You Are Now Entering “The Shack”

the shack

Another book review – can you tell summer reading is happening at the library?

I had heard all sorts of buzz about the book “The Shack” by William P. Young, so I decided that it was time to check it out for myself.   After finishing it, something(s) about this book bothered me, but I’ve been having a hard time putting it into words in my mind.   I thought typing out my thoughts might help me make more sense of it.

For a little background, and without spoiling the book for anyone who still wants to read it, Mackenzie Phillips (or Mack), the main character in the book, becomes angry and depressed about losing his youngest daughter after she was kidnapped and murdered while on a family camping trip. 

After receiving a note from God (otherwise know as “Papa”) in his mailbox, Mack returns to the cabin where evidence of the crime took place and there he encounters the Holy Trinity.   And what a trio they are… God the Father is an elderly black woman, Jesus is his very own carpenter-y self and the Holy Spirit is a mysterious Asian woman.   

Mack hammers out a lifetime of pain, regrets and disappointments that weekend with the Almighty.   Coming to terms with his anger toward God, he is once again able to live in the world. 

That’s a VERY condensed version of the plot – there really is more to this book if you’re still interested.  Now, onto my opinion…

First, this book had a folksy, familiar tone to it.  The intro and epilogue, written by “Willie” (as in “as told to Willie by Mack”), could have been out of a movie.  Imagine the voice of a man with a Southern drawl and banjos playing in the background and you’ve got it.  All Young needed to do was write, “Y’all are gonna hear a tale about Jeee-zus now…” to complete the mood. 

While there’s nothing technically wrong with this style of writing and others might feel that it had a very personal, chatty feel, I found it hard to take.  It didn’t match the seriousness of the theme of this book.  A parent trying to come to terms with losing his young daughter to a serial killer is neither funny nor friendly. 

Plus, I think  Young took some writing lessons from Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (a la Left Behind) which were some of the most painful books I ever slogged through.

While my opinion regarding the writing style of the author is a matter of personal taste, my opinion on the content of this book is not. 

I wish I had the book in my hand to quote from, but 26 other people were waiting for me to turn it in, so I don’t.  However, the gist of what Young is saying in this book is that the most important thing that a person can do in this life is have a relationship with God.  Period.  That’s it.  Problem solved.   

God has no preconceived notions about what is expected of humans.  As long as you live in a relationship with God, no worries.  Ask for forgiveness and it’s all good. 

I think that this approach to religion is comforting to many people.  “Feel good” religion is everywhere (Why else is Joel Osteen is so popular?  You DESERVE to be wealthy…) However, I found the whole thing to be totally confusing. 

It’s not that I’m so pious that I walk around with a Bible in hand, looking up passages to correct others and catching people in their mistakes.  However, I seem to remember some stone tablets way back in the book of Genesis that had 10 rules to live by carved into them.  I’m pretty sure that they still hold true to this day. 

I think that Young has many issues with religion and decided to cook up his own version of what he thinks is the “true path”.  He threw in a dash of Eastern philosophy, added some new age thinking and served it up as Christianity.

I wish that Young had put some sort of disclaimer in the beginning of this book, along with the one claiming it to be a book of fiction, stating that this is his version of Christianity.  Like I said, I am no Bible scholar, but I have no idea what some of his ideas were based on.  When I read a book and have to go back every couple of pages and say, “Huh?”, something isn’t quite right.

I really, really wanted to like “The Shack”.   I think the themes of facing your greatest fears and forgiving those who hurt you the most are great and I was looking forward to some insight.  I would LOVE it if God invited me for a weekend up north, cooked me meals and talked to me while we explored the true meaning of life.  Alas, I was left confused and wondering more about the author’s psyche than his work. 

I think I’m going to stick to science fiction and fantasy.  At least no one’s claiming those genres are real.

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2 thoughts on “You Are Now Entering “The Shack”

  1. I was not wild about this book either. I think it’s hard to take seriously the image of God as a black woman (or white man, or purple woman — this has nothing to do with race or gender). God is bigger than that. There is no one-size-fits-all description of God, and, even though this book is fiction, that image made it impossible for me to “believe” anything, thus making it impossible to really get into the book.

    Since Jesus once was man, the image of the carpenter was more palatable. But the Holy Spirit is — well, it just IS. How can you put that into an image?

    The message that God forgives us and is always with us is truth. But I agree with your worries about the fell-good religion. We can’t just ignore God when his wishes and commands are inconvenient, then turn around and say, “Oh, yeah — sorry about that!” and expence that God is happy with our actions.

    Sorry to take over your blog 🙂 You are the first person I’ve heard not gush over this book, it’s nice to know I’m not alone!

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