Have you ever got caught up in the argument of whether Jesus’ parables were literally or figuratively true? We’re not talking about the events of Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospels. There’s no need for debate there. But was He telling stories about real people or using hypothetic situations to illustrate truths about the Kingdom of God? Whether your answer to the first question is literally true, figuratively true or both, you can appreciate the task of William Paul Young as he set about writing The Shack. The entire book is a parable. The experiences of the main character, Mack, are at least as fantastic of those of Alice when Lewis Carroll sent her through the looking glass, but the application for you and me is much more relevant.
The Shack begins with the gritty stuff of reality. We learn that Mack is going through what he calls The Great Sadness. His friend, Willy, a kind of talkative guy you instantly like, fills us in. Mack and his children are on a camping trip. He dives into a lake to rescue his oldest daughter and a youngest son from a minor boating mishap. That’s when his youngest child is kidnapped. Missy’s bloody dress turns up in a shack miles away. Mack asks the same question we all would ask, “Where was God?”
One day Mack pulls a letter out of his mailbox, inviting him to a weekend at the shack. It is signed “Papa”, which is his wife’s way of referring to God. After much soul searching, Mack eventually goes.
What happens next upsets some of the greatest theological minds of our time, but if you’ve learned to hear God’s voice first hand in your own life, instead of regurgitating back what experts say, you’ll find confirmation to truths He’s been personally sharing. Literary types also chafe at what they consider not enough story and too much dialog. But William Paul Young ended up self-publishing, bypassing the critics to release a New York Times bestseller.
The technical term for what Young describes, through Willy, is a theophany -- a manifestation of God to a man. It takes place over the course of a weekend and involves the three persons of the Trinity. And there’s no doubt the three are One! You may just possibly be prepared for Young’s Jesus, but Papa and the Holy Spirit, will, as my wife likes to say, knock your socks off. No, come to think of it, Jesus will surprise you too.
All the basics of the faith are there, just not the tradition man likes to add. William Paul Young does an excellent job of pointing us to the God of the Book. I believe much of the dialog comes from his own conversations with God. Personally, I rarely pick up a novel, preferring non-fiction. The Shack was different for me. I feel like I’ve had my own personal theophany.
Read Steve and Sheryl Eastman's interview with collaborator Wayne Jacobsen.
Visit the book's website.