Friday, March 10, 2017

The Shack 5

1. So we finish reading the The Shack today.
2. Chapter 14 deals with the contrast between law and grace. Here are some of the statements that give you the gist: "The Bible doesn't teach you to follow rules. It is a picture of Jesus" (197). "Religion is about having the right answers... But I am about the process that takes you to the living answer" (198). "Don't look [in the Bible] for rules and principles; look for a relationship--a way of coming to be with us."

Here are some more: "Rules cannot bring freedom; they only have the power to accuse" (203). "Enforcing rules... is a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty."

There is much that I believe is true in these statements. A "legal" or "law and order" mindset is not the mind of Christ. The legalistic mindset "has fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4). There may be many who will say, "Lord, Lord, didn't we keep the law in your name," and Jesus will tell them that they never knew him. I suspect there will be some who preached many a legalistic sermon on holiness who will not be in the kingdom of God because they did not truly love their neighbor and therefore did not truly love God.

I do think Young may have a slightly one-sided view of Paul's ethic, but I think he is more right than wrong. Augustine put it this way: "Love God and do what you want." What Augustine was saying is that if you truly love God, you will want to do things that glorify and please him. You will want to love your neighbor as yourself, not because it is a rule but because it is your heart.

3. In chapter 15, Mack reconciles with his father. After finishing the book, I am wondering if Mack really did murder his father. He puts poison in his dad's bottles, but he later only says that his father drank himself to death. It seems to me that God would have helped Mack deal with that event if he had actually caused his father's death.

In this chapter, though, Young tries to portray a heavenly scene of sorts. He does his best and you might think of some of the fantastical pictures in Ezekiel and Revelation. In this encounter, he meets his father and reconciles with him.

The implication seems to be that his father is in the kingdom of God. Many have wondered at this point if Young is implying a certain universalism, that everyone will be saved. Could be. I respect those who feel this way, although I cannot reconcile it myself with the biblical texts. But I understand that it is hard to balance God's mercy and justice. I think those who take an extreme view of mercy are more true to God's character than those who take an extreme view of justice.

But Young never says that everyone will be saved, and he does not tell us the details of how Mack's father's final moments played out. He does make it clear at the end that every knee will bow and every tongue confess at the end that Jesus is Lord (248).

4. On Sunday morning (note the implicit allusion to the resurrection), Papa has changed from the image of a black woman, to a man with silver-white hair in a pony tail. The implication is that up to this point, because Mack wasn't reconciled with his father, he had difficulty relating to God as Father.

God and Mack go up the mountain to find Missy's body. I thought of Abraham and Isaac going to make sacrifice in Genesis 22. The killer had left a trail for himself, a red arc. I don't know what symbolism was intended. I thought of the rainbow in Genesis after the flood, and about the blood of Christ.

Near the top of the mountain, Mack forgives his daughter's killer. "Forgiveness is not about forgetting," God tells him. "It is about letting go of another person's throat" (224). "Forgiveness does not establish relationship" (225). "Only some choose relationship." "Forgiveness does not excuse anything," God says (226).

Mack will have to declare forgiveness over and over. It will become easier "the third day" (227). (spoiler) The killer is found in the end, and Mack continues to forgive him.

5. I suspect this book will be therapeutic for many who have experienced great pain and grief. You can live the story and live forgiveness as you move through it.

6. They bury Missy's body, although only in whatever place Mack is in. A "tree of life" can now grow in the garden of Mack's soul where Missy has been laid to rest.

God in three persons and Mack have a kind of final communion--wine and bread. Then it was over.

As he heads home, he is hit by a drunk driver and awakes in the hospital. It is still Friday, leaving us to wonder if this was all something he experienced in a coma. However, we are led to believe that he did actually try to drive up to the shack and the red arc allows them to actually find Missy's remains.

A key moment is when Mack helps his daughter Katie forgive herself. She had been blaming herself for Missy's kidnapping.

7. A fun read. Here are my main take-aways:
  • The picture of God as love in this story is far more true to God's character than the opposite portrayal, which practically sees him as a slave to some abstract law of justice.
  • I think the book gives us the best answer to the problem of suffering and evil--we just have to trust that God is good and that we do not have a good vantage point or sufficient information to know why he allows what he does. We just have to trust him.
  • God has granted a large amount of freedom to humanity and his creation. He does not orchestrate everything that happens, although nothing happens without his permission. And he weaves many an evil or painful occurrence into a tapestry of goodness.
  • We must love even someone who commits the most horrendous acts, because God loves them too. He would like everyone to be saved. A "law and order" attitude is often a tool of the Devil.
  • This is just a novel. It sparks some very meaningful discussions. For many, it will be deeply therapeutic in a helpful sense. But don't take it too seriously. Take what God has to say to you and leave the rest. :-)


Martin LaBar said...

You, or your readers, may be interested in "Speculative Faith" columnist Stephen Burnett's recent take on the book. He has some sympathy for the book, but he claims that it isn't really a novel.

Ken Schenck said...

Certainly he is selling a theology, but I still think you can take what fits and leave the rest.

Sharon said...

Thanks Ken for these posts this week. I saw the movie this week with friends here in Florida and they had many questions, so I'm sharing your article with them. Your take on this novel seems very sound, and your summary comments about the character of God will be helpful for daily living.

Kirk Perry said...

I'm still waiting for the sequel that describes his wife's simultaneous journey that Satan takes her on. I'm calling it "The Shaft"