• 75°

‘The Shack’: interesting story, confusing theology

“The Shack,” by William P. Young, in collaboration with Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings. Windblown Media, Los Angeles. 256 pages. $14.99. Paperback.
By Elizabeth Cook
editor@salisburypost.com
I felt duped when the riveting premise of “The Shack” ó a man revisiting the scene of his young daughter’s murder ó gave way to caricature.
The father, Mack, returns to the rundown shack to find himself in a different world inhabited by the holy trinity. God is a black woman named “Papa,” Jesus is a big-nosed carpenter and the Holy Spirit drifts in and out of view as an Asian spirit called Sarayu.
It feels like “The Lovely Bones” meets “The Three Amigos,” with a dash of “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.”
With chapter headings like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “Here Come Da Judge,” the novel trivializes aspects of Christian beliefs.
Yet “The Shack” has been at the top of the New York Times’ bestseller list for paperback trade fiction since June 8, spurred by the growing debate over whether the story is heresy or a creative way to help people understand religion.
Either way, the author of “The Shack,” William P. Young, has created a book that both fascinates and repels. It plumbs the depths of human misery and soars to the top of human joy and spiritual wholeness ó or tries to.
The reader is immediately drawn to the character of Mack, a man burdened by horrible loss. “In a world of talkers, Mack is a thinker and a doer,” the story says. Unfortunately, he has a tragedy on which to dwell. During a family camping trip with Mack, 6-year-old daughter Missy disappeared ó abducted and killed by a serial murderer. The Great Sadness that descends on Mack after the murder makes the Ancient Mariner’s albatross look like a rabbit’s foot.”At times he could feel The Great Sadness slowly tightening around his chest and heart like the crushing coils of a constrictor …. Other times he would dream that his feet were stuck in cloying mud, as he caught brief glimpses of Missy running down the wooded path ahead of him …. oblivious to the dark shadow tracking her from behind.”
Who wouldn’t grieve? But just as Mack is about to disappear into his grief and depression, he finds a note in his mailbox. It says:
Mackenzie,
It’s been a while. I’ve missed you.
I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. ó Papa”Papa” is the name Mack’s wife, Nan, uses to refer to God. The shack is the place where Missy spent her last moments and where Mack later wept uncontrollably at the sight of her torn and blood-soaked dress.
The thought of returning to that place makes Mack sick, but eventually he goes, while his wife and children are out of town. At first he finds an empty, dirty shack, not much different than the last time he saw it. But then a rush of warm air touches his back. A songbird chirps. Snow turns into flowers. The shack has become a beautiful log cabin.
Inside he meets Papa, Son and holy Sarayu in a domestic scene full of good food, wonderful aromas and spiritual love ó a love Mack lost sight of long ago.
Nothing is what he might have expected.
“To reveal myself to you as a very large, white grandfather figure with flowing beard, like Gandalf, would simply reinforce your religious stereotypes,” Papa says, “and this weekend is not about reinforcing your religious stereotypes.”
It’s not about anybody’s religious stereotypes. The trinity is a difficult concept, but “The Shack” only muddies the waters more. Papa has scars on her wrists from Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus is a dependent, limited human being. And after a meal Jesus strikes a deal with Sarayu ó “I’ll wash. You dry.”
Papa attempts to explain.
“We are not three gods, and we are not talking about one god with three attitudes, like a man who is a husband, father and worker. I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely the one.”
Pretty quickly I found myself not trying to make sense of the theology in “The Shack.” Instead, I pressed on to see if Mack would come to peace with Missy’s death and shed The Great Sadness. That turns out to be one of the more satisfying aspects of the novel, a resolution that can come only after Mack reaches into his past and heals a broken relationship from long ago.
Young, a former office manager and hotel night clerk in Gresham, Ore., has experienced pain of his own through child abuse, death and the shame of adultery. He has described the shack as a metaphor for “the house you build out of your own pain” ó something many people can identify with.
But from that common ground Young departs on a journey that can be hard to follow. “The Shack” is an interesting story with a healthy dose of human drama ó and an overdose of convoluted religious theory. Read it for entertainment. Look elsewhere for spiritual direction.

Comments

Comments closed.

Coronavirus

N.C. lawmakers advance bill barring mandatory COVID-19 shots

Local

Rowan Public Library joins initiative to help people with digital connectivity

Local

Mocksville to dissolve police department

Crime

Blotter: May 5

Local

Salisbury’s McElroy named top city, county communications professional in state

Local

Locals condemn use of force during 2019 traffic stop of Georgia woman

Kannapolis

Back and better than ever: Cannon Ballers kick off inaugural season in Atrium Health Ballpark

News

NC police reform package approved by Senate committee

News

Rowan County Health Department receives $5,000 grant to fund prenatal oral health program

Local

City outlines use of federal HUD funds, approves NCDOT project to create U-turn bulb near Morlan Park Road

Local

Salisbury VA staff make the day for veterans with visitation parade

Kannapolis

Minor League baseball: Wood Ducks top Cannon Ballers in season opener

News

NC Senate eases caps on income, grants for K-12 scholarships

Nation/World

Biden aims to vaccinate 70% of American adults by July 4

Local

Cheerwine now accepting entries for festival’s T-shirt design contest

Coronavirus

North Carolina reports fewer than 1,000 COVID-19 positives

Local

Post accepting submissions for Mother’s Day photos, stories

Business

Perkins Cafeteria plans for July opening, looks to provide ‘wholesome, quality meals’

Local

Commissioners finalize grant application for Woodleaf Community Park

Landis

Landis board gets first look at budget that decreases town’s residential electric rates

Local

City to discuss two traffic-related measures, hold public hearing for use of federal funds

Local

Summer Fun: In-person camps are back this year

High School

High school baseball: South’s Deal will play at Methodist

Coronavirus

Vaccinations not counted in state data improve Rowan’s numbers