be refreshing, witty, and honest. It really made me think about my relationship with my sons. I did some reflecting on myself as a father in light of the relationship I saw between Papa and Jesus in the book. I did some reflecting and made some course corrections. The book also reaffirmed my love and pursuit of the one God in three persons. The Trinity revealed in this book is the community I want to live in.
After reading this book, I remain an ardent Trinitarian Christian.