You are hereShacked up With God (Part 2)
Shacked up With God (Part 2)
by John McPherson
This concludes my critique of William Young's novel. Mr. Young has presented us with a view of God that really, in my view, does not match the God who revealed Himself to us in the Bible. I'll get into some of the finer points of disagreement in this concluding article.This concludes my critique of William Young's novel. Mr. Young has presented us with a view of God that really, in my view, does not match the God who revealed Himself to us in the Bible. I'll get into some of the finer points of disagreement in this concluding article.
Young gets lost in contradictory profundities when Mack suddenly sits back down in the judgment seat and realizes that nothing to do with Christ’s sacrifice of Himself on the cross really reconciles his understanding of the infinitely knowledgeable, ever-Present (all-Present), all-Powerful God the Creator with his little daughter’s brutal, undeserved death. Here is how the nameless entity in the cave responds to Mack’s heart-wrenching confession of a lack of understanding: “But I still don’t understand why Missy had to die.” “She didn’t have to, Mackenzie. This was no plan of Papa’s.” Wait, wait, wait. The author has just finished introducing us to the transcendent, infinite God of infinite Love in the person of Papa, earlier. His “plans” are all-encompassing and infinite, supposedly. He knows all that ever has been and ever will be. So in what sense is this little girl’s murder NOT part of “Papa’s plan”? The Understanding Express has once again jumped the rails of logic and reason, here. “Papa has never needed evil to accomplish his good purposes.” THAT one remains open to Scriptural debate. [Isa. 45:7; Isa. 47:11] Later on in the story, we discover that this nameless entity is, in fact, Sophia – the embodiment of God’s wisdom (per the descriptions of her in Proverbs). What we DON’T see on display in this exchange between Sophia and Mack is any element of God’s true Wisdom as revealed in His Word. God's personal friends in ancient times consistently challenged Him concerning His actions and in relation to His Person and their understanding of His ways. In the story, Mack doesn't seem to have any such relationship with God, nor does that kind of relationship appear to be an option for Christians today.
The problem with Mr. Young's "god" or "Papa" is that he doesn't have the same commitment to a relationship based on trust and mutual respect that the God of the Bible does. Mutual respect. What a revolutionary concept. I believe God wants to be able to show respect to - and trust in - HIS PEOPLE as much as He expects to be respected and trusted BY His People. Obviously, because humans are so fickle and readily swayed from our commitments, God anticipates failure on our part. We don't anticipate the same from him, of course. And one wonders...IS there a possibility that God could fail His People? Uhoh. Now the red flags go up. What's John thinking now? Does he have to push the envelope so far? Yes, given the fact that David, the prophets and others question God's dealings with man in fairly blunt terms at times, I think we have the freedom to do the same. God is remarkably unoffended by this exercise.
Does God, on occasion, make mistakes? Let's check His Word and see. "12Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults." (Psalm 19:12) "5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. (Gen. 6:5,6)" "10 My defense is of God, which saveth the upright in heart. 11God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day. 12 If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready." (Psalm 7:10-12) "9 Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? 10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not." (Jonah 3:9,10)
Note that the indications in the texts above is that God is capable of changing His mind in response to acceptable human behavior - particularly when people repent in response to disciplinary measures, or even the threat of such action. The seemingly rhetorical question "who can understand His errors" in Psalm 19, above, may not, in fact, be rhetorical at all. God's perfection is involved with the immutability of His Person - NOT His actions and dealings with - and plans for - mutable, fallible, changeable man. In other words...is it possible that God makes some regrettable choices and decisions Himself? Regrettable from HIS perspective (such as is indicated in Gen. 6, above? He, himself, seems to indicate that this is possible. But there's another possibility involved with God's dealings with His people, when there appears to be failure on His part. I'll get into that in more detail in a bit.
One of the biggest concerns I have with this book is the position it takes on man’s God-given autonomy. This book advocates AGAINST human “independence”. Independence is “self-destructive” and, ultimately, evil according to Young. On a Biblical note, as I have shown in various articles here, God actually goes out of his way to ENSURE that man has the opportunity to make autonomous choices. Young has it completely backwards. The autonomous choices made by spiritually reborn people are prompted by their new natures, but both regenerated and unregenerated people have the divinely provided opportunity to make volitionally independent choices. Here’s how Young puts it, by putting these words in “god’s mouth”:
“Nobody knows the horrors I have saved the world from ‘cuz people can’t see what never happened. All evil flows from independence and independence is your choice. If I were to simply revoke all the choices of independence, the world as you know it would cease to exist and love would have no meaning. This world is not a playground where I keep all my children free from evil. Evil is the chaos of this age that you brought to me, but it will not have the final say. Now it touches everyone that I love, those who follow me and those who don’t.”
“People are tenacious when it comes to the treasure of their imaginary independence. They hoard and hold their sickness with a firm grip. They find their identity and worth in their brokenness and guard it with every ounce of strength they have. No wonder grace has such little attraction. In that sense you have tried to lock the door of your heart from the inside.”
“Actually,’ Jesus started to speak but paused to throw one last skipping stone, ‘with [Sophia], everything is normal and elegantly simple. Because you are so lost and independent you bring to her many complications, and as a result you find even her simplicity profound.”
I came to hate the words “simple” and “simplicity” in their overuse and meaningless, trite application to truly deep, complex spiritual matters in this book. Young attempts to “dumb down” spiritual Truth for novices and those too lazy to study the Word of God for themselves. In so doing, he distorts that Truth rather drastically, and presents his own, personally invented “god” with an accompanying nonsensical relationship to, and purposes for, man. Note that Jesus supposedly considers Mack (a Christian and seminary grad) to be “lost”. One wonders in what sense Young views a Christian as being “lost”.
Unlike the Christian celebrities who endorsed this book so highly on its cover, I give “The Shack” two thumbs down, along with its insidiously anemic misrepresentation of the God of Israel. This book borders on outright blasphemy and certainly has a strong, sacrilegious element to it. Young, I believe, sincerely attempted to create a positive expression of God and His involvement with His People here, but his means of doing so actually degraded both. The scary thing is that his central character, Mack, is supposedly a seminary grad, and yet is simply clueless in his understanding of Biblical Truth. One wonders what seminaries are producing in terms of people supposedly capable of guiding others in their understanding of, and acquaintance with, God and His Word. No wonder the so-called “church” of today is in such big trouble.
SO. WHY would such a horrendous tragedy occur within a Christian family? Why would God’s people experience horrors like this? Now we get to the crux of the matter. Here is where we consider the other possibility, where seeming failure on God's part is concerned.
In real life, I see so many examples of tragedy visiting Christians and non-Christians in almost equal measure. Obviously, the primarily narcissistic, self-gratifying choices of non-Christians tend to bring more grief to them than the more self-less choices of many Christians. But why would Christians suffer some of the same horrors as non-Christians (non-Covenantal people)? There are several possibilities, of course, but among them I favor the view that because the God of Israel is NOT “omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent” but, in fact, is reliant upon His fallible angels to serve and protect His People (Luke 4:10; Heb. 1:4,5,7) – perhaps those angels fail in the performance of their duties from time to time. We know that the angels historically were required to give account of their actions to God (Job 1:6), and that they faced various challenges in relation to their abilities to perform their duties effectively on God’s behalf (Dan. 9:20-23; 10:10-14). It is very possible that there are times – somewhat uncommon but certainly real - when these great servants of the God of Israel fail to effectively protect His People. There are missionaries who die on the point of being rescued from their captors, others who are speared to death by the very people they feel God has “called” them to evangelize, before they even get the chance to share the gospel with those people…There are Christians who, in the middle of worshipping and praising God in a Christian rock concert “worship environment” in a modern “church”, have the floor collapse beneath them, severely injuring some and traumatizing scores of people present (a recent event here in BC, Canada). I see Christians participating in high-risk activities (like smuggling Bibles into “closed” communist and Muslim countries), believing that the God of Israel has motivated and guided them to do so, and will bless and protect them. In reality, God has no interest in this evangelistic process and effort and when His divine protection of them “fails” (per the Jim Elliott massacre/martyrdom), the ones left behind (like Jim’s wife, Elizabeth, and daughter) are left trying to pick up the pieces of a broken faith. In some cases, in other words, God's protection over His People might fail due to their being "outside of His Will". That would be one standard Christian response. The reality, however, is that God historically protects His People EVEN WHEN they have strayed from "His perfect will" and wisdom. I believe the more realistic, truer understanding of the situation lies in the failures of finite guardian angels. Angelic failure is not an easy concept to grapple with or accept - but I believe the Scriptures suggest that such a thing is most certainly possible. And that there is a measure of accountability introduced to their activities by God Himself (Job 1:6; Luke 4:10; Psalm 91:11). Something to ponder very seriously.
It’s not safe, playing games with the Truth. It’s highly inadvisable to blame God for bad decision-making based upon an erroneous understanding of Him and His Word. But too many people would rather launch out in “child-like faith” without troubling themselves to do the hard work of carefully researching God and His Person in His Word, first. God has very little patience or respect for such endeavors and people,and I share His feelings in this regard. As I said, above, I believe that the God of Israel WANTS a relationship with us based on MUTUAL respect and trust (just like humans enjoy with each other, albeit imperfectly, in a best-case scenario). God can't really respect those who don't trouble themselves to really get to know Him on a very personal basis. And these same people can't really trust and respect God without going to the effort of acquiring that kind of intimate knowledge of Him. Such knowledge involves intensive study of His Word, first and foremost - no matter how tedious people may find this exercise. If you don't like that approach - go serve some other "god". You're not ready for a relationship with the God of Israel.
In conclusion, I have to confess that by the end of "The Shack" I was rather irritated and cranky. The thinking exposed in fictional form, here, is unfortunately quite typical of the misunderstandings guiding the beliefs of mainstream evangelicalism and Churchianity as a whole. The characterization of God in this book was more of a caricature than an accurate representation of the God of Israel. The sad reality is that “church” people generally view God in the terms presented here, and find the Biblical Truth concerning His Person, Will and Kingdom anomalous and even repulsive. When Biblical Truth is rejected in favor of sweet, adorable lies - there is a very serious spiritual problem at work among those who claim to worship and serve the God of the Bible. And it needs to be addressed in a very serious way.
Serving the Truth,