The Shack, Part 3: God in the DockThursday, July 17, 2008
Perhaps the best portion of The Shack comes when Mack (the father whose daughter was abducted and murdered) faces Sophia, a personification of wisdom, in what we might call the Hall of Justice. In a scene reminiscent of the last chapters of Job, the grieving father who lives with the Great Sadness of his daughter’s death finally gets his chance to make his case against God. This part of the book I found very believable because we have all had questions we wanted to ask God. The question boils down to, “Why didn’t God intervene to save my daughter?” Sophia engages Mack in a passionate discussion of justice, mercy and wisdom that leads to one enormous counter-question. Is God good? That shifts the discussion away from the tragedy (which can never be fully understood) to the character of God. And here for the most part, the novel succeeds in showing the utter futility of man judging God. In essence Sophia says to Mack, “You say you want to take God’s place in the decisions he must make, but really you don’t and you can’t.” You can put God on trial if you like, but who will be his judge?
Later in the book, one final answer is given that rang true to me. The Father (this time portrayed as a man) says, “I didn’t intervene (to stop the crime) for reasons you couldn’t possibly understand.” There is much talk earlier in the book about human freedom, but that “free will” approach only takes you so far. It’s not a fully satisfactory answer to say, “The world is messed up because we messed it up.” That’s true, but it does not cover all that the Bible says on the subject. The real question is not, “Why didn’t God intervene in this particular circumstance?” but “Why did God allow sin in the first place?” And to that we simply say what the Bible says—that God determined to show forth the magnitude of his grace through the gift of his Son.” God is greatly glorified in the display of mercy to sinners through the death of Jesus Christ.
Will that truth explain why a particular tragedy happened at a particular time and place? No, but I suspect there is no answer this side of heaven that could satisfy. Perhaps it more accurate to say that there is no answer that God could give that we could understand. You can find a further discussion of these issues (not of the novel itself) in Why is there so much suffering in the world?
Other reviewers have noted a variety of theological problems with the novel, but problems or not, it continues to sell like gangbusters. Just today I saw an ad from a major ministry offering the book to donors. I have no doubt that Christians are a large part of the audience for “The Shack.” I wonder what’s going on here. Have we decided that if the book strengthens our faith, we can overlook those other issues because it’s a novel? Is this a case of horseshoes and hand grenades—close enough is good enough? I think it’s a combination of both plus some other factors that I want to explore tomorrow.