As I mentioned previously, I bought the book The Shack, by William Paul Young, with some of my Christmas money. A couple of friends had mentioned it and it sounded interesting, so I bought it. It wasn’t until later that I heard about the controversy surrounding the book. I asked a friend, whose opinion I respect, what she thought about it all. She had some good advice from her pastor about “chewing the meat and spitting out the bones.”
After reading the book and rereading the review linked above, I think the reviewer did an excellent job pointing out what is Biblically wrong with The Shack. There’s some good discussion in the comments to the review post, as well. I definitely wouldn’t recommend the book to a new Christian because I wouldn’t want this to be their basis for their view of God. However, I think it can provide some interesting food for thought for the more mature Christian. It can be good a good thing to give voice to your beliefs as you examine them while thinking through what this book has to say about God and the Trinity versus what the Book has to say about Them.
My overall opinion of the book is that it was “okay.” Not great, but okay. It required more thought than a book that I would typically read just for fun — as a Christian, I couldn’t read it simply as a work of fiction — but it wasn’t something I’d read to grow my faith either (i.e. a Bible study book). I certainly didn’t agree with all of the author’s interpretations of God, but, as I said, some of it was pretty interesting food for thought. You may see several posts related to The Shack in the coming weeks or months because there were several chapters that I thought I might like to re-read and ponder, Bible in hand.
There were a couple of things, though, that stood out enough for me to go ahead and start forming some thoughts about them. One was about forgiveness and the other was about God’s place in my life. Yeah, that one sounds pretty deep, huh?
The thoughts about God’s place in my life came while reading the chapter in which, Mack, the main character, talks to the three Persons representing the Trinity, asking, “But don’t you want us to set priorities? You know: God first, then whatever; followed by whatever?”
Parts of a couple of the responses were particularly interesting to me:
Sarayu (The Holy Spirit): “…how much is enough? How much time do you give me before you can go on with the rest of your day, the part that interests you so much more?” […]
Jesus: “Mack, I don’t want to be first among a list of values; I want to be at the center of everything…rather than a pyramid, I want to be the center of a mobile, where everything…is connected to me but moves with the wind…” […]
Sarayu: “…I am the wind.”
While you may not agree with all of the author’s theology, isn’t that an interesting analogy? Surely I’m not alone in being guilty of sometimes saying, “Okay, I gave God the first part of my day, by having my prayer and Bible reading. Now, on with the rest of my day.”
Isn’t the mobile a more beautiful picture? Every part of my life connected to God, with Him at the center and the Holy Spirit being the wind that directs my life? I do believe that I need to give God that first part of my day so that He can grow my relationship with Him to the point that the time I give him is the part of my day that interests me so much. However, I still like the picture of my life being a mobile centered on Christ with the Holy Spirit determining the direction it will all flow.
The other thing I found interesting was the chapter that was talking about forgiveness. That is one aspect of the book that was mentioned directly, in the link above, as having thoughts contrary to Scripture, but, again, some of it was very thought-provoking. In this chapter, God is asking Mack to forgive the man who murdered his daughter. Mack, understandably, is having issues with this for the same reason that most of us have issues with forgiveness, even when what we’re being asked to forgive isn’t nearly as huge. That reason is that, in Mack’s eyes, forgiveness means saying that what the other person did is okay and opening yourself up to a relationship with that person.
In this chapter, God tells Mack:
Mack, for you to forgive this man is to release him to me and allow me to redeem him. […]
Forgiveness is not about forgetting, Mack. It is about letting go of another person’s throat. […]
You don’t have to have a relationship with this man…Forgiveness does not establish a relationship. In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship. […]
Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and your ability to love fully and openly. Do you think this man cares about the pain and torment you have gone through?
I have had difficulty in the past with forgiveness because I felt that to forgive — especially someone who had not asked for forgiveness — was somehow saying that whatever they did was okay. I think Mr. Young may have a valid point here, though: forgiveness is not saying that what the offender did was okay; it’s saying that you’re going to relinquish your role of judge and jury and leave that to God.
The hardest part of that, though, is probably the true heart of forgiveness: the part where you say, “I’m releasing this person to God and, if they seek His forgiveness, and He redeems them, giving them the gift of salvation, I’ll rejoice that there is one more soul who won’t spend eternity in Hell.”
Depending on what you’re forgiving the person for, that can be a pretty hard pill to swallow — the thought that God could forgive their “big” sin, just the same as He forgives your “little” ones. However, I think Mr. Young is also right in saying that forgiveness is for the forgiver. He goes so far to say, in the book, that some people go beyond not even caring that you’re harboring a grudge (or even being completely unaware of it), but that some people actually feed on the knowledge that you’re suffering for what they’ve done.
At any rate, I believe the author has a point in saying that forgiveness does not mean that you have to establish a relationship with the offender. As he points out, God created and loves all His children, even the ones who have chosen not to have a relationship with him. Relationships are built on trust. Forgiveness does not establish trust. It simply removes the burden of bitterness from the forgiver.
This is probably way too much rambling for a single post. That’s what happens when I start thinking out loud. If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Even if you haven’t read it, feel free to share your thoughts on my thoughts. 😉