Date Published: January 1, 2007
Number of Pages: 304
Print Price: $7.20
eBook Price: $6.64
I have to admit I didn't give this book much consideration until I recently saw books - several in fact - about The Shack on a secular bookstore shelf – and The Shack was published in 2007! After reading the book, I can see what all the fuss (positive and negative) was about.
The story begins with an introduction to Willie, who narrates. He is a friend of Mack Philips. Mack goes to his mailbox one day to find an invitation from "Papa" to visit him at "the shack." There is already an element of the supernatural, as Mack soon finds out that, due to icy weather, the mailman never did deliver anything that day.
Also, "Papa" is the name that Mack's wife Nan uses to refer to God, and no one else would know this.
Mack and Nan had five children, but their youngest, six-year-old Missy, was slain by a serial killer while on a camping trip. Missy disappeared while Mack was rescuing two of his other kids after their canoe tipped over.
At first the angry Mack suspects the note is a cruel joke, maybe played by Missy's killer. But he does go to the shack – with a gun – while his oblivious family has made plans for the same weekend to visit Nan's sister and her family in another state.
Mack is greeted by "Papa," described to the reader as a large African-American woman. (At the end of the book Papa takes the form of a man.) Mack soon meets "Sarayu," an Asian woman, and Jesus, who looks like one would expect him to look. It becomes clear to the reader that these three are meant to be the Holy Trinity.
I suspect this nontraditional take on the Trinity is where much of the controversy about the book lies. However, as a Catholic, I have a few bigger problems with The Shack.
For instance, after Mack notices that the fictional Jesus is critical of "religion," Jesus says, "I don't create institutions – never have, never will." Oh really? How about “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18)?
The fictional Jesus goes on, "Like I said, I don't create institutions; that's an occupation for those who want to play God. So no, I'm not too big on religion, and not very fond of politics or economics either. And why should I be? They are the man-created trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and deceives those I care about. What mental turmoil and anxiety does any human face that is not related to one of these three?
Other problematic passages include when Sarayu (the Holy Spirit, you remember), in the presence of Papa and Jesus, says "yes" when Mack affirms that we don't have to "follow the rules.”
"In Jesus you are not under any law,” Sarayu says. “All things are lawful."
Sarayu says she doesn't like "religion" any more than this fictional Jesus does, adding, "Religion must use law to empower itself and control the people who they need to survive."
Young soon justifies all this undermining of traditional religion by having Sarayu liken one's relationship to God to a friendship – if there is an expectation of certain behavior or certain actions, the relationship is not one where two friends can simply enjoy each other and serve each other willingly, out of love and pleasure in each other.
Papa throws in her (his?) two cents, saying, "To the degree that you resort to expectations and responsibilities, to that degree you neither know me nor trust me." And Jesus adds "And to that degree you will live in fear." Papa tells Mack she has never been disappointed in him (or any of us).
That's disappointing – to hear that God doesn't want anything from us? He doesn't expect us to do our best for Him?
Despite all this silly extemporizing, The Shack is worth a Catholic's precious reading time, assuming the reader has been well catechized. There are no direct attacks on or even mentions of the Catholic faith. You'll feel like you've gone to the shack and that the same exchanges God had with Mack, He’s had with you.
My favorite part of the story is when Papa says to Mack, "[L]et's say that I know it will take you forty-seven situations and events before you will actually hear me – that is, before you will hear clearly enough to agree with me and change. So when you don't hear me the first time, I'm not frustrated or disappointed, I'm thrilled. Only forty-six more times to go."
Needless to say, Mack returns from the shack a changed man. "For the better" is what does need to be said. He has forgiven both his daughter's killer and his own father, who had been an abusive alcoholic.
The book gets pretty deep where it could have been superficial and light, but only briefly, and not so much that it turns readers off. It's not a perfect book, but it is nowhere near as scary as the book’s cover about it would have you suspect.
In the end, The Shack holds more good than harm.
Original Language: English
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