Friday, August 29, 2008

Faith On Friday - The Shack

Before vacation, I began a blog post series "Faith on Fridays" and often discussed what I had been learning while reading through the Bible in 90 Days with Hubby. We thought we could continue to do so while on vacation but it was too difficult to find an hour a day to read while taking care of children, visiting with family and friends and driving. Generally, I fell asleep exhausted after the kids went to bed. Today I wish to resume and will share about something else I read and how it effected me.

One of my peculiar traits is that I rarely enjoy reading something that "everyone" is reading and carry a natural cynicism towards anything or anyone claiming to be "it", "THE" or "LIFE CHANGING". So, when I read such proclamations about The Shack, I was turned off. Later my Mom mentioned that she was given the book by someone at church, so I looked at the the reviews. While many are 5 star reviews, many 1 star reviews brought up good points. I emailed my Mom the concerns, not to prevent her from reading but to ask her if she found them to be true. Our conversation at the end of her reading concluded that it would prove a good read but not earth shattering or life changing from my perspective. No further thought was given to the book.

Then, when my cousins came from North Carolina to surprise our family, Brenda brought all of us ladies the book to read. I have not had opportunity to ask her opinion yet, but am thankful for the gift. When Hubby and I left on our honeymoon, it was stuffed into the bag of knitting and magazines for a "just in case". Little did I know that my knee injury would keep me from hiking. While I lie in bed looking longingly at the surf crashing in, I picked up the book and began to read. Initially, I found the style a little forced, but as the author broke into the story it began to relax and unfold, drawing the reader further in. Before I knew it, I was done and passing the book on to Hubby. I value not only his opinion but his judgement as well and looked forward to discussing the book with him.

Hesitantly I decided to review this book here since it quite controversial. Since I was prepared to dislike or be indifferent to the book, but did found value in it, I felt I might give it a review that fell somewhere in between the polar reviews offered on Amazon. Since this is already quite long, I won't go through all the story line of this book, but let you read that at the above links if you are not familiar with it.

Do I recommend the book? With hesitation, yes. In my opinion it would depend on the reader. If the reader was knowledgeable of Scripture and not easily swayed by opinions or popular ideas, it is a good read. There are several points that cause thoughtful contemplation and the story prompted me to review my progress of healing in my journey and walk with the Lord. On the other hand, if the reader is not grounded, there are portions that I felt could be misconstrued and lead a person down the wrong path. The premise purports to lead a person away from the pitfalls of established religion towards a personal relationship with God. A personal relationship with God The Father, God The Son AND God The Holy Spirit, is the most important purpose in any one's life. But, the book does fall into danger of swinging the pendulum too far the other direction - a malady running rampant in the American Church that runs so far away from legalism and tradition that it forgets that God is Almighty and Holy. My conclusion is that The Shack is best read as thought provoking literature and not as theology.

Firstly, the cons -

The book takes liberty at interpreting the personhood of God to the point of occasionally being flippant or too casual in an attempt to be personal. Like much of modern Christian literature there is an over emphasis on God's love without the balance of His judgement and righteousness. One's own personal sin and need for Redemption is not clearly discussed or outlined. Emotionally, the Shack opens a can of unanswerable worms, begins to answer some of those questions but then just as the reader is hoping for some nugget to hold on to, the revelation falls short. The greatest shortcoming in the book, is drawing a person in without taking the opportunity to clearly show the reader how to begin the marvelous journey of a personal relationship with God or leading them to Scripture where they could discover it on their own.

On the other hand, I find it refreshing that an author is not afraid to broach the subject of grief. Personally I feel that many Americans have prolonged grief because they are forced to bury their loss and "get on with life". This story presents an abbreviated view, but gives some of the major points of the grief process and shows how some of them can be approached. Ultimately only God heals. He never forces us, but gently leads us to each new step as we are ready. It was a little difficult to read this book while I was separated from my own children. It is scary to think that something so terrifying can happen in a heart beat. But for the person who experiences this - where do they go? I wonder how many people have picked this book up to see if there were answers to their own personal tortures and questions of God? Perhaps this book will serve as the first step of healing for those who are not ready to approach a pastor, attend church or Bible study or embrace God overtly.

There are no answers for some things in life. Perhaps that is why the book was not earth shattering for me. From an young age I was presented with these unanswerable questions. Early on I had to decide whether or not to believe in God or blame God. Perhaps my age helped me bridge the chasm of painful questions to choose belief. Today my belief is not a blind faith, but one that has in retrospect searched out the answers and found that even when there is no answer - everything that I know about God says that He is not the author of confusion, pain, suffering and death. No, indeed He is the Victor! All these things He has conquered as Jesus Christ. If you are struggling with these kinds of questions, you may find some solace in the process that Mac, the main character, experiences. Grief and unanswered questions do not come only with violent death or natural death, but with many disappointments, changes and unexpected hurdles in life's course. There is a selfishness and cowardice in blaming God - when one steps outside of that grim shadow, healing and life emerge.

One tendency for those of us who have and/or are grieving any loss or life difficulty, is that we tend to grow in spurts intermingled with "holding patterns". During those holding times, I find it is all I can do to keep it together. Funny though... I am trying to hold it all together on my own. I am like a small child trying on Daddy's shoes - it doesn't fit, it's cumbersome, awkward and sometimes dangerous. Occasionally we all need prodding to get over the bump, to be honest with God and allow Him to carry us, hold us together and heal us. There is NO pain that God cannot heal! There is NO hurdle that He cannot help you face!

These hurdles don't have to be big things. Anything that keeps us from being REAL with God and growing in our relationships. ALL Children of God need to evaluate their relationship with Him on an ongoing button. Hit the spiritual "refresh" key. Where do you stand? Are you happy where you are? Is your heart right? Do you need to forgive someone? Do you need to ask forgiveness? Do you need to find a way to be real with Him and get out of the process of going through the motions? Does God seem far, far away? Do you believe in Him, but feel emotionally numb? I think all these things are tools of the enemy to keep us from growing deeper in our faith. God's grace is deep and wide - larger than we could ever fathom. His Grace covers me when I am spiritually confused, misled and lazy. But because I am His Child of Grace, I desire to show my love by pleasing Him, growing closer to Him, getting "un-stuck" when hurdles trip me and in general by knowing Him more and more each day. This is not a list of do good activities. This is not a formula for quiet time. He simply waits patiently for us to respond to Him. That I think is the point I got from the book: Have I had a really good talk with my Abba Daddy lately? Or have I let my personal activities, reading list and attempts at good works, get in my way?

So, whether you are cynical as I, or loved the book, I believe there is benefit in the personal introspection that it inspires. As the summer ends and brings about a season of change, it is a good time for all of us to slow down from our busy activities and travels and evaluate our relationship with God, clean out the cobwebs and deepen our faith. If you have read the book, I would like to hear your thoughts. One last note, for those who have concern after reading the reviews. The author does not say that God is a black woman or that the rest of the Godhead are human. He merely presents the idea that God appears in this manner to Mac, because this is beneficial for Mac in sorting out his pain.

Phew! That was LONG!

1 comment:

Dorothy said...

I really appreciated your review of the book. It very much reflected my views. I was given the book by my sister-in-law with the comment that it would "change my life." I found that to be a little overstated, but there were some revelations in it that deeply affected me. One thing I came away with was the realization that God really doesn't have favorites. He loves the murderer of the little girl just as much as he does her father. I guess I've always known this on an intellectual level, but this book made it real to me. I'm dealing with a particularly difficult person in my life right now and just thinking about this helps a lot!