Recent movie release, The Shack, takes viewers on a heartbreaking pursuit of healing when Mack’s youngest daughter is abducted and murdered in a remote shack. God helps Mack work through suffocating grief and to find hope despite tragedy.
But God doesn’t show in the way anyone expects.
God the Father shows as a motherly black woman when Mack needs comfort in his grief and as a fatherly man when Mack needs a Dad to help him find and bury the body of his little girl. The Holy Spirit is revealed as an Asian woman while a Middle Eastern Jesus portrayal isn’t so surprising.
Largely for these reasons, the movie has caused quite a stir just as the book did back in 2007 when it came out.
Some say the movie is heresy and sets forth too casual a view of God. Others say it’s life changing and gave them hope.
In my circle of friends and family, there’s a good smattering of opinions on both sides.
I realize that writing about this topic could be like walking out in a growling thunderstorm with a metal pole in hand. Still, I’ll share as someone who’s read the book and watched the movie.
The movie does a good job of staying true to the book, in my opinion.
Deep Breath, Here Goes…
I read The Shack several years ago. I still remembered the story line pretty well before watching the movie.
I’ll say that the book was challenging to me in a good way though I initially struggled with the portrayal of God.
Because I read the book first, I’d already worked through that I was satisfied enough with the depiction, especially for a work of fiction.
The purpose of the writer is not to demean God but to show to what length He’ll go to identify with us. God’s already proven that much through Jesus.
That isn’t to say that I agree with every idea set forth by William P. Young, author of The Shack.
There’s the Word of God and then there are people. The Word of God always prevails and people, well, they do the best they can when their creativity and Christianity collide to make art.
God understands our limitations and still encourages us to produce art that glorifies Him. Even the best attempts are far from perfect.
By nature, He must be kind and patient to allow that. He knows beforehand that it will be messy.
The goal of The Shack isn’t a theological dissertation. It’s to share valuable truths through fiction. It was intentionally meant to be way outside of the box, to challenge the cultural norm and to shock. That isn’t always a bad thing.
Those who didn’t read the book before watching the movie were at a disadvantage in my mind. I had all the time I wanted to work through my thoughts and feelings as I read.
Because of the rapid story line of a movie, there simply isn’t the time to digest things as there is when reading the book.
It’s not too surprising that people could be taken aback if their first exposure was only the movie.
Overall, my experience with the book was a positive one as was the movie. I was able to better see a God of love who cares for his children through their deep, dark struggles.
What Happened to the White Male?
I think a major hurdle for some with The Shack has to do with a sort of white supremacy that many American Christians secretly coddle. No, there aren’t any white capes and torches, just this hidden idea that God is white and that white is better.
Nearly no one would verbally admit this. It’s just something kept under lock and key in the darkest, ugliest recesses of our souls.
Occasionally, that hidden monster growls from the deep reminding us he’s still there. That we have yet to slay that grotesque beast.
God is a lover of people of all nations. The fiction isn’t saying this portrayal is who God is. It’s only saying this is a fictional account of how God revealed himself to one person to show his plan, effect life change and display his love.
And who is the one who desperately needs the help? The white guy, of course. That isn’t by accident and its effective. It’s intentionally that way to confront a flawed perspective in many religious circles.
I consider myself someone who’s concerned about the marginalized and those cast aside by religion and society. So something I felt in my heart bothered me as I read the book.
I definitely don’t consider myself racist but admit I had to work through that maybe, I had some spiritual prejudice I hadn’t realized when I first read this book. That I secretly felt that whiteness and God were uniquely kindred spirits.
There’s something I must be clear on. The last thing I want you to figure is that I think you’re a racist if you don’t like The Shack.
There are well-received Christian books and movies that I don’t like. It often has more to do with preference than anything else.
I just think that for some, even esteemed theologians, the “black” issue was more bothersome than anything theological. That the theological nit-picking had less to do with theology and more to do with race.
Picking things apart was simply the guise so the real motive was successfully concealed.
There’s a deeper reason that Young chose a black woman to represent God the Father. Because, in the midst of his sin, an African-American woman from his church was the first one to show his family love when others in their religious community turned their backs on them.
Were there any loving white church people at that moment? None could be found. God wasn’t perplexed by that fact. He showed his love through a middle-aged black woman. You can watch the video about Young’s experience here.
Without droves of unloving Christians, The Shack book and movie never would have existed.
A good story teller hits you where it hurts. That’s what author, William P. Young, did and the movie is a great representation of this.
Jesus told stories like that all the time. Stories where the marginalized are the heroes and the typically revered are the bad guys or the ones in need of help.
God and the Female Gender
For some, the biggest issue is God taking the form of a woman.
To that, I think it’s worth mentioning that God once revealed himself to Moses through a shrub. I can think of thousands of more flattering ways to make an appearance. I think it was God’s way of saying, “I do what I want. Just try to figure Me out. And by the way, good luck with that.”
Can anyone seriously discount the glory of the woman? Is taking the form of a woman really so demeaning? No one can argue that she is a masterpiece.
Would you give up your mom, grandmother, sister, girlfriend or wife for a shrub? That’s a dumb question, huh?
Imagining God relating to us in a motherly way isn’t far-fetched, either. God uses maternal metaphors for himself throughout scripture.
God taking the form of unexpected genders and races reveals something important about Him. It’s a booming statement that He cannot be put in a box. That, at every moment, He’ll bust out if we attempt to pen Him up like a hamster.
The author who got this story going knows that God is genderless but that He displays attributes inherent to either gender. That God is ultimately raceless but that He would not spurn to reveal himself in any race to suit his purposes if desired.
Why I Can Overlook the Trinity Portrayal
Who is God in reality? Three distinct beings with intellect, emotion and will. How many Gods does that ultimately equal? One. How so?
Because those three beings happen to perfectly hold the same ideals and goals. There’s perpetual, uninterrupted harmony of thought and action between them. That makes them One.
In a marriage relationship, the two should become one. In a good marriage, because of sin, this is a painful process that takes years to improve upon.
Yes, sexual union is the physical picture of oneness but it goes far beyond that. It ought to be that a married couple’s goals are so much the same that the two lose themselves in each other—that they can’t tell where one person ends and the other begins.
I’ll admit it’s rarely this way because of our selfishness. Still it’s the ideal to shoot for. The ideal of a perfect marriage helps us better understand in a small way how the members of the Trinity relate to each other.
In The Shack, the three Persons of the Godhead are indeed displayed as three separate Beings as they ought to be. They’re also portrayed as One—completely in harmony with each other in a perfectly good way. Again, as they ought to be.
I also see nothing that would discount that any of these beings are considered fully God. The most commonly attacked person of the Trinity in false religions is Jesus. He’s portrayed as the creator of the stars in the movie.
No small feat, indeed! An accomplishment, in fact, that could only be worked by God.
For the sake of helping Mack through his abysmal tragedy, the three Beings of the Godhead take on a form he can understand—human form. That is a compassionate, loving action.
There’s nothing saying that this would go against the nature of the Godhead to do such a thing. Although, even the author of the book understands this is merely a fictional book/movie that has the goal of communicating God’s intimate love, not a theology dissertation as some try to accuse Young of.
Here’s a quote by Young on that matter from The Shack: Revisited.
“The Shack was never intended to be a systematic theology or another book of pragmatic proof texts useful for badgering unwitting believers into religious submission. It is fiction and it is story.”
The deviation of the fiction is so done to draw out a greater good. If I were to pick out every nuance of the book, could I find things I disagree with Young on? Yes. But I could do the same thing with every other Christian book and movie if I dug deep enough.
I’m in the process of writing a Christian fiction novel. There are things in that book that wouldn’t happen in real life that are done to communicate unique truths in a memorable, powerful and enduring way.
Christian art offers its unique challenges. Some things are ok to bend. Some aren’t. Where that line is often only God knows.
Can Christian novels and movies say whatever they want? No. Is there a line that can be crossed where they could be dangerous? Yes.
Is The Shack in the dangerous category? I don’t believe so. The fundamentals of the Godhead aren’t attacked though it challenges what we’re comfortable with.
Young isn’t a heretic. He’s just trying to get you to think.
After all, Jesus coming to earth was scandalously common or even casual. What kind of God would stoop to that level? Not the gods of mythology, that’s for sure.
Jesus was born from an unwed mother, had a common earthly family, everyday trade, taught religion without the proper education, clothes or material prosperity, was homeless and wasn’t particularly good looking.
He was scandalously familiar and common. Is to highlight this attribute of God in the movie so far off base given these facts?
God can take whatever form He wants to accomplish his purposes without affecting who He really is. Can God terrify when that’s what is best? Yes. Can he make himself lowly and sooth when necessary? Of course!
When Elijah was depressed, God spoke to him in a still, small voice. He didn’t terrify the poor guy. The same God spoke to Job out of a storm or whirlwind—an authentic, wet-your-pants encounter.
Could the Movie Cause Confusion?
No more confusion than an unloving Christian would cause.
I don’t deny that the movie could be confusing. Anyone who doesn’t consult the Bible is highly vulnerable to such a thing.
Any Christian fiction movie or book could lead others astray.
That’s because every Fiction book is just that—fiction. The Left Behind authors and film makers didn’t expect everything to be taken literally in their works. There’s absolute truth and speculation woven together the whole way through.
C.S. Lewis is another good example of this. Lewis is one of my all-time favorite Christian authors. Still, I strongly disagree with his allusion to purgatory and theistic evolution.
Evangelicals, including top Christian blogger Tim Challies, hold Lewis up as an exceptional example of theological correctness compared to Young (Read Challies’ initial condemnation of The Shack in book form–something I continue to be unsatisfied with).
I’ve read virtually everything Lewis wrote. In my opinion, Lewis’ theological deviation is far more serious than anything Young sets forth.
Am I ready to burn all his books or smash up our Chronicles of Narnia audios and DVDs in front of my tear-faced children? No.
I pull out the excellent and discount what I believe isn’t helpful.
No fiction writer or movie maker in their right mind would expect their receivers to take everything as gospel.
After all, there’s a saying that fiction creators are just really good liars. The readers or watchers enter into that “lie” to enjoy a life-changing story. They imagine it’s real. The adventure inspires them.
Could an unbeliever be led astray by The Shack? Sure, it’s possible. Any Christian movie could do that without proper study of the scriptures. Could an unbeliever seek out the true God of the Bible because of the movie? Yes. Personally, I think the second possibility is most likely.
On Downplaying Sin and Judgment
Young doesn’t believe that all roads lead to Heaven. Nor does he believe that all people will be reconciled to God upon death. This is what Young’s often accused of, though.
Though God’s judgment must be addressed, that wasn’t the goal of this work and I think that’s ok. Only so many themes can be touched on in a work for it to be effective. There must be a tight focus.
God lovingly helping his child through unforgiveness and grief was the aim of The Shack.
People long for a profound love only God can provide in the midst of their suffering. This movie, in my opinion, delivers on that.
It is not God’s judgment that ultimately leads us to Him. It’s the discovery of a love so irresistible that nothing else can be done but to go to Him and never leave.
As the scriptures say, it’s his kindness that turns us from our sin.
Like I’ve shared before, for much of my life, it’s been much easier to imagine a God who’d want to backhand me rather than embrace me.
Anything that can help me better see God’s intimate love for me is a good thing. The Shack did that for me.
My Personal Experience With the Movie
Up to this point, I’ve done more of the explanation end. Now I’ll wrap things up with my personal experience with the movie.
Before I begin, I’ll start by saying that The Shack movie was a deeply moving experience for me. And I was totally unprepared for that.
There are others I know who felt the same way.
I’ll do my best to share with you why this was the case.
Could Relate Closely To the Main Character
First, I closely identified with the main character, Mack.
Like Mack, I’ve been deeply hurt in a Christian or church context. So has every member of my family. The movie starts out with hurts like that.
I’m generally not the crying sort, but seeing that close connection at the start of the movie made the tears flow. It was all too familiar.
For the rest of the movie, my challenge was finding an apropos time to blow my nose without making a scene.
I also could relate to tragedy though not the same as Mack’s. Like Mack, I’ve struggled terribly with the “whys” of life like he did and even with anger towards God.
The feeling that God was the One wounding or at least failing to prevent those wounds from happening was something I could relate to.
Often, I’ve asked God why He ever set this earth in motion in the first place if He knew there’d be such heartache.
Deep down, I understood He didn’t cause the evil. Still, He allows it even though He’s completely able to stop it and there lies the struggle. This reality wasn’t any more comforting to me in the past.
The proper conclusion of that enigma must end in faith that God will resolve everything in his time. But to come to such a conclusion isn’t a passive intellectual assent for most when calamity pays a visit.
It’s a violent revolution of the soul, full of anger, despair, confusion and even hate before there is peace, joy, forgiveness and hope.
This transformation experienced by Mack is what viewers get to witness in The Shack. It is the very same transformation they long for within their own souls.
Bewildering tragedy sees a satisfying resolution because of God’s unimaginable love.
The Main Reason the Movie Succeeds
The Shack allows a small taste of something we all desperately crave.
A grief-stricken dad gets the opportunity to deeply experience God’s love as he works through the haunting “whys” of life.
He only sees a small slice of this and only for a “weekend” (he’s actually in a coma when this takes place).
For the span of a few days, the curse is reversed in a sense. Mack interacts with God in a way that can only happen in Heaven. He receives healing from his grief in a fuller and more intimate way than we do on earth though the process is painful.
In short, what Mack receives from God in this movie, every hurting heart longs for. Just a few days of such an unraveling portrayed in the movie is glorious.
Imagine, then, what Heaven will be like when our wounded hearts enter the eternal sanctuary of God’s love, where every hurt is fully healed. Where a love so deep floods over us and in some strange way the impossible happens. Our triumph becomes all the greater because of our previous despair.
My Unexpected Conclusion
I was completely unprepared for the end of the movie. The credits began to role as I sat there with my wife in the darkness. I literally couldn’t move. The tears were still flowing and my body was heaving.
Great art always invokes an emotion. In my mind, this was great art but still my emotional reaction surprised me.
We quickly made for our van. My pride didn’t want anyone to see my very red, puffy, watery eyes.
Once there, I wept and pain that’s been attached to me like a vice grip for years surfaced in hurt, bewildered weeping.
Perplexed by these animal feelings I kept asking God why things in my past had to be the way they were.
Involuntarily, my heart went back to the deep hurts our family experienced in a church context.
As these emotions overwhelmed my soul, half of my tears were a hurricane of grief. The other half were a hope that burned deeply in my soul like blazing embers. That hope was God speaking in my soul saying that, one day, there would be a satisfying resolution to that grief.
Some may argue that my whole basis for being in favor of The Shack is due to the emotions I felt. That isn’t the case. I wouldn’t have worked so hard fleshing things out first before bringing in my subjective experience if that were so.
In conclusion, should you go watch The Shack? That depends on who you ask. I’m not here to judge you either way.
I can only say that it impacted me like no movie ever has before. For me, there really isn’t a close second, either.