“You haven’t been reading The Shack, have you?”
That question, lobbed at me by a pastor, served as my first encounter with an indignant population in the Christian community who felt the book by Paul Young is heresy at worst—or sappy at best. Comments over the years about The Shack include making God resemble a “… New Age Oprah Winfrey,” “using a pagan name for the Holy Spirit,” and creating a “…dangerous and false image of God and idolatry.”
Years ago, a friend recommended The Shack to me during one of our regular conversations about suffering and God’s provision and sovereignty. Never once did I consider The Shack a theological or doctrinal treatise, but rather accepted it for what it was: one man’s exploration of heartache, pain, and loss in the context of his faith. I knew nothing of Paul Young then, and know little more today.
What I can state, however, is that The Shack describes a frank engagement of brutal circumstances between a heartbroken man and the God he thinks he knows. Framing the raw questions that all of us who regularly deal with the ugliness and harshness of life often ask, The Shack shares a fictional encounter between the main character and an unconventional representation of the Almighty (and the Trinity); a candid, poignant, challenging, and deeply touching encounter. that is that reason alone, I appreciate The Shack and look forward to the movie.
As a thirty-year caregiver for my wife with severe disabilities through a medical nightmare, each question included in The Shack has made it into my frequent late night conversations the ceiling fan. Those sleepless nights continue to prompt an ongoing struggle for me as I seek to make sense of the senseless. From raising my fist to God in rage over the unfairness—to collapsing in uncontrolled shame and guilt over my own failures, I have explored a vast territory of engagement with the Almighty—and still find myself struggling to come to grips with so much of what seems pointless and harsh. Like Paul Young, Like the main character in The Shack, I too, have offended the sensibilities of fellow believers who have brushed the edges of my own “great sadness.”
In my three decades of watching, often helplessly, while my wife suffers in ways few do, I am learning to be more comfortable with ambiguity—while also gaining an increasing peace in the knowledge that God doesn’t feel the need to explain all of this to me. Like Paul Young, when confronted with this world’s pain and sorrow, I am drawn back to God’s irresistible grace—and the Cross that stands alone as the definitive case of God’s immeasurable love for us and His complete answer to all the hard questions. The encounter with Christ and His work on the cross trumps the need for an explanation.
After all these years, I am no longer threatened by hard questions from others—or books or movies that explore them. In fact, I welcome them. Anyone who mines the heartbreak of life in an honest and sincere way—even if it’s unconventional, provides me the great privilege to address their pain with the same comfort that God Himself comforts me. (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Instead of sternly stating, “Woe unto them…,” many of these critics may try embracing more individuals in their woe.
People who read books or go to movies like The Shack aren’t looking to embrace poor theology. They are hurting and are dealing with their hurt in the best way they can. Instead of sternly stating, “Woe unto them…,” many of these critics may try embracing more individuals in their woe.
Sound doctrine and theology is important. Mine has not lessened because I read The Shack—nor will seeing the movie compromise my understanding of scripture, the Trinity or the atonement of my sins that Christ made possible on the cross. The Shack does provide, however, a greater opportunity to look and treat with compassion those who carry the secret pain and guilt of questioning the goodness of God as they bear tragic and crushing burdens.
Christians who feel indignant at The Shack, or any other work of fiction exploring the message and work of God in a novel, may find a better approach in realizing the opportunity. Soon, people grappling with the terrible heartbreak and isolation caused by pain, disability, and tragedy will gather together—but not necessarily at churches. Rather, this group struggling to find peace in their sorrow …these “fields that are ripe with harvest”—will be at a local cinema.
Peter W. Rosenberger is the author of HOPE FOR THE CAREGIVER, 7 Caregiver Landmines and How You Can Avoid Them, and hosts a weekly radio show for caregivers on IHeartMedia’s 1510 WLAC in Nashville, TN.
Editor’s note: After reading this, Paul Young called into the show. Hear his interview with Peter here:
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