For months now, I had been hearing about how great the book “The Shack” by Wm. Paul Young was. The first place I heard about it was from Cliff and Stephanie of GSPN. They recorded a Family From the Heart episode where they reviewed the book and Cliff recorded an About the Church episode about it with his co-host and friend DG. I listened to the FFTH heart episode back in April when they first released it, but now after reading the book will have to re-visit these episodes.
As you should know, this summer has awarded me the opportunity to do a lot of reading. Not having another job has allowed me to finish 9 books so far, but none of them has challenged, taught, delighted and inspired me like this one has.
Today with my spiritual director, who has not yet read the book, I shared the very thoughts I am about to share here. Her challenge to me was to take some steps to share this with others. This may include talking about it with my teacher co-workers or online friends. Anything I do will take great courage, essentially to “get out of the boat” and take a step of faith. I would love any ideas you have in how I can further share the message of this wonderful story.
Since I have read this book, I feel different – transformed, even. I have found other people who have also read this book since I finished it and have enjoyed talking to them about it, even if it was online. I’m excited to share with you, my dear readers, what I have learned. There will be some mild spoilers, but not major ones. I encourage all of you to read this book, and after you do, I would love to talk to you about it.
And now onto the good stuff!
Mackenzie Allen Phillips has endured a Great Sadness. While on vacation, his youngest child Missy was abducted and murdered. Four years later, Mac is still in severe pain and one day receives a note seemingly from God that invites him to spend the weekend at the very shack that his beautiful daughter was murdered. Suspicious, but also curious, Mac decides to follow through on this request.
The God he encounters is unlike anything he has seen before. Papa, as the note was signed, is an African American woman hard at work in the kitchen when Mac comes knocking. He also meets Jesus, casually dressed in jeans, and The Holy Spirit, shown as an Asian woman called Sarayu. Throughout the weekend Mac spends with this trio, he is asking many questions of them to better understand who God is and why the Great Sadness had to happen.
Mac asks Papa how he could leave his son alone on the cross. Papa replies that Jesus was not alone, but God was with him on the cross. A bird flies into the kitchen, which leads to a discussion on pain. Pain clips a person’s wings. If it is left unresolved, you forget you were created for flight. This is a major theme: darkness/light, pain/joy.
Papa also explains that Jesus’ strength didn’t come from an ultimate power. It came from the relationship he had with God, living in the manner God wants all of us to be – in relationship. This is another major theme: it all comes down to relationship. God cannot act without love. It is all about relationship and love.
Mac works in a garden with Sarayu. The garden is a big mess before and after the process of weeding it. Sarayu tells him that this garden is Mac’s soul – it’s a big mess. It’s not about the work, but the purpose that makes the experience special. It’s an intentional act.
There’s also an important discussion that helps Mac better understand evil and good. These opposites are vital to understand: evil/good, light/dark, death/life. If you do not have the light, you have the dark and so on. Later on the point is made that we are not immune from Evil.
Here is a great quote about what darkness is:
“The darkness hides the true size of fears and lies and regrets…The truth is they are more shadow than reality, so they seem bigger in the dark. When the light shines into the places where they live inside you, you start to see them for what they are.” (Page 176)
Mac gets a better understanding of what it means to be in relationship when he meets with Jesus. He walks on the water with him and while they are together, he has success, but later when he tries to go it alone, he sinks. This sinking leads to a discussion on relationship. This book is all about relationship.
“If you try to live this without me, without the ongoing dialogue of us sharing this journey together, it will be like trying to walk on the water by yourself. You can’t! And when you try, however well intentioned, you’re going to sink.” (Page 182)
God’s wisdom is personified as a woman named Sofia. This conversation leads to a better understanding of what it means to be a judge. Through his experience, Mac has judged the criminal, God, and the whole world. Eventually, Sofia asks Mac to judge as he perceives God judges – to decide which of his other children will be condemned and which will be saved. Mac finally breaks down and cries out for him to be taken instead. Finally he gets it – Jesus gave the ultimate gift of love, even if it cost everything.
A significant event happens towards the end of the book that helps Mac to completely heal from his pain. He gets closure and he finally understands God, this experience and so much more than he ever could have imagined. In this book, we are able to fully experience the journey that his man has gone through – from darkness to light, from sadness to joy. When he leaves this place, he is completely changed and he cannot wait to share his story with his family and friends. Even telling the story leads to redemption and better relationships.
There are some amazing recurring themes in this book: forgiveness, healing, redemption, relationship, love. In each conversation, these themes come back again and again. This book shows how important it is to be in relationship with God and each day, minute and hour the relationship is new. It may take multiple times to a person to pay attention, but Papa even delights in the opportunity to get through to a person (as she states in the story). We may not get it the first time, or feel like we failed, but there is always opportunity for redemption and re-establishing the relationship.
The Shack is an emotional journey of 250 pages and I feel privileged to be able to share with you about this book. Again, I highly encourage you to read it and to tell others about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this book and if and how it changes you. I also encourage you to look at the book’s official website to learn more about it. May you be blessed and forever changed by the amazing work of William Paul Young.