I’ve been reading up a storm since the calendar flipped over to twenty ten — pages flying through my fingers, a bookmark wading through words like a crowd, back covers snapping shut with satisfaction.
Early on this year, I became interested in how many books I consume and the diversity of my choices, so I started a new page here at OneWandering to keep track of all of my paper vacations. The creation of this page coincided with finishing my fourth book of 2010 — my fourth fantasy-genre book of 2010. I quickly realized that — for the sake of variety — it was time to put out the word that I was interested in receiving some reading suggestions, and I was not disappointed.
My latest read is certainly no exception. My eighth book of this year — The Shack by William Paul Young — was recommended to me by the lovely Sarah J. She placed her copy in my hands, with a gentle warning that God is presented as a large, black woman. Would I be okay with that?, she inquired. I grinned and accepted the reading assignment.
According to the dust jacket, The Shack “wrestles with the timeless question: Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?”
Here’s my Twitter-fied summary: “Child abducted. Father receives note from God, returns to scene & has a Q&A with the Holy Trinity. Learns the power of forgiveness & love.”
I should probably pause at this moment to reveal that I did not grow up going to church, and I’ve never participated in or researched religion. I never felt the need to pursue the institution of faith, and today I can probably best describe myself as agnostic. (From the dictionary: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god.) Suffice it to say that I would never have picked up this book if Sarah hadn’t suggested it.
I don’t have an understanding of the Bible or of religion’s dogma to support, guide or conflict with my reading of The Shack. The author conceived this story as a way to write a dialogue between God and a man who has lost faith. He needed a way to record his thoughts on God, religion, love and forgiveness; it was his wife who encouraged him to write and share these thoughts with others and with his children. The story, which is fictitious, contains “the pain, the loss, the grief, the process, the conversations, the questions, the anger, the longing, the secrets, the lies, the forgiveness [that are] all real, all true.”
The concepts of God, of complete faith and of the institution of religion, are difficult for me to embrace. I have too many questions; I require a solid, visual proof of existence. What I liked about this book is that the character Mack was there to ask most of the questions. He lost a child to abduction. He was hurt, and angry, and needed answers. Real answers. Honest answers. The truth, from the source. And he heard the answers to his questions one weekend spent at a shack, the last place the authorities were able to track his stolen daughter to before they lost her trail. It was God who answered him.
Now, I still don’t know necessarily if I believe in Him, but this book addressed certain ideas about religion and relationships that did resonate with me. Honoring relationships by loving those people around you, by forgiving them and being able to ask for forgiveness. I found myself thinking that this type of relationship to people and the world around you might start with something as simple as my New Year’s resolution. But God goes on to explain the common pitfalls of human existence coupled with disbelief: independence, passing judgment, and aspiring to obtain power, authority or security — that these things we strive for let “the bad” in, taking us farther away from His love and from achieving “circular relationships” — and I found myself struggling to see how anyone could achieve pure faith in the world as we know it today. Aren’t the odds stacked against us?! Don’t we work against ourselves as much as we might want to comprehend and abide by what we come to understand or believe?!
This is a difficult book to “review.” In 253 pages, The Shack covers the width and breadth of theology. Does it answer every question? Probably not. Does it try to answer the most important ones? I think so. This is a book that you must read and digest on your own, juxtaposing its message against what you understand, what you believe to be true (and perhaps against what you want to be true).
As I read, I marked one paragraph to serve as an example of the conversational way in which Young presents his ideas. Perhaps it will encourage you to visit the story of this shack, or to revisit the place in your life that has caused you to question what you believe. Either way, I think it’s a journey worth taking.
Let’s use the example of friendship and how removing the element of life from a noun can drastically alter a relationship. Mack, if you and I are friends, there is an expectancy that exists within our relationship. When we see each other or are apart, there is expectancy of being together, of laughing and talking. That expectancy has no concrete definition; it is alive and dynamic and everything that emerges from our being together is a unique gift shared by no one else. But what happens if I change that ‘expectancy’ to an ‘expectation’ — spoken or unspoken? Suddenly, law has entered into our relationship. You are now expected to perform in a way that meets my expectations. Our living friendship rapidly deteriorates into a dead thing with rules and requirements. It is no longer about you and me, but about what friends are supposed to do, or the responsibilities of a good friend. (p.208)