Friday, September 04, 2009

Shack lack

My wife is re-reading a bestselling Christian book, The Shack. She loves it and wants to lend our copy to just about every person she can think of. ('Hi, how are you? I'm fine, would you like to borrow this book?')

I read it, too, a while back. It's moving (made the back of my eyes prickle); it's not badly written (not quite poetic, but better than formulaic). But...

...But (sorry) - I'm just not convinced. It's not just that God the Father was portrayed as motherly female for much of the novel (though I do sigh - enough people think church is just for women and children as it is - oh and by the way, the Holy Spirit was feminine, too, and Jesus was a very nice boy). No, it's not that - and I understood that they were all about removing stereotypes, even if I wish it'd been done some other way). It's not even that I was left disconcerted by a feeling that, despite the book's fairly obvious aim to the contrary, it ended up giving suspiciously pat answers to difficult questions about suffering and the nature of evil.

No, the main thing was that the book was - well, just too popular. Plaudit after plaudit adorn the back cover and fly. Everyone loves it. It makes everyone feel so wonderful, so reassured, so... like the American Dream has come true at last, and God's the main character.

I don't want to sound scornful or misanthropic. I realise I'm veering in that direction. I don't doubt that The Shack is an uplifting read and genuinely encouraged some hurting souls.

Yet, I suppose what I missed was anything of prophetic challenge. God's basic message to the protagonist who finds himself alone with the almighty for a long weekend, seemed to be - 'See! I am nice, after all!'

But wouldn't God have something to say about justice, about the plight of the poor, about his revolutionary kingdom - in fact, about some of the things he expresses again and again and again through the prophets and ultimately through Christ. Go through the Bible and highlight references to 'justice and righteousness' and your pen will have run out before you reach the end of the Old Testament.

To put it another way - God just wasn't angry enough. And, strange though it may seem, I worry about a God who isn't angry. Strikes me that a God who isn't angry isn't very good. (Nice, maybe, but that's quite a different thing.)

Okay, so maybe that wasn't what the book was about. And it's not like the main character isn't challenged by his meeting with God in the shack. He is - particularly over the issue of forgiveness (which is, I suppose, close to the heart of the book). But I was waiting for some of that heart-stopping controversy and demand that Jesus dished out continually. I was waiting for 'What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight' and 'Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple'?

The Shack may be the kind of book that would take someone a good few steps along the road to faith, or overcome some of the emotional objections some feel. It's has evangelistic potential and for that I would commend it. But as a real exploration of God's heart and what he may be saying to our world today... sorry. It left me too happy and reassured to be of much use.


normal said...

I got some comments on this post via Facebook and thought I'd post them here (but anonymously out of respect for the fact that they left their comments there, not here).

Anonymous said...

I think The Shack, like it says in the intro, isn't for you. It's for the people that it's for.

But I think it is a gospel book. It's not the Bible. It's not trying to give a gospel overview. God doesn't say everything to everybody every moment of every day - I think a lot of the Shack is how God teaches us what we need to hear. I never read the stuff about God being a nursing mother, or singing over us, before a few weeks ago. I wonder why God waited so long to teach me that.

Anger is not God's standard response to everyone.

I don't think it has much evangelistic potential, except to Christians. Maybe it has more evangelistic potential to American unforgiving gun culture in which God is white and angry and supports an additional death penalty to the one he took to pay the price.

Anonymous said...

It's a NOVEL, James! lol

Anonymous said...

I want to borrow it lol! Can I be in the queue for it?

normal said...

I know it's a novel, but it's being read by a lot of people and I think they need to examine the label before swallowing whole. (And anyway, who ever said novels can't change the world?... 'Look Stalin, just chill! Let Solzhenitsyn write his little stories...')

normal said...

I don't think saying 'this is just for those who it's for' will quite do. I could imagine the 'seed faith, send us your money' crew on God TV saying the same. It's a weak defence. This novel (there you go, anon) is saying some pretty arresting things about God and being read by many, many people. It needs a bit of testing.

As for what you say about anger, God... and me - phewsh! Quite a lot to follow up. For now, I'll just repeat that anger is as much a vital manifestation of God's love towards a world enslaved in sin and injustice as his tenderness: it's all love. God is love, full stop.

But your comments make me realise I've been unclear about the nature of that anger. It is not, absolutely not about emotive revenge ('in which God is white and angry and supports an additional death penalty to the one he took to pay the price'). I'm right with you there, and with 'The Shack' too, inasmuch as that it what it is saying. But God's love-anger is the response that cannot remian comfortable in the face of unrighteousness, that must act and that must provoke his people to act. It was that very anger with sin - as an aspect of his love - that is the crucial power behind God's absolute commitment to put the world to rights which brought about his greatest act...

The Lord looked and was displeased
that there was no justice.

He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm worked salvation for him,
and his own righteousness sustained him.

He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

(Thanks for that Isaiah.) So God so loved the world that he was angry enough with sin to send his son...

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with what I think you're saying that we can't make God be like what we want him to be like to make us comfortable. I found The Shack a profoundly uncomfortable read, and still do. I'm quite new to receiving stuff, and I cringed through everything I received from God via this book. Which I guess is why I identify with the... Read more bloke in this book. I was in the very uncomfortable position a couple of weeks ago of preaching on Jesus saying 'I am the Bread of Life' and having to say that I just didn't grasp it at all, but that Jesus was good at coping with people who didn't get what he was on about (which is the context of the passage).