The Shack has been sitting on my bookshelf for, I don’t know… eight or nine years? The book was controversial when it was released in 2007. With issues ranging from the depiction of God to the theology of universalism (a theology I strongly disagree with), there were boycotts, cries of heresy, and just an overall spurning of the book.
But people were being changed by it too. Moved by it. So how was I supposed to approach The Shack?
Well, I didn’t. I was afraid that it would somehow skew my vision of God, ruin my theology, and cause me to start my own weird sect of Adventism. But I never got rid of the book. Because I was deeply curious about people’s experience with it. I told myself I would read it when I was ready.
Well nine years later, a trailer was released for the film adaptation – and it almost made me cry. After seeing it, I knew there was still something for me in the story, if I was willing to look beyond some of the discrepancies (something easy to find for an Adventist in Christian art and film) and see what God might have in store for me there.
Well, I wasn’t disappointed. I cried for almost the entire movie. At one point I was ugly crying. Because I got it. Beyond some of the fundamental theological flaws, I got what the movie was about. And I want to share my journey to The Shack with you.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.
Going in, I knew the premise of the story. Mackenzie is grieving over the murder of his daughter, gets a mysterious letter from God to meet him at the shack where she was killed, and he goes. He meets an African-American woman, an Israeli, and an Asian women who claim to be the Trinity. Cue controversy.
The idea of God coming in the form of an African-American woman never bothered me. I almost welcomed it, because it is not saying that God IS African-American or a woman (He’s certainly not white, friends – He’s not human at all. And Mac’s experience is most certainly a dream). The movie made that clear too. In this portrayal, God comes in the form of a woman. Mac’s Father abused him and his mother, leading to his mother’s suicide and spurring Mac to slip cyanide in his liquor. So God says that Mac doesn’t need a Father right now – but when the time is right, He shows up as a Native American man. Again, no arguments there.
Portraying Jesus as an Israeli man was also fabulous. Jesus would have been the only one with a concrete form anyway, and that form is a Jewish human being. And similar to my opinions of God, I didn’t mind the Holy Spirit represented as an Asian woman named Sarayu. It’s who it needed to be for Mac.
The depictions weren’t perfect. I felt the most controversy over how God was portrayed than anything. But I was touched nonetheless. It inspired me to seek God and witness Him in this way for myself. Not as black or as a woman but as a God who wants to sit on the porch with me and talk; a God who wants to bind up my wounds. A God who loves me fiercely.
What I Wrestled With
While I was comfortable with some of the controversial aspects of The Shack, there were still some things I struggled with:
- The general theme of Universalism is an obvious one.
- The scene of reconciliation between Mac and his Father. What about his Mother? You mean to tell me that Mac wasn’t broken up about what happened to her? Was it implying that Universalism isn’t for suicide victims? What about Missy’s murderer? Maybe I don’t get the theology here, but it seems to me that Mac had more people to reconcile with than just an abusive dad.
- Misty being in Heaven. You know, state of the dead stuff.
- God having nail marks in His wrists. I know why they did it. They tried to portray that God suffered in sending Christ to the cross. But to me, the nail marks are an important, distinguishing mark of Christ, which is not shared in the Trinity.
- God listening to secular music. I’m not saying that God doesn’t enjoy some of our secular creations, but it felt irreverent somehow.
- Wisdom as a heavenly being. There isn’t one. One of the Godhead would served better in this role.
- Elouisa and Papa as names for God. I like the idea of at least Papa in a devotional sense. It’s what Jesus called His Father (Abba). But as a regular reference… hm. And Elouisa? No. I can’t envision God as some human cross-dresser, a deity who wants to try on the trinkets of humanity like names. No thanks.
- They don’t mention Mac’s murder nearly as much as it should have been in this story. There were more things that should have been on that mountain.
What Moved Me
It’s hard to boil down the entire movie into one moving moment. There were so many ways that it illustrated who God is. But some of the things that tugged tears out of me were:
- Seeing Mac’s anguish when he finds out about Missy
- Jesus playing with Missy in Heaven
- Mac not being able to choose between his children and essentially getting the salvation story in it’s entirety
- God tearfully telling Mac that He never left him or Missy
- Jesus showing Mac his handiwork in the stars
- Jesus telling Mac to come out of the sinking ship
Those scenes were all incredibly moving. But nothing hit me as hard as when God helps Mac carry Missy down the mountain, and when they bury Missy in Mac’s heart.
The mountain scene had some of the best imagery about forgiveness I’ve ever seen. Mac wakes up one morning to God in the form of a Native man, telling him that it’s time to go for a walk. God has changed because it is a Father that Mac’s going to need on this journey.
God leads Mac up a mountain to find Missy’s body, something he was denied in his real life. They find her in a cave, wrapped in a shroud. Mackenzie carries her body down back to the house, crying, and struggling with the burden. He isn’t ready to let go, to put the pain away. But Papa doesn’t expect Mac to do it one time. He tells him that forgiveness may mean carrying Missy off the mountain many times – but that he never has to carry her alone.
When Mac finally brings Missy’s body down off the mountain, God leads him to the wood shop where Jesus has spent most of the story. As he arrives he falls to his knees when he sees what Jesus has been working on; a beautiful casket for his daughter. I was practically sobbing at this scene. The tenderness of Sarayu as she comforts him, Jesus taking Missy’s body away, and the care with which the Trinity takes to bury the hurtful past in Mac’s soul.
There are things in my life that I need to carry down the mountain – daily. There is forgiveness I need to give to people who do not deserve it. But I am breaking my soul by not letting the Father, Son, and Spirit bury it in my heart for good. Now when I face resentment, I walk up into the forests with God, find the shrouded body of my pain, and take it back to Jesus.
Why I Needed The Shack
Despite its faults, I needed to take a trip to the shack. It reminded me of God’s tenderness, His mercy, and the mightiness found in His desire for me to know Him more. It reminded me that forgiveness isn’t always a one-hit wonder. Sometimes, we have to journey up and down the mountain until resentment, contempt, pain, and suffering stay where they belong.
At some point, I will read the book. But for now, I’ll recommend the movie adaptation. You don’t have to take everything as gospel. But if you find some shred of the good news in it, if it drives you back to the Word, then – well, I think that’s worth a trip to The Shack.
Have you read or seen The Shack? What part spoke to you? What did it teach you about your own theology or about forgiveness?