shack thoughts

I finished reading The Shack last night, and thought I would take a moment and share my impressions of it. Let me say off the top that the book is very engaging and well written. Having said that, there are things within its pages that I don’t necessarily agree with. Theologically, it would take some time to pick through it and breakdown the finer points of how the God character [through the author … is that not a problem in itself?] works with Mack through his issues. For me, the problem lies more in the approach.

On the back cover [not always indicative of content or intent, I know], it says that The Shack “wrestles with the timeless question ‘Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?'” I have devoted some space on this blog [most recently here and here] to cite the case that this question must be addressed ecclesiologically; in the midst of evil, pain and suffering, the church is called to respond not as though seeking an explanation, but in grace, mercy and compassion, absorbing the pain in community so that faith can be sustained.

It is explained throughout the book that the world is suffering due to humanity’s quest for independence; we have cut ourselves off from meaningful relationship with God and with each other. That is why tragedies like the one described in the book occur. What bothers me is that this book approaches the subject from a seemingly more modern perspective wherein Mack travels to the shack, independently, seeking answers from God himself [and herself and them self] because he simply can’t move on until he gets an explanation. Is modernity not all about breaking things down to find the best possible explanation, an individualized faith where the aim becomes self-understanding and personal healing?

Don’t get me wrong, there is great value in coming to an understanding of a God who is personally and intimately involved in our day-to-day experience. But I firmly believe that we truly come to know God and ultimately ourselves within the context of a community constituted by God’s truthful story, and that we are meant to work together to resist, absorb and transform the effects of evil, pain and suffering. To answer the question of where God is in a world filled with unspeakable pain is to look at the church, the body of Christ. Granted, the church may not always act in a way that embodies and reflects the light and love of God, but that is our call and mission as the newly constituted people of God.

Yes, Mack is able to forgive and enter into a time of healing on his own and with his family, and sure, many of the ideas expressed in the book are not inherently bad. Again, it’s just the whole approach that bothers me. The reality is that we don’t have all the answers, and I will again refer to this quote by Austin Farrer:

God does not give us explanations, he gives us his son. A Son is better than an explanation. The explanation of our death leaves us no less dead than we are; but a Son gives us life in which to live.

The church is called to be the embodiment of that life given by Christ; the world is set to rights through the habits and practices of a community constituted by a truthful story – that’s where God is seem most clearly in a world gone awry.

I hope what I am trying to say is coming through clearly, and if you disagree or are unclear, please comment below. I think there are good things to be found in the Shack, and the publishers probably want it to be bought and used by churches and small groups, lending it to more of what I am talking about anyway. If you really want to wrestle with these issues, I would [again] point instead to Raging With Compassion or the work of Stanley Hauerwas in regards to community.

[6 hours later]
I was just reading some Bonhoeffer [certainly a man who knew what it meant to live in the midst of evil and suffering], and this quite puts an exclamation point on what I am trying to say:

No one can become a new human being except by being within the church, that is, through the body of Christ. Whoever seeks to become a new human being individually cannot succeed. To become a new human being means to come into the church, to become a member of Christ’s body. The new human being is not the single individual who has been justified and sanctified. Rather, the new human being is the church-community, the body of Christ, or Christ himself.

  1. December 29th, 2009

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