This is a book that has generated a great deal of conversation. Some love it; some hate it. For over a year, The Shack by Wm. Paul Young has been on The New York Times bestseller list.
Young wrote this book as a Christmas gift for his six children. He also shared a few copies with friends and was urged to consider a wider audience. So, Young collaborated with two former pastors, Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings, and they tightened up the book and looked for publishers. None, neither secular nor religious, was interested.
The three men opted to self-publish under the name Windblown Media; they created a website, www.theshackbook.com; and mailed promotional copies of the books to some of their friends and colleagues. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The Shack became a word-of-mouth sensation. From the tiny Christian fiction niche in book stores, it moved up to the front of the store where it was flagged as a runaway bestseller. The Shack also created a lot of radio and blog talk. Other authors have weighed in with their pro’s and con’s through related book publications. The conservative and evangelical Christians find the book blasphemous; for others, it is affirming.
The basic premise of the book is this:
Mack is a man deep in the “The Great Sadness” after the abduction and murder of his daughter, Missy.
Mack had taken his three children on a vacation camping trip; he had momentarily turned his back on Missy while he ran to rescue his two other children who had capsized in a canoe on the lake and were not surfacing from the water. Mack works with the police to track the movements of the serial killer, but, to no avail. Missy is never rescued; her body is never recovered. Mack is wracked with guilt, rage, fury, grief, despair, and the lasting image of Missy’s bloody dress found in a shack, deep in the woods.
Four years after the fact, Mack receives a note in his mailbox. It reads:
It’s been awhile. I’ve missed you.
I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together.
Papa? Mack left his family years ago and has good reason to think his abusive father is dead. “Papa” is the name his wife, Nan, gives to God. Could that be?
After much consternation and internal debate, Mack decides to go alone to the shack for the weekend, wondering if, indeed, he will meet God, the very same God with whom he rages for the brutal loss of Missy.
And Mack does meet God, in the form of the Holy Trinity. There is an African-American woman as God, aka Papa; a Middle Eastern carpenter named Jesus; and an Asian woman, Sarayu, as the Holy Spirit.
Here, at the shack, Mack has many discussions with each of the threesome; he also clears a garden, walks on water with Jesus, and debates theology. Mack learns forgiveness for himself and others, connects with his father, and, even, is shown where Missy’s body is buried.
After a weekend of healing, Mack drives home. His car is smashed by someone running a light; he is taken to a hospital, where he recovers. It turns out the accident occurred the same day he arrived at the shack.
The Shack is a story of forgiveness and redemption. It is a conversion story. Remember, Saul who became Paul in the Bible, after he was temporarily blinded by light and fell off his horse? So it is with Mack; he sees anew. He has refound himself; he has refound his connection with God.
In a New York Times article, the author, Wm. Paul Young, was quoted as saying the shack was a metaphor for “the house you build out of your own pain.”
The book is very Christian based and includes the open-hearted themes of love and forgiveness along with the ideal of a total dependence on God. It is written with great descriptive detail and with many an evocative passage that can leave you teary-eyed.
The book makes God very accessible and available. I understand from a high school religion teacher that her students told her all about the book; they were excited to find a God to whom they could relate.
In a fast spinning world where personal tragedy is a phone call away and “the great sadness” could be behind any door, this book might be a source of solace for some who are open to an all-loving God attired in human and multicultural clothes and talking Christian theology.
For me, good messages notwithstanding, I found this book a tad forced and contrived as it drove home its point. I liked the story, but not the lecture. My sense of God is a lot larger, but, hey, as the old saying goes: that's what makes a horse race -- and good dinner table conversation as well.