Thursday, March 09, 2017

The Shack 4

1. I'm almost done reading The Shack, with just 50 pages left to read tomorrow. The first day is here, the second here, and the third here.

2. Chapter 11 is the turning point of the book. Mack follows a path into a rock face where there is great darkness within and he faces the "great sadness" of his life. I think this space may represent not only the darkness of Mack's own life but also the tomb of Jesus.

Notice the timing of the visit to the shack. Mack has arrived there mid-day on Friday. He will leave on Sunday. So Saturday is the day that Jesus is in the tomb. "Lo, in the grave he lay, Jesus, my Savior."

3. We find out eventually that the woman who leads him through this darkness is "Sophia," which is the Greek word for wisdom. We learn in the next chapter that "Sophia is a personification of Papa's wisdom" (171). That's good biblical theology, and Mack references Proverbs 8. There are of course some who talk about wisdom as if she is a being distinct from God the Father, but Young is spot on with wisdom as a personification of one of God's attributes, not as a distinct being.

4. Wisdom reiterates to Mack that God loves all people equally, like a parent should love each of his or her children equally. Wisdom says this curious statement: "It is the knowing that grows and love simply expands to contain it. Love is just the skin of knowing" (155). I think what he's saying is that we get to know our children better in relationship and our love continues to cover that new knowledge. Interesting thought, although, of course, this is a novel. :-)

The base of Mack's problem, Wisdom reveals to him, is that he does not trust God. He does not trust that God loves him or his people. Wisdom says that Mack is there for Judgment, which for a moment terrifies him. But, she reveals, Mack is the one who is serving as the judge.

Mack has judged God as the source of evil, she helps him see (I thought of Job here). To help him see how absurd that is, she suggests that Mack must choose two of his children to spend eternity with God, and another three to spend in hell. Mack of course cannot do it, and finally pleads that he go to hell in their place.

Her point is clear. God does not want anyone to go to hell. He does not send people there by his own design. In fact he sent Jesus to die for us. Through Jesus death and resurrection, "I am now fully reconciled to the world" (192). God doesn't mean that everyone is reconciled to him because "reconciliation is a two way street." What God means is that "I have done my part."

5. Wisdom declares that evil is "not his doing" (164). God often doesn't stop it. "He doesn't stop a lot of things that cause him pain." "It is you humans who have embraced evil and Papa has responded with goodness" (165). God "chose the way of the cross where mercy triumphs over justice because of love" (164).

"Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn't mean I orchestrate the tragedies," Papa tells Mack (185). Similarly, "nobody knows what horrors I have saved the world from 'cuz people can't see what never happened" (190). "You demand your independence, but then complain that I actually love you enough to give it to you" (191). Then "out of what seems to be a huge mess, Papa weaves a magnificent tapestry" (176).

"True love never forces" (190) is the key concept here. "Love that is forced is no love at all." God allows evil because he loves us enough to let us have the independence we wanted, but we suffer because of it.

6. I hope we will hear more about this comment: "Judgment is not about destruction, but about setting things right" (169). Mack stops judging God in the middle of the dark rock, and he has "re-turned," turned back toward God. The novel will move toward healing from this point on.

7. Young gives us his sense of our final destiny as being "a new cleansing of this universe, so it will indeed look a lot like here" (177). This is actually good biblical theology. Despite a lot of popular talk about heaven, most of the New Testament looks to eternity in "new skies and new earth." The new Jerusalem of Revelation comes down to a new earth, and Jesus eats with us as people on earth come from north, south, east, and west in the kingdom.

8. Young has some very negative things to say about the church as an institution. "I don't create institutions--never have, never will" (179). God is about relationships. Young calls religion, politics, and economics the "man-created trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and deceives those I care about" (179).

I am not as negative as he is toward hierarchies and institutions. In this he and I probably disagree. Nevertheless, I understand that these are regularly tools of evil and oppression. This quote at the beginning of the chapter by Blase Pascal is very striking and unfortunately often true: "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction" (171).

Young's goal for participation in institutions, politics, and economics, it would seem, is to be "in it and not of it." I can buy that.

9. Young is fairly controversial on p.182. Here's the key quote. Jesus says, "Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don't vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa."

Mack rejoins this question: "Does that mean... that all roads will lead to you?" Jesus responds, "Not at all." He clarifies: "Most roads don't lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you" (182).

What is Young trying to say here? First I notice the past tense in several of these sentences. "They were Buddhists or Mormons." They "were murderers." Does he mean before they died? Does he mean before they changed and "re-turned"? He hasn't addressed it yet, but it seems pretty clear that Mack murdered his father when he was a boy. I thought of 1 Corinthians 6:11--"that is what some of you were."

On the one hand, Young is distancing himself from pluralism--all roads lead equally to God. His imagery suggests that Jesus is the way. When Young distances Jesus-followers from the word Christian, he is protesting religion and religiosity, not being a Christ-follower. He is at least suggesting that Jesus can find anyone in the world, no matter what road they may start out on.

I don't know if he is espousing the idea of "anonymous Christians." This is the idea that, while Jesus is the only way, there may be people whose heart is following Christ without their head knowing it.

That's probably enough for today. Lord willing we finish the novel tomorrow!


Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for this series. Judging from the post time, perhaps a rather late lunch.

Ken Schenck said...

It's taken a little more time than I'd hoped. :-)