I was a latecomer to The Shack. I read it in November 2012, after having the opportunity to meet its author, Wm. Paul Young. Much of my reticence to read the book was due to the overwhelming number of Christians and churches that were so gaga over it. Forgive me my skepticism, but Christians tend not to have the best cultural palate, so when the same people who will recommend The Prayer of Jabez or “Fireproof” also commended The Shack, I made a mental note that it was probably one of those fluffy, sentimental books that makes Christians feel good about themselves and their tame God.
I was wrong.
The Shack is one of the most moving books I’ve read. It will challenge your theology in ways you cannot expect. It showed me how small my view of God still is, at times, and what forgiveness really means: “Forgiveness is choosing to let go of the other person’s throat.” If you walk away from this book feeling good and satisfied and content with your view of God, you didn’t read it closely enough. Go back and read it again.
The book centers on the story of Mackenzie Philips, a man whose young daughter is kidnapped while they are on a camping trip. The investigation grows cold, but turns up evidence that she is likely no longer alive. Some time after these events, Mac receives a cryptic invitation to go back to the shack where the last evidence of his daughter was turned up. He does and his world is turned upside down.
He meets the Trinity there, specially revealed as persons with whom he can interact. Young’s ability to write about Mack’s pain is honest and wrenching. Mack rails against God, against the man who took his daughter, against the people and systems who let him down. He wants to know why it was “allowed” to happen, where God’s love and plan is in the taking of innocence. He finds answers, but they’re not the ones he expected.
When I started this 35 for 35 blogging exercise last month, I put calendar dates to each post. Maybe it’s no coincidence that I’d planned this post for today. This week, the US has been rocked by two tragedies, both of which have had an impact on me, like they have millions of others. The shooting at Clackamas Town Center Mall was only 30 minutes away from where I live and both of my girls are the same ages as many of the children who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary. Our country is grieving. People are asking where God is, how God could’ve allowed something like this to happen. People are angry (I know I am) and want to dispense justice.
Before we go too far down that road, let us read (or re-read) The Shack. It is a book that can offer catharsis and through which we can grieve. There are tough conversations that need to happen in our political, public health, and church communities. Changes need to be made and people from all sides of the various arguments need to be willing to give things up, things to which they think they are entitled. It is time to let go of the other person’s throat.
“I’m stuck, Papa. I just can’t forget what he did, can I?” Mack implored.
“Forgiveness in not about forgetting, Mack. It is about letting go of the other person’s throat.”
“But I thought you forget our sins?”
“Mack, I am God. I forget nothing. I know everything. So forgetting for me is the choice to limit myself. Son,” Papa’s voice got quiet and Mack looked up an him, directly into his deep brown eyes, “because of Jesus, there is now no law demanding that I bring your sins back to mind. They are gone when it comes to you and me, and they run no interference in our relationship.”
“But this man . . .”
“But he too is my son. I want to redeem him.”
“So what then? I just forgive him and everything is okay, and we become buddies?” Mack stated softly but sarcastically.
“You don’t have a relationship with this man. At least not yet. Forgiveness does not establish relationship. In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship. Mackenzie, don’t you see that forgiveness is an incredible power–a power you share with us, a power Jesus gives to all whom he indwells so that reconciliation can grow? When Jesus forgave those who nailed him to the cross they were no longer in his debt, nor mine. In my relationship with those men, I will never bring up what they did, or shame them, or embarrass them.”
“I don’t think I can do this,” Mack answered softly.
“I want you to. Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver,” answered Papa, “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? If anything, he feeds on that knowledge. Don’t you want to cut that off? And in doing so, you’ll release him from a burden he carries, whether he knows it or not–acknowledges it or not. When you choose to forgive another, you love him well.”
“I do not love him.”
“Not today, you don’t. But I do, Mack, not for what he’s become, but for the broken child that has been twisted by his pain. I want to help you take on that nature that finds more power in love and forgiveness than hate.”
-Wm. Paul Young, The Shack, 228-229