“Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.”
― William Paul Young, The Shack
I first came across the book The Shack when I was interning at Laterna Ventures in 2008. I had seen TVCs on TBN and then watched physically how the copies disappeared from the shelves, so I finally decided to snatch a copy for myself and find what the buzz was about. Between then and now, I have probably read The Shack about a dozen times and given out at least six hard copies, so my review may be a little biased, and I may sound like a hypeman instead of a critic. Please bear with me. I’ll also try not to share too many spoilers (Key word: try).
The Shack is centered around McKenzie Allen Phillips, known as Mack, his wife Nan and their children. One freezing winter afternoon when Mack is home alone, he receives a note inviting him to meet with God at the shack. A brief history on the shack: the previous summer, Mack had taken his children –Josh, Kate and little Missy – camping. While trying to save his older children from drowning when the canoe they’re in tips over, he returns to his tent to find his seven year old daughter Missy is missing. Investigations indicate Missy has been murdered by a serial killer code named “The Little LadyKiller”. While Missy’s body is not found, her bloodied dress is found at a rundown shack. It is this to this shack that Mack gets a typewritten invitation from God. Mack grabs a jeep and a gun, just in case and sets out to the shack to see what it is about.
At the shack, everything Mack experiences shatters his stereotypes. First God is not a Gandalf looking Caucasian man, instead He (She) is a plus size African American woman who serves him scones and greens. Jesus looks Middle Eastern with a spectacular nose and the Holy Spirit (Elouisa) is an Asian woman with a fleeting presence and plenty of light. He also learns the unique relationship and oneness of the Holy Trinity. He meets Sophia, who is God’s Wisdom and he’s put on the spot for always judging people. Of course Mack gets to walk on water with Jesus (who wouldn’t if they got the chance).
But the central message of The Shack isn’t just shattering stereotypes about God’s appearance and how the Trinity operates. Mack gets to ask God why He didn’t protect Missy, and why there’s so much pain in the world and what God does. Mack learns that while God is really the creator, He has given us freewill. And even though our world is broken as a result of our misuse of this freewill, God is able to turn all the pain and sorrow into good for us. This doesn’t mean He won’t protect us from harm. In fact, everything God does is covered with his goodness, and it’s only when we focus on the pain that we lose sight of God. We also learn to embrace God’s sovereignty. Together, God (the Trinity) and Mack are able to work through the ruins of his pain and sorrow and learn trust, whole love and forgiveness.
If I had to rate The Shack, I’d rate it an 8.5 out of 10 for plot and message. It’s a timely message and a breath of fresh air, first for a church so preoccupied with works and can’t seem to embrace God’s unfathomable grace, and then for a world that is so torn and broken by its own actions and cannot understand why it seems like God is watching from the sidelines and what He plans to do to save it. It’s really worth the read.