Isn’t The Shack just a made up story? Yes. Is it even based on biblical facts? Yes, in some ways, but I like to think of it as an allegory. Pilgrim’s Progress wasn’t a true story either. But wait, God is a man and not a woman, right? Well, who of us has seen God? These are some of the questions people have about the movie, The Shack based on Wm. Paul Young’s book by the same name. This book and movie have taken a lot of heat, but most of the critics haven’t bothered to read or watch it. If you are one of the skeptics, allow me to share five reasons why you might want to watch The Shack.
1. If You Have Ever Suffered a Huge Loss and Wondered Why
The Shack tries to answer the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Many of us in hard times after a death of a loved one or some other terrible event have asked, “Where is God if he is sovereign?” This movie attempts to answer this question through telling a story about one man broken by a terrible childhood and then a loss in his adult life.
2. If You have Father Issues and Feel You Can’t Trust the Father
Early in The Shack we see Mac’s father beating him with a belt. If you grew up with a narcissistic parent who beat you, put you down or abused you in any way, you might find it very hard to trust God. This is because God’s original plan was for parents to act in the role of God to their children. When we were small and unable to provide for ourselves, we relied on our parents for everything. When they were abusive, it gave us the idea God might be abusive too. Part of the reason for this is that little kids can’t see the abuse. They won’t assume their parent is abusive, they just think they are bad. As children, we absorbed our parents’ sins and now as adults, we still feel unworthy. In the Shack, Papa goes out of the way to make sure Mac knows he is worthy of God’s friendship and love. That word friendship came up several times between Mac and Jesus. It reminded me of one of the least repeated verses in the Bible where Jesus says:
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15
One of the problems we ACoNs have with our parents is they often won’t release us to be their friends, because they want us to be their servants and slaves for life. Of course it is a form of love to serve our parents–but not when we are adults who are forced to submit to a narcissist abuser.
The Shack reminds us that God is not at all like a narcissistic parent, he is always concerned about what is best for us. In the words of Papa, God says, “I am especially fond of you!” And what is so amazing is that he is especially fond of every person in the world, but it doesn’t take away from the wonder and love he has for each of us as individuals. God is a good parent who loves every one of his children equally, but differently.
3. If You Have Been Afraid of God’s Wrath
In The Shack, Mac asks Papa what about God’s wrath. And Papa says, “What? What are you talking about?” Mac thinks God is vindictive and revengeful toward sinners and Papa reassures him this is not true at all.
If you have not discovered the fact that God’s wrath in Romans 1 is really about God letting people go to their choices and not about revenge, then study up on it. There will be fundamentalists who disagree, but a thorough study of the subject might back up Young’s ideas in The Shack.
This film gives a great example of letting go through the art of storytelling. While it has theological tones, the story itself is well written, well directed and well-acted. People without a religious bone in their body could still enjoy The Shack—because it is a well told story and the heart of this movie is not about religion, but relationship.
4. If You Struggle With Judging or Forgiving Others
It also shows how we can let go and still honor our losses.This movie is not just about losing someone dear, it also carries the message to stop judging others and forgive them–despite the horrible things they have done.
Every abuser was formed most likely by the abuse of their parents going all the way back to Adam and Eve. While judging and forgiving seem to be at odds with each other, the way we can deal with both healthfully is to let go.
In the situation of narcissistic parents, we are healthier for letting go. The burdens we carry don’t have to hinder us and tie us down, God can turn our pain into wisdom as we grow stronger until we learn to fly. In this story, like in many of our lives, there were characters who needed to be forgiven and there were nightmares that came from the darkness that could only be put to rest by looking to Jesus as our brother and friend.
I was particularly touched by one scene with Mac and his father. Once we see our parents’ wounds we can forgive easier and we can realize they didn’t mean to harm us, they were broken by the fall too. How many children’s hearts would be turned back to their fathers if parents only they owned what they had done and asked for forgiveness? Of course, we realize most narcissistic parents will never do this, but we can forgive them even when they don’t say sorry. We are the ones who will heal when we do this.
5. If You Have Trouble Trusting God in Any Way
About ten years ago, I went to a seminar where the speaker asked if Jesus was behind one door and the Father the other, which door we would choose to go through. My answer was the Jesus door because I thought Jesus was the good guy who had saved me from the Father. That night I learned some things starting with the fact that Jesus said he and the Father are one. God’s wrath is letting us go to our own choices. There is no revenge in the Spirit of God. That whatever Jesus would say and do for me is the same as what the Father would say and do for me. I was first in shock, then in awe of God.
The next morning I got up at dawn and looked at this amazing and gorgeous sunrise full of pink and gold. As I stared up at it, I felt the Spirit speaking to my heart that this display was for me. That Abba, Papa, Father–whatever we call God was shining his love on me and I began to weep. I asked him, “Father, can you really be this good?” I will never forget that morning—it was the day that changed everything in my life. I have never had a worry about the future or my salvation since. My feelings were similar while I watched The Shack. I was profoundly touched by God’s love.
The Shack gives us a little God’s eye view of humanity where we can see how God loves every person. One of my friends who went to see it with me said, “I wish I could go and stay at the shack for a long time.” Why? Because to dwell in that shack is to be nurtured and loved unconditionally by God. To get answers from God. I believe The Shack is a little taste of heaven and it will change your heart, but you’ll have to see it for yourself.
NOTE: Some will have theological questions about this, while I am not a theologian, I will share a little of what I have learned from others.
Some Theological Questions About the Shack
God as a Black Woman?
The biggest criticism of The Shack has been its portrayal of a black woman as God the Father. But people who have trouble trusting God as a father might need to see the feminine face of God. God said, “Let us make humankind in our image.” If Eve as Ezer Kenegdo was created in God’s image, then certainly God has a feminine side. Jesus himself said he would like to gather the people in Jerusalem like hen gathers her chicks under her feathers (Matthew 23:37). There is a Bible verse which says, “Even if a mother forgets her nursing child, I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15,16).
The fact is God is Spirit. None of us have seen God. We know throughout the Bible God has manifested as the angel of the Lord in various places (Genesis 22:11–15). And God has manifested as a human even before Jesus was born, when three visitors came to Abraham and at least one of them was God. Even here, maybe the number three has significance (Genesis 18). When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit was manifested as a dove (Matthew 3:16). Paul says Jesus was manifested as a rock for the Children of Israel (I Corinthians 10:4) and he was also the cloud which protected them by day and night (Exodus 13:21).
The Shack portrays God manifested as a black woman, an Asian woman and as a Native American Father. I see no reason why such portrayals would shock anyone who understands how God bends close to the earth to meet each hurting human in the place where we most need God.
Other critics have accused Young of writing about Universalism which states that no one will be lost but all will be saved. I didn’t get this idea from the book or the movie. But it is important to note that God is especially fond of everyone—the question is will we allow God to heal us? Some may not, but it has always been God’s dream to save everyone–he just won’t force anyone.
When Mac asked, “Then are there to be no consequences for sin, Papa says, “Oh there’s always consequences.” Then Papa describes how God gives everyone freedom of choice–if this is true, then God either must win every soul to his way of thinking, or lose some.
I was reminded of two verses:
1. The Wages of Sin is Death (Romans 6:23).
Some say the wages paid by sin is death. This is the law of sowing and reaping. Some call it karma. Jesus taught about the parable of the sower. If there is no sowing, there will be no reaping. We all will reap what we sow.
2. It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Some say sinners can’t follow God unless they are scared into it, but that is not God’s way, that is the enemy’s lie. How do we know this?
God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7).
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).
The true biblical explanation of God’s wrath is actually letting go (Romans 1:18-32). We would all be wise to notice this passage is about all sin–not just the ones mentioned by the fundamentalist Christians. I believe when God lets go, the Holy Spirit releases people to their own choices.
The poison vine Sarayu warned Mac was deadly when helping him dig up the weeds in the garden of his heart, reminded me of how sin kills us. And if we refuse to allow Sarayu AKA the Holy Spirit to help us clean up those toxic parts in our hearts, we could become damaged and in danger of walking away from God altogether.
Disconnection from God is what is so deadly for all of us humans. This is why God’s enemy puts up so much opposition to The Shack. If people are afraid to watch it because some Christian warns them it’s dangerous, they might miss out on trusting God and having a better relationship with him and that could be a tragedy.
Where the Spirit of God is there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Let each person decide for themselves.