There is so much controversy in this.
The Shack by William P. Young is easily one of my favorite books. It’s extremely controversial, although I even feel that “extremely” isn’t even extreme enough. It’s a polar book that somehow thrusts you on one side or the other (yay or neigh) as soon as you hit the first page. You hate the book—and vehemently so—or you are enamored by its warmth and delight in its fictitious yet scripture-based plot and characters. Quite obviously, I am a wholehearted fan of the book. Just by Googling the title, you’ll be faced with a plethora of full-blown theological arguments. Seemingly safe on the other side of the monitor, you lean into your screen to better read the arguments in tandem, drenched in vehement hatred and offense. Your nose is licked by the flames of hostility as you peer into the screen, and look on at the total mayhem that this book has crafted.
While I’ve written about my wringing fear regarding writing on controversial topics, I unabashedly adore reading such. My second favorite book? The Da Vinci Code, which was deemed a major threat to the church both within the realm of the plot and in reality. My third is May Cause Miracles, which was written by a modern-day yogi with a handful of beliefs that I strongly oppose.
To read—eyes skimming across a page and mind soaking in concepts—doesn’t mean to subsequently and blindly believe. I think that’s absolutely imperative to understand, especially since I study English and Religion, thus shoving me into the trenches of controversial literature, articles, and opinions. It has become essential, especially on a college campus and even more specifically within the realm of studying religion, for me to be inquisitive, to research, to pray, to formulate what I believe, and to be unwavering in that.
I believe in a God that loves me sincerely and passionately.
My heart overflows with my adoration for Him. I believe that Christ, his son, died on the cross for my sins, thus gifting me with His perfect promise of eternal life. I believe in His grace. I believe that I am horribly unworthy, but through the thorns on his forehead and the blood that he shed, I am made clean. I believe in a God that is sovereign and holy and just. I believe in a God that loves you. Sincerely and passionately.
In The Shack, Young follows the story of a man whose little daughter was violently murdered in an abandoned shack while the family was camping by the lake. The story strings along the man’s skepticism toward God, as well as a tender, heart wrenching journey toward recovery, coupled with the recovery and faith journey of the man’s wife, who rests in an intimate relationship with the Lord and warmly refers to Him as “Papa.” Eventually within the book, the man spends a weekend at said shack, where God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit come to meet him.
If we weren’t already there, here comes the controversy: God is portrayed as a large, sassy and spirited black woman, who goes by Papa, and is “especially fond” of all her children. Through a weekend of gentle interaction, testing conversations and a continuous trust mêlée, the man’s bruised soul is healed and replenished by the Lord. Papa explains:
“My purposes are not for my comfort, or yours. My purpose are always and only an expression of love. I purpose to work life out of death, to bring freedom out of brokenness and turn darkness into light. What you see as chaos, I see as a fractal. All things must unfold, even though it puts all those I love in the midst of a world of horrible tragedies—even the one closest to me.”
I love all of the separate characters equally (which really is a mind-bending concept, as they are the representation of the Holy Trinity, and thus are one, while being separate. Human minds cannot fathom.). However, the Holy Spirit’s character really resonated with me. Described as a small Asian woman, Sarayu is easier to see out of the corner of the eye than head on. She sort of flutters in the wind—there, but not completely—and utilizes soft and gentle interactions to bring about radical realizations and understanding. It’s a beautiful depiction of the Spirit. She leads the man to understanding why he is so incapable and broken on his own:
With a warm smile and friendly eyes, the crooks in his soft flannel shirt contain traces of sawdust, and the warm and worn palms of his hands hold the trace of very real scars.
Jesus is Jesus. Lying on their backs in the grass, Jesus and the man listen the lapping lake waves and speak of increasingly tender and pain-rimmed topics while gazing at the stars.
I don’t mean for this to be a book talk (à la 6th grade reading class), but the book has been on my heart, and clattering around the caverns of my mind all week. I think God put it on my heart to just open up conversation. I truly don’t think that the controversy or the characters or the author are the point. Instead, it’s how saturated and full of love the Lord is, and how he drenches us and blankets us and pours over us this radical, sweet, perfect love.
Perhaps the key is within character Jesus’ last thought—grow in loving people. Harvest the love and pass it on. Pull a Matthew 5:16 and be a light. Share Christ’s love as He shared it with you. Spread the joy. Spread the Word. But even when others don’t want to be convinced that they’re loved so deeply by the One who died to save us, “you are free to love without an agenda.”
Pass it on.
All quotes from William P. Young’s The Shack