Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Big Question

The Shack
by William P. Young

I felt like I needed to read this book, because it has gotten so much attention. It has topped the paperback bestseller lists in recent weeks, and lots of fellow readers have spoken about how inspiring it was for them. Frankly, I am glad to see a book like this succeed in the commercial market because it says to me that people are concerned about questions of faith and seeking meaning in their experiences. That is a good thing. Also, even though the writing is not great, it is not nearly as schmaltzy as much of what is classified as "Christian" fiction. Young makes a fair attempt to articulate the situations and questions that we all cope with, and for that alone the book is worth reading. He does not tie everything up in "neat" theological packages - he acknowledges life's ambiguities and allows them to stand while at the same time expressing God's goodness and God's love.

Another refreshing change about Young's approach is that he does not follow the typical patriarchal pattern of giving God a long white beard and a Darth Vader voice. The personas that he uses to depict the various parts of the Trinity are varied in race and gender, and he deftly shows how the main character, Mack, relates to the three persons of the Trinity at different times, when his needs and questions are different. By structuring the story as he does, Young is able to give the reader an idea of how, if we pay attention, we can integrate relationship with God into our daily lives and into the most seemingly mundane parts of the day.

The Shack is a sincere attempt to deal honestly, without platitudes, with The Big Question - why do horrible things happen to good (or even innocent) people, if God is good and loving? I'm not sure the book completely answers that question, but then I also do not think that the question CAN be satisfactorily answered in this life. Some of it is mystery, and we just have to learn to live with that. However, Young has tackled the question and faced it with integrity.

As I said, I believe The Shack's popularity shows that there is spiritual hunger out there, and I applaud Young's effort to fill the vacuum. However, I do get concerned that so many think that Young's approach is so new or unique. My experience of the mainline Protestant church has been that for quite awhile now we have been trying to open peoples' minds to different images for God and move away from the punitive, vengeful, capricious Daddy God that dominated theology for so long. However, people are buying this book and talking about it as if they have never heard these ideas before. I'm sure some of them haven't. But can it be that these ideas are new to ALL of them? If so, what's up with that? How are the mainline Protestants failing to communicate God's love and mercy and diversity? Or is it just that a moving story that puts these ideas into a tangible form is less abstract and makes more sense to people than dense doctrinal debate? Feel free to discuss, as I am curious and more than a little troubled about this.

Reverent Reader


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