The story begins with Mackenzie "Mack" Phillips, a father suffering great pain because of the death of his young daughter at the hands of a serial killer. Mack receives a note from "Papa" to meet him at the rundown shack in the woods where police had found evidence of his daughter’s murder six years earlier. Mack, who was raised by a hypocritical, vicious and abusive father (who was also a pastor) already understands from previous experience that "Papa" is God.
Mack approaches the shack with rising anger, wanting to lash out at God for allowing his young girl to be killed. Instead of the expected old man with a long white beard, he's suddenly embraced by "a large beaming African-American woman" who introduces herself as Papa.
However, I wonder if he does this at the expense of revealing God’s holiness & role as the final Judge. It’s difficult to hold all these views of God together, but at times I got the feeling that God was presented as a loving, indulgent parent who never judges sin.
For example, Papa tells Mack, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.”
Also, whilst I welcome anything that challenges our “Gandalf-God stereotype” (white beard, long hair); I felt extremely uncomfortable with the anthropomorphism (attributing human qualities) of God the Father. I’m currently trying to explore this feeling. Perhaps it’s because God is Spirit, perhaps it’s because God never reveals Himself as a female in Scripture; either way it made me uneasy.
The Shack wants to make God accessible to a hurting world and I value how Young exposes different human fears & establishes that all fear is rooted in distrust of God. I’d encourage you to read the book with an open mind… But not so open that your brains fall out.
It is a book that promotes thought & discussion on the sacred so I’d suggest reading it with a friend & exploring your findings together (there’s even a Shack web page to help this process).
However, let’s remember that it isn’t God’s spoken Word – it is a novel. If we lose track of this, we’re in great peril.
If anything in it doesn’t agree with Scripture - bin it
If anything in helps connect you with the God revealed in Scripture – celebrate it.
And I’d love to hear your thoughts/reviews of it. Please post below.