My daughter just finished the bestselling book The Shack and asked me what I thought of it. I read it a few months back and came away less impressed than most readers. It has obviously touched people on an emotional level and has been an encouragement to many; who am I to criticize?
But I will offer a few observations.
The book’s popularity says a lot about our current view of God. The Graybeard from the Sistine Chapel has been replaced by the Oracle from the Matrix movies. The latter is more approachable and down to earth. She laughs, she cooks and she explains theodicies around the dinner table. We long for God to be this available and intimate.
Some metaphors are better than others. All metaphors and anthropomorphisms—even those in Scripture—are inadequate, but they’re all we have. Still, we need to be reminded these are only figures of speech. “Father” is a concept borrowed from time; not eternity. “Trinity” is our attempt to reconcile the logically inconsistent. God has no gender, even though we mostly refer to “him” with male pronouns. Other than the incarnation, he has no physical being—no skin, arms, eyes, ears or brain for that matter.
The image of God we carry around on our mental hard drives is comprised of bits from our family upbringing, our cultural biases and our church’s teachings. Those of us with a biblical pedigree snap verses together like multicolored Legos to construct our version of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How else to explain over 38,000 different “Christian” denominations, all rising from the same book?
God is “wholly other,” as theologians like to say, and far beyond our feeble thoughts. He can comfort us but he doesn’t invite many over for the weekend to explain life’s injustices. Most of his personal appearances in the Bible have a far more ominous cast than portrayed in The Shack (e.g. Exodus 19, 1 Kings 8, Isaiah 6), including the post resurrection appearances of Jesus (Acts 9, Revelation 1).
The Shack is a work of fiction, not theology. It has resonated with millions because it’s how we’d like God to be.
Truth is, it ain’t necessarily so.