Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Deconstructing “The Shack”

“The Shack” has been on the Christian fiction book charts for some time now. I’ll admit that I have only read random portions of the book, choosing instead to rely on a synopsis given to me by my wife. She read the book on the recommendation of others, but she became disturbed by it within the first hundred pages.

Without giving away the details, the book can be summarized as an attempt to bring God closer to man in a rather unique way. The main character in the book wanders away from God due to a set of terrible circumstances, but receives an invitation from God one day to meet at “the shack”. The remainder of the book has the character being drawn back to God through a series of informal discussions and experiences as God is “brought down to earth” for us.

This sounds good on the surface, and is indeed a valuable lesson for us to learn. God did come to earth in the form of His Son, who took on human form in order to experience a life on earth, without sin. His life was put to an end at the hands of cruel men, and we find that this earthly form was necessary for Him to become our sin substitute. Without this earthly form, and the shedding of His blood, we would not be able to be found faultless before God, avoiding our deserved condemnation for all eternity. “The Shack”, however, goes well beyond the Biblical account in its portrayal of the Holy three-in-one.

The book portrays God as a motherly old black woman, who sometimes can be found in the middle of ordinary tasks such as baking a cake, and often talking in phrases and contractions reminiscent of “Mammy” from Gone With The Wind. At least, that is the picture that I get in my mind. Jesus is portrayed as a young man, sometimes clumsy like an adolescent, with a degree of wisdom and a somewhat carefree nature. The Holy Spirit is revealed as a more ethereal being, less like a human form than the others and sometimes characterized like a riddle-speaking mystic.

As the main character interfaces with these individuals, the conversation often takes on a sort of careless banter, as if they are in some way equal to each other. God has the task of convincing the man that he should return to a right relationship with Him, but it is done in a very relaxed and irreverent fashion.

This is not how I picture God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And it’s not the character of the Trinity that I read about in the Bible.

In the book of Jude, the author speaks of godless men who have crept into their community. In verses eight through ten, he says, “In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them.” I must say that I have spoken out loud to Satan in rebuke before. But this act takes on a new look when approached in the context of this verse. If Michael would not speak directly to Satan to rebuke him, shouldn’t I take care in how I regard spirits, both good and evil? It seems as if there is a much greater gulf between us and the realm of angels and demons than we can fully understand. And if such reverence is shown to Satan by the angels, how then should we humans revere God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?

The Bible contains many references of God revealing Himself to men, and in each case man is on his knees and face in awe of God. God’s glory is so powerful that it made Moses’ face shine just to be exposed to it. Time after time, the appearance of angels to men in the Bible is accompanied by the request to “Fear not!” This is an accurate representation of the God that I serve. His power and holiness is so perfect and inspiring that we will not even be able to stand in His presence.

While I can appreciate certain lessons put forth in “The Shack”, such as reconciliation with God, I am disturbed at the cheapening of His awesome glory put forth in the book. One could make the point that I have not read the entire book, and should not be so quick to draw a conclusion. That concern has some validity. But I am choosing not to read the remainder of the book for the very reason that I want nothing to dispel the awesome majesty of the God that I read about in the Bible. This is the image of God that I want in my mind’s eye, as set forth by His word, not a popular work of fiction. “Oh be careful little eyes what you read…”