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‘The Shack’ inspires deep thought with unique approach

Take a look inside “The Shack”

By Alex Theisen ’10
Special to The Roundup

Shack Image by Wade Hoyt for web
Photo by Wade Hoyt '11

I’m not going to pretend I was greatly enthused at the prospect of reading “The Shack.”

I’d heard of it before it was assigned as summer reading for all seniors as a precursor to their Senior Synthesis class, and it seemed like the sort of hokey self-help book I despise.

Before I started reading, I found myself scoffing at the seemingly contrived plot and the rather blunt religious message.

It came as a keen surprise, then, when I found my harsh expectations unexpectedly stymied when I actually began to read William Paul Young’s book.

The novel (if one wishes to call it that) centers upon a loving, kindly father named Mack, who finds his faith in God deeply shaken following the brutal kidnapping and murder of his six-year-old daughter, Missy.

At his lowest point, Mack finds an enigmatic note, addressed from “Papa,” asking him to travel to the titular shack where his daughter was apparently murdered. What follows thereafter is an engaging meditation upon life, emotion, death, God and, most importantly, the problem of evil.

There are, of course, the things which our modern, rather cynical society will scoff at: the often overwrought and perhaps slightly clichéd dialogue of Mack with members of the Holy Trinity; the sometimes heavy-handed metaphors; and the apparent oversimplification of deep theological questions.

But behind all of those surface problems, there is a real sense of honesty and purpose behind Young’s writing: He is clearly attempting to find answers to questions that cannot ever be fully answered.

And the answers he provides, even if you do not agree with them, are anything if not thought-provoking, and often quite refreshing to those tired of dry theological facts that do not seem to offer any real comfort.

Certainly there is something fascinating and refreshing about a God the Father who is anything but our oft-imagined white, patriarchal judge (instead, The Father appears as a dark-skinned woman by the name of Papa).

For that matter, so is the idea of an obviously Middle Eastern Jesus, or an Asian personification of the Holy Spirit by the intriguing name of Sarayu (read the book if you want to know the meaning behind the name).

In keeping with this theme of a more personal relationship with God, Young takes an interesting approach to “The Shack’s” main question: Why do horrible, seemingly unforgivable acts happen to good, innocent people?

This question is by no means new; it has haunted theologians and philosophers for years, and can sometimes seem hard to reconcile with the all-loving God revealed by Jesus.

But even if Young has confronted an exceptionally old question, his approach and discussion of it certainly is unique. Young uses Mack to voice every angry comment or resentment people have ever felt towards God, and it is through the give-and-take that results in some of “The Shack’s” most profound ideas emerge.

Mack truly, in this sense, is an everyman, a way for all of us to ask the questions we all have.

Jesus himself taught chiefly through parables: stories that provide us with an emotional connection to deep divine truths. This seems to be the best way to describe “The Shack.”

Too often, when we try to offer concrete, definitive answers to some of these deep questions, the answers can seem like evasion or deliberate vagueness.

Sometimes, perhaps, the best way to actually engage someone in contemplating these important ideas is through a simple story that all can identify with.

This is the level “The Shack” works on.

Even if I may not agree with all of its spiritual teachings, it made me think more than any other book has in years.

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