Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Shack 3

1. This is my third day reading The Shack, reading 50 pages a day over lunch. The first day is here, the second here.

2. I won't complain about the meal scene. This is after all a novel. Is the picture of God as a black woman too stereotypical of what black women are supposed to be like? The image did make me a little uncomfortable in the first scene with Elousia, but I think Young had no ill intention.

There is some fun humor. Mack closes his eyes to pray and then realizes that God is right in front of him. He opens his eyes and says thank you. :-)

Young tries to make it clear that the three persons are all one God. If Jesus is there then they all are there. If he is talking to the Spirit he is talking to Papa. He tries to depict the devotion of each of the persons to each other. On the whole I think he does a good job. This is, after all, a novel, and he always leaves open the possibility that this is something going on in Mack's head, not the real Trinity.

3. There is talk about the Trinity limiting themselves in conversation with Mack. They know everything, but they "are not bringing it to mind, as it were" (106), so that they can have a real conversation with Mack. We can debate the details. I like the idea that God talks with us as we might talk with a child, knowing much more than we are acting like we know, so that the child can have a conversation on his or her level. This is how I picture God in conversation with Adam in the Garden.

4. Mack spends some time with Jesus in chapter 8, a chapter cleverly called, "God on the Dock." Jesus and Mack spend some time on a dock, and this is close to the name of a book by C. S. Lewis on the problem of evil. :-) Jesus feels more tangible to Mack, which makes sense because "I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu." Some may want to debate the word "best" and suggest "only" might be better. [1]

Jesus explains the names. Elousia is a combination of El (a Hebrew name for God in the OT) and the Greek word ousia, which means "being." Sarayu is the Sanskrit word for "wind." Again, Young seems to be flirting with the possibility that some Hindus before Christ might have been reaching out for God without knowing about Jesus. I wonder if Young will clarify what he is thinking here at some later point.

5. Chapter 8 has some interesting thoughts. God's anger "is an expression of love all the same. I love the ones I am angry with just as much as those I'm not" (119). This seems theologically correct to me.

Then there is the question of hierarchy in the Trinity: "We have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship" (122). This is of course the point of view of historic, orthodox Christianity since the 300s.

There are certainly large segments of evangelical Christianity that see the Trinity as hierarchical, drawing on passages like 1 Corinthians 15:28. Most of these discussions become heated because the Trinity is seen as a proxy for discussions of hierarchy in marriage. I personally don't see that marriage relationships necessarily need to follow the Trinity, since my wife and I aren't God. :-)

6. Chapter 8 begins to get into the problem of evil. Young's solution is in fact what I believe the best solution is. We need to trust that God is good and that "there are millions of reasons to allow pain and hurt and suffering rather than to eradicate them" (125). We as finite humans just aren't in a position to know them.

7. I found chapter 9 fascinating. The Holy Spirit and Mack tend to a garden, which evokes images of the Garden of Eden but in the end we find out is the garden of Mack's soul. It is a mess, which the Spirit finds wonderful. Things are constantly being uprooted and newly planted. It is hard work for Mack and at times painful (evoking I thought Adam working by the toil of his brow). But there is purpose in the mess.

Independence seems to be portrayed as the root of human sinfulness. Rather than rely on God, we try to go it on our own. And rather than love each other, we seek autonomy. Evil is seen as the absence of good rather than a thing (Augustine).

There is an interesting exchange about whether Eden was real or a myth. The Holy Spirit tells Mack that it was indeed real. But for those who think it is only a myth, "Their mistake is not fatal. Rumors of glory are often hidden inside of what many consider myths and tales" (134). :-)

8. This is a really clever novel at points. The imagery and allusions are fun but not forced. I could see using it as a secondary text in a theology class as a discussion starter. Jesus and Mack walk on water in chapter 10. :-)

In the discussion between Jesus and Mack in chapter 10, Jesus says that God could fix the world immediately, but then the story would end before it was consummated (145). "To force my will on you... is exactly what love doesn't do." Of course I think this is mostly true right now. I do believe God will force his will on everyone at the Judgment. Don't know how Young will handle that yet.

Jesus suggests that God also submits to humanity. It is mutual submission all the way around, including in the family. I think I get what he's saying. If God lets us have our way sometimes, that is like submitting to us (not sure I like the idea of God submitting to us, though). Of course as an egalitarian I believe in mutual submission in marriage as the ideal.

Some interesting thoughts on husband-wife relationships. I won't agree or disagree. He suggests that the man turned to work and the wife to the husband in the Fall (only for him to rule over her). Both are supposed to face God equally.

He also rejects WWJD, saying that Jesus' life was not supposed to be an example to copy. Not sure I know all of what he is trying to say. I actually do like WWJD as a model, although I agree that everyone has a different idea of who Jesus was. :-)

[1] Did Job relate to God through Christ directly? Did Abraham relate to God through Christ directly? Won't debate those questions here.

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