After spending 39 weeks on the New York Times best seller list, one would have to admit that The Shack by William Paul Young has swept the nation. What was written as a story for his children, with no intention of being published, has soared into selling over 5.5million copies and will soon be appearing in over 30 languages around the world. Not bad for a guy living a simple life in Gresham, Oregon, working three jobs (janitor, general manager, and sales representative), raising 6 children, expecting two grandkids and maintaining a marriage.
One must first recognize that the novel was written as theological fiction. This makes it difficult for the reader to discern what the author is saying and decipher whether it is holds evident with Holy Scripture. Keep in mind that the novel isn’t meant to be a Bible lesson. With that being said, The Shack is written as a personal testimony of the protagonist, Mackenzie (Mack) Philips, coming to terms with God. His youngest daughter, Missy, was abducted three years earlier during a family camping trip. Although her body is never found, police find evidence in a shack hidden deep within the forest that reveals she has been viciously murdered by a notorious children’s serial killer. Mack immediately dispatches into “The Great Sadness”, the constant guilt he holds for not saving his beloved daughter. At the height of Mack’s “Great Sadness” he receives a letter from God, inviting him back to scene of the crime or the shack. Although skeptical, Mack goes and experiences the unbelievable: a weekend-long encounter with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. From this point on, the dialogue focuses around topics that theologians have debated for centuries. Young provides anthropomorphism of the Trinity. God is a vivacious African American woman whom goes by the name “papa”, Jesus is a middle-aged man of Jewish descent, and the Holy Spirit is a sylph like Asian women by the name of Sarayu. At this point, the reader feels the urge to close the book and be done with it for some might find Young’s characterizations offensive. Although some of the characterizations are a stretch, I believe Young did this in order to break down stereotypes. The Trinity may appear in numerous tangible or intangible forms. It shouldn’t be about what form but rather the emotional sensation one gathers. Young is asking his readers to take off the blinding blinders and experience God in a new way. Granted it may not be your particular cup of tea, but you never know whether you will like something without trying it first. Once you get past the personifications, the reader dives into deep stimulating ideals that surround the Trinity, submission, free will, forgiveness, redemption, love, salvation, and judgment. Most of the communication between Mack and the Trinity focuses around his inability to trust God.
Even for non-religious readers, The Shack is a great read because it opens you up to topics you may not usually contemplate. The author provides answers without forcing his opinions upon the reader and stimulates one’s own morals and beliefs. At times I found myself setting the book down and pondering what I just read, internalizing it, thus re-discovering myself. When reading this book it’s all about openness. It’s not about whether you believe in God or not. Allow Young’s creativity and imagination to take you on a journey into self discovery and dap into the divine.
The story line isn’t truly original, yet again this novel wasn’t written for the purpose of simply telling a story. Rather the content and teaching it contains sparks a deep, spiritual and emotional impact upon the reader.