Author: WM. Paul Young
Seeing The Shack for sale in a cozy independent bookstore in Chattanooga brought back the intense memories of having first read this moving and unique novel during my early teens. Caressing the snowy cover depicting light and spring emerging around a dilapidated, abandoned shack, I decided that it was long since time to re-visit a novel that proved integral to my spiritual growth and understanding and also to my general enjoyment of encompassing fiction. I also took the boyfriend along for the ride, this being his first acquaintance with The Shack and my first opportunity to read the narrative aloud and share the questions, experiences, and turmoil of the text. Even better than my first reading, sharing The Shack led me into a deeper examination of the story’s meaning and the contemplations that arise from a human relationship to the divine.
The story begins with Mackenzie (Mack) and The Great Sadness. During a family vacation gone awry, Mack’s youngest daughter is abducted and slaughtered by The Little Lady Killer. Her body is never found, but evidence of her death, and consequentially his failure as a parent, is found in a bloodstained, abandoned shack. Years later, the family, including Mack’s other children, are still torn over the tragedy. Mack himself finds that his relationship with God, never truly the best, is even more distanced now by his rage and that age old question – why do bad things happen to good people. Why does God allow evil in the world to be perpetuated against the innocent – especially a little child. Meanwhile, Nan, Mack’s wife, maintains her deep and loving relationship with the God she fondly calls Papa. Mack wishes he could be like his wife – but his mind is too fraught with questions (good questions) and his heart too distrustful to find any form of relief from The Great Sadness. When a letter appears in his mail, seemingly signed by Papa, Mack suspects that the killer is setting him up for a trick. Determined on vengeance, he goes to the desolate shack where police suspect Missy was murdered, hoping for revenge but instead finding redemption when God does, indeed, appear to answer his questions.
Mystical and surreal, Paul Young’s narrative has magic and humanity, interwoven into a great, C.S. Lewis like allegory. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are embodied, coming to earth to interact with Mack over a strange weekend where his experiences of the three and his understanding of relationships, judgment, and humanity are tried. There aren’t any “answers” in the question and response method, but more a dialogue between the Trinity and Mack as he has supper with them, gardens with them, and has seemingly mundane experiences that open his mind to greater understanding, interpretations, forgiveness, and ultimately the acceptance and awe that God and all His motives cannot be fully comprehended by us, but can nevertheless be trusted. It’s a narrative of faith, but it’s not all mystery. Indeed, Young encourages us to question just as vehemently, and angrily, as Mack. Some answers are given, some are not. But it’s all deeper than the surface. It’s an experience that teaches the reader the meaning of love and the realization of love in a fallen world. Most importantly, it’s an engaging, intelligent discourse that provides intensive food-for-thought while giving readers some laughs and tears along the way.
I’ve read numerous Christian books from C.S. Lewis, to commentaries, to popular teen fiction, and back again. The Shack is by far one of the deepest works I have encounter, showing a thoughtful quality on a sentence by sentence basis, an examination worthy of many great Christian orators (namely Lewis) while maintaining an intriguing storyline and a modern feel. The reading isn’t difficult, yet the thoughts behind it and its message are intensive. God is visualized as a black woman initially, shifting our perceptions deliberately and making us play with the idea of human conception as averse to the shifting nature of spirit and God’s ability to be in all and everything. It’s a story that does head-on confrontation against what we both think and presume, even taking some sardonic comments against “religion” to express that the intent isn’t dull church, but a change in relationship with God, an internal love of both God and humanity. This love breeds compassion, forgiveness, and mercy yet it does not exclude righteous anger. It’s an absorbing, thoughtful take, each word carefully placed to create a whole universe where this weekend with the Trinity is intensely believable and vividly emotional.
Why would you bother reading this book if you’re not a Christian? Easy answer there: the story is just plain good and The Shack will give you a comprehensive view of Christianity, diving straight into the heart of how it is lived without becoming bogged down in the esoteric details. It’s an approachable read, a bestseller with a heart, and an intense character study that brings Mack and his family fully alive. The empathy with this character is deep and the creation true to life and the “everyman” motif while remaining specific to a relatable individual.
Most importantly, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are made relatable, full-fledged characters with unique personalities and qualities merging the divine and the human in a tangible, touchable way. The story is told through dialogue mostly, giving a voice to the holy and the human, both in communion through active conversation without dragging in any technical religious terms or arguments specific to any particular Christian congregation or theology. This makes The Shack a highly relatable, impacting story that resonates long after the final page, creating a living dialogue in the reader and a set of images and adventures vividly experienced. Highly recommended.
- Frances Carden