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‘The Shack’ definitely not ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’

Take a look inside “The Shack”

Liam Martin ’10
The Roundup

In William P. Young’s “The Shack,” a man, Mack, struggling with his faith in the aftermath of a tragic personal loss meets God in a deserted mountain shack.

The book is billed as potentially having the same effect on our generation John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” had on his, and is a New York Times best seller, with over 2 million copies in print.

The Brophy Religious Studies Department chose to use the book in Senior Synthesis classes because “it raises themes and questions about suffering and forgiveness, and relationships with God and between human beings,” said department Chairman Mr. Jimmy Tricco ’99. “The number one reason we picked ‘The Shack’ was to provide an opportunity to reflect on experiences of God.”

It is part novel, part apology and part spiritual encounter. It is an incredibly ambitious work, and seeks to explain the relationship between humanity and God, the nature of divine judgment and the proverbial problem of pain.

Unfortunately like much that is ambitious, in striving to touch a star it stumbles, and falls short on almost every count.

That is not to say the book is altogether horrible. The beginning is gracefully written, engaging and almost beautifully tragic.

I read the first few chapters and loved them. I enjoyed the style and the voice of the author, the way the main character was portrayed. The struggles he went through appealed to me on an emotional level as well as an intellectual one.

But when I reached chapter six I started to grow increasingly disgusted with the book. Midway through the chapter I put it down and didn’t pick it up again until I had to in order to write this review.

Young sets out to answer a question, but does not do so in any manner that can be remotely useful to the modern reader struggling with either grief, faith or both. Instead of supporting his statements and arguing his points, he simply includes God as one of the characters his book.

Since anything God says is undoubtedly true, Young doesn’t have to do the work of explaining and defending his assertions.

From behind the mask of divine authority, Young takes cracks at organized religion, the theory of evolution and the very foundations of human society.

But he doesn’t bother effectively explaining and defending his outrageous allegations; God said them, and God is infallible.

And his philosophy is as untenable as it is undefended. Through the guise of “Sophia,” an aspect of God’s wisdom, Young makes the point that a person’s actions are entirely the result of genetics and environment, and that they therefore should not be judged, but should be forgiven. Mr. Young, it seems, would have us forgive others not because repentance is possible and forgiveness is good, but because sins are not sins and repentance is not necessary.

Young, in a dialogue between the main character and Jesus, says that economics, politics and religion are “the man-made trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and deceives those (God cares) about.” He claims that these three things are together the origin of all mental turmoil and anxiety, and that all that matters is our love for Jesus.

But if the only point of earthly existence is to love God, and if, as Young states earlier in the novel, no one is going to hell, then what exactly is the point of life on Earth?

It seems like wasted effort to go through the bother of creating an entire universe when there is no practical purpose for it.

To top it all, in “The Shack” God’s great answer to the question of why he lets humanity suffer is: “(Actively interfering in your circumstances) was not an option for purposes that you cannot possibly understand now.”

To someone like me who read the claim on the back cover of the book that “‘The Shack’ wrestles with the timeless question, ‘Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?’” this answer is, I think, understandably frustrating.

While Young does technically provide a geographical location, he evades the deeper implied question, which is something closer to “How can, or why does, a God both good and omnipotent allow suffering to exist?”

Young, though he dances around the issue for the length of the book, ultimately doesn’t even take a legitimate stab at it—despite the assurance on the back cover that “the answers Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as they did him.”

This is probably the most significant problem with the book: it makes this promise then fails to fulfill it. Young takes us on a quixotic quest through his 240-plus page volume only to leave us, in the end, with nothing more than a handful of empty platitudes and the knowledge (a knowledge most Christians already possess) that God is hard to understand.

The entire book is an enormous cop-out, from start to finish. Young doesn’t really bother to support his points, then his answer to all the pain and suffering in the world is, effectively, “God works in mysterious ways.”

If you want a defense of Christianity, read “The Everlasting Man” by G.K. Chesterton. If you want an answer to human suffering, read “The Problem of Pain” by C.S. Lewis.

If you want a good novel, read anything (in my humble opinion) by Orson Scott Card.

Reading any of these books would prove much more useful to anyone in search of either a good read or spiritual insights than would “The Shack.”

Of course, “The Shack” can still be useful for a Synthesis course, and I look forward to the interesting and meaningful discussion it will no doubt generate in my Senior Synthesis class next semester.

There its task is simply to raise questions, and that is one thing the book manages to do well.

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