The Shack: Not Quite What I Expected

“Am I supposed to believe that God is a big black woman with a questionable sense of humor?”

The Shack, written by William Paul Young in 2007, is the story of middle-aged Mack meeting God personally in an old run-down shack where his daughter was murdered several years earlier.

To be honest, it was not my intention to read The Shack. I first heard of it right around the time it began gaining popularity because both my father and older brother read it and I remember it being a topic of conversation between them several times. For some reason, this gave me a bad impression – ever since I had thought of The Shack as a vaguely “scary” book and never had the slightest desire to read it. But when I saw that William Paul Young had put out another book, Eve, and read the little blurb about it, it piqued my curiosity and I decided to go ahead and add it to my already lengthy list of books to read. And then I threw The Shack on there for good measure.

Unfortunately, when I got to the library, Eve was only available in digital form not as a hard copy so I satisfied myself with getting The Shack and promising to check back later to see if Eve would become available in hard copy format.

I had always thought, because of the whole murdered daughter thing, I suppose, that The Shack was a criminal thriller with a fantasy twist. I assumed the story would go something like this: “Mack’s daughter gets abducted. Mack turns into a crazed maniac with an insatiable thirst for justice. Mack and his daughter’s abductor have a reunion at the shack. Mack loses it and physically assaults the man, demanding to know where his daughter is. The sick pyscho reveals that Mack’s daughter has long been dead. Mack takes the law into his own hands and murders his daughter’s killer. Somehow this brings him closure.” I’m not sure exactly how I thought the author would work God into the narrative – I did know that there was some spiritual element to the story. Maybe I thought God arranged the meeting, or maybe I thought the killer would turn out to be God – what a twist that would have been, right?

Either way, I was in for a bit of a shock. The Shack was not what I was expecting at all, and I must admit that part of me was not a little disappointed. Instead of the thriller I was expecting, I was greeted with a theological meandering lamely cloaked as fiction, kind of a Max Lucado-meets-Touched By An Angel.

Though I will admit I did not recognize “God” at first, Young’s portrayal was nothing I haven’t seen before. The most unusual part is that God consisted of not one, but three characters, who interacted with one another – a big black lady, a Middle Eastern man, and a little Asian woman. That, I suppose, was something rather new.

Individually, however, I’ve seen all of these before. God portrayed as a big black woman, Jesus as a Middle-Eastern guy – the only exception, of course, being Sarayu, Young’s idea of the Holy Spirit. As by far the most neglected member of the Trinity, there was something rather refreshing about having “her” finally get some time in the spotlight. All the portrayals of the Holy Spirit I am familiar with have been sadly lacking in imagination – doves and wind are about as far as anyone seems willing to go.

I did not particularly like Young’s portrayal of God, to be honest. While Sarayu’s statement that “humans are clumsy” seemed uproariously funny, most of the other attempts at humor fell flat. Doesn’t it seem a bit presumptuous on Young’s part to try and act like he knows what God would find trivial enough to joke about? I came away feeling like God-as-a-black-lady was perhaps not the best comparison after all.

So far, the only portrayal of God that has hit home for me was Ted Dekker’s, as a little ten-year-old boy called “Elyon.”

The only part of The Shack that seemed terribly profound was the idea that responsibility and expectations are limits that we impose upon ourselves and were never apart of God’s plan for us. Overall, I found The Shack to be a disappointment.

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