Alert! This review contains some small spoilers.
First I haven’t read the best selling book, The Shack by William P. Young. By the way did you know that he is worth 2.2 billion dollars from this franchise? Evidently a lot of people besides myself enjoyed his book or movie. I was a little hesitant to watch it because many people I respect have criticized the theology of the book, but I'm not on a heretic witch hunt here. For one thing an author who is writing a fictional work should not, in my humble opinion, be held to the same standard as professional theologians. He is writing fiction - fiction whose main message is we are not God - we do not see things from God’s perspective - we are not the ultimate judge of people or events. To which I say “amen.”
The Shack tells the story of a man who has been damaged by an abusive father who claims Christ. Mack, the main character, manages to overcome his childhood, marry well, and have a lovely church going family when the worst kind of tragedy hits. His small daughter is kidnapped (and we assume raped) and killed. It is over the top bad. I think he used this as a device for the worst thing that could happen to a father. Young comes to his grief over abuse honestly, however. He was the son of missionary parents in Papua New Guinea, where (unbeknown to his parents) he was repeatedly molested by some of the leaders of these stone age tribe people. It’s a really horrific secret that he kept for years.
Mack is, of course, devastated by what has happened to his daughter and has pretty much withdrawn from his hurting family. He is also very angry with God. That is when he has an encounter with the God of the universe (called Papa) in a shack in the middle of the woods where his daughter was murdered. The God of the Universe happens to be a warm plus size black woman who likes to cook. She happens to also look like a neighborhood woman who befriends him as a child. At one point in the movie she said that she didn’t think he would be ready to see God as a father (because remember his father was an abusive drunk who beat him and his mother). This is OK with me. Yes God is referred to as He in most of the Bible, but really isn’t God beyond gender? God is spirit, and we should worship him in spirit and in truth. Moreover, there are places in scripture that God is compared to a mother (Matthew 23:27).
Besides God the father as a black woman, The Shack portrays the Holy Spirit as a beautiful Asian women named Sarayu, and the Son is a young Middle Eastern man. I’m not particularly fond of these personifications - it seemed a little too politically correct, diversity police approved to me, and it was all a little confusing. I wouldn’t suggest this movie as a way to explain the trinity. Ironically, it is probably Young’s unorthodox portrayal of the godhead that brought it much of its popularity (and certainly most of its controversy). In case you haven’t noticed white men are sort of out of style at the moment - and I guess that includes their portrayal as the divine. Another complaint I could address but won't is about all that tricky Second Commandment stuff. Anyways the message of Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu was, as far as I could tell, about love, faith, trust in God, and forgiveness. My favorite part of the movie is Mack’s encounter with Wisdom in a cave. (She also happens to be played by a woman.) She has Mack sit on a throne representing God’s work as a judge because in the whole story, Mack has been judging God for all the terrible things that have happened in his life. It is an old question. How could a loving God let such terrible things happen to an innocent child? When Mack tries to sit on the judgement seat he realizes, to no surprise, that he is totally incapable of judging God for anything.
The end of the movie helped me to understand the literary devices and choices that Young chose for his story. I would not use this movie as a replacement for the bible or good biblical exegesis from a pastor, but that is not Young’s purpose here. My favorite line from the movie is when Papa tells Mack that everything that he (and by inference all of us) do and say is important and makes a difference. Again to that I say a hearty “Amen.” I think this move could be of help to anybody who has suffered loss and tragedy. And isn’t that most of us? A warning - be prepared with handkerchiefs if you plan to see this.