Quote of the Day: The Shack

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

From Nathan Heller, explaining William Paul Young’s mega-bestselling religious allegory, The Shack:

Theologically speaking, there is something for everybody in The Shack, but mostly in the sense that there is something for everybody in a meatloaf.

After writing about The Shack a couple of months ago, I finally got around to reading it recently. And as Heller suggests, it’s about a lot of things: sort of a weird stew of conventional Christian theology mixed with lots of new-agey spiritualism whose goal is to reconnect you with Christ. Among other things, Young rattles on about the Trinity, the nature of time, what it’s like in heaven, the power of redemption, and a hundred other things. At its heart, though, The Shack is concerned with perhaps Christianity’s most intractable question: why does an omnipotent God permit the existence of evil? In other words, it’s a meditation on theodicy.

And to give Young credit, he doesn’t shy away from asking God to account for a case of serious evil: a ten-year-old girl named Missy who’s kidnapped, possibly sexually assaulted, and then murdered in a remote shack by a sadistic serial killer. Her father, Mack, quite understandably has his already tenuous faith shaken by the fact that a loving God could allow this to happen, so a couple of years after the murder God invites him to spend a weekend in the shack (along with Jesus and the Holy Ghost) where everything will be explained. 200 pages later, here’s the payoff:

“Could I have prevented what happened to Missy? The answer is yes.”

Mack looked at Papa [i.e., God], his eyes asking the question that didn’t need voicing. Papa continued, “First, by not creating at all, these questions would be moot. Or second, I could have chosen to actively interfere in her circumstance. The first was never a consideration, and the latter was not an option for purposes that you cannot possibly understand now. At this point, all I have to offer as an answer are my love and goodness, and my relationship with you.”

Italics mine. This is, needless to say, not exactly a cutting-edge contribution to the theodicy literature. In the end, God doesn’t really have any answers at all for Mack, at least not in the usual sense of “answer.” However, it does turn out that God and Jesus are really extremely charismatic folks, and that’s enough. Mack finishes up the weekend feeling much better about things because he finally trusts God.1

I suppose it says something that this is enough to sell 7 million copies (or whatever it’s up to now). I’m not sure what, but something. Here’s Heller’s crack at it: “[Young’s] theories — how to believe in Adam while supporting particle-physics research; why the Lord is OK with your preference for lewd funk more than staid church music — accomplish what mainstream faiths tend to fail at: connecting recondite doctrine to the tastes, rhythms, and mores of modern life. The Shack’s wild success doesn’t reveal how Bible-thumpy this country is. It shows how alienated from religion we’ve become. And though the novel, as a novel, is a sinner’s distance from perfection, it’s an eloquent reminder that, for those who give some faith and effort to the writing craft, there is, even today, the chance to touch and heal enough strangers to work a little miracle.” Maybe so.

1Plus God gives him a glimpse of Missy in heaven, and she’s pretty happy there. So that helps too.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate