By William Paul Young
Read March 2009
I really wasn’t sure what to think about this book before reading it. I knew the basic premise; A man who is broken by personal trauma spends a weekend in a shack with God. Sounded interesting to say the least. I must live in a bubble because I mentioned it to a few people (my mistake) and I had one person tell me what a fabulous book it was and another tell me that they were so angry because somewhere they found out that he had made the whole story up. I on the other hand had never really heard anything about it.
Now, honestly, I don’t care if he made the story up, hence the genre; fiction. I would put this in as Christian Fiction, as it goes into faith and believing God loves you no matter what.
That all being said, I was horrified at the first few chapters and wanted to put it down and not touch it again. As a mother it was heart-wrenching to read. The main character, Mack, is on a camping trip with his family. While he is saving his older son from drowning in the lake, a serial killer, known as the Little Ladybug Killer, abducts his youngest daughter Missy.
The frantic search ensues. I could feel the panic in my chest. I think it is every parents worst nightmare that something will happen to one of their children. The local police and FBI begin conducting a search for little Missy. As much as I was horrified I had to keep reading.
They come to an ominous, run-down shack. Inside they find something horrible, Missy’s blood soaked dress laying on the floor. Mack’s worst fears are realized and Missy is presumed dead, her body never recovered.
Mack enters into a period of his life known as The Great Sadness. I love that it has a name. It is an entity that he has to overcome. The sadness and guilt he feels for his daughter’s death is overwhelming and is a being in itself. As all tragedy can do, it affects his relationships with everyone in his family. Each of them has their own way of dealing with the tragedy. His loving wife, Nan, has a great love for God and this helps her through her tragedy. She even calls him papa affectionately.
One day Mack gets a note in his mailbox that doesn’t appear to have come from the regular mail. It reads; “Mackenzie, It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. -Papa”
Macks first reaction is anger. Why would someone play this cruel of a joke on him. Then his mind wanders to other possibilities. Was this a note from the killer taunting him? Was it truly a note from God? He decides that he has to know. Either way he is going. He borrows a jeep and sets out for the place of his worst nightmares, the shack.
When he arrives it is just as horrible as he remembered it. He turns to leave and then a strange feeling overcomes him. He turns around and the shack is transformed. No longer a run-down shack in the middle of winter, it is a log cabin in the middle of spring. He walks back in amazement…he must be delusional.
What he finds inside astounds him even more. I absolutely love this part. God appears to him. Not as the Gandolf-like man with the long white beard as he imagined…but a hefty southern black woman. Along with the Almighty is Jesus and Sarayu, the holy spirit in the form of a small wispy asian woman. I loved their explaination for this;
“Mackenzie, I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you from falling back so easily back into your religious conditioning.” – She leaned forward as if to share a secret. ” To reveal myself to you as a very large, white grandfather figure with a flowing beard like Gandalf, would simply reinforce your religious stereo-types, and this weekend is not about reinforcing your religious stereotypes.”
Mackenzie spends time with each of them and begins to understand how the three of them together are God. Their relationship amongst each other is a model of true love. There is no heirarchy, just love for each other.
Mack deals with his inner demons. Things that have haunted him since he was a child as well as his feelings towards to the world after the murder of his daughter. He is guided through this journey by the three holy beings, each showing him a different part of his self-discovery.
One of my favorite chapters is entitled “Here Come Da Judge.” It was brilliant. I had to stop and go find my husband and read parts of it to him. I’m going to quote some of it here:
“…’So then Mackenzie, may I ask which of your children you love the most?’ …’I don’t love any one of them more than the others. I love each of them differently.’….’But what if one of them is belligerent and rude? What about if they embarrass you in front of others? How does that affect your love for them?’…’It doesn’t really…even when they behave badly they are still my son or daughter…it might affect my pride, but not my love for them.’
The book beautifully illustrates how God’s love for each of His children does not waver despite the choices they make, just as a parents love for their children will not waver despite what those children may do.
Later in the chapter, Mack is informed that he is there for judgement, but he is not going to be judged, he IS the judge. And he is there to judge God and humanity. Another passage:
“..’I don’t have any ability to judge.’ ‘Oh that is not true,’ returned the quick reply, tinged now with a hin of sarcasm. ‘You have already proven yourself very capable even in our short time together. And besides, you have judged many throughout your life. You have judged the actions and even the motivations of others, as if somehow you knew those were in truth…By all accounts, you are quite well practiced in the activity.’ Mack felt shame reddening his face. He had to admit, he’d done a lot of judging in his time…
She continued, ‘Isn’t that your complaint Mackenzie? That God has failed you, that he failed Missy? That before Creation God knew that one day your Missy would be brutalized and still created? That He allowed that twisted soul to snatch her from your loving arms when He had the power to stop him. Isn’t God to blame Mackenzie?’….’Yes! God is to blame!’…’Then,’ she said with finality, ‘if you are able to judge God so easily, then certainly you can judge the world.’ Again she spoke without emotion. ‘You must choose two of your children to spend eternity in God’s new heavens and new earth, but only two.’ … ‘And you must choose three of your children to spend eternity in hell.’ …’Mackenzie, I’m only asking you to do something you believe God does…”
I just loved the whole chapter. Sorry to quote so much of the book, I just thought that chapter was great. I know that in my own life, I have judged when it is not my place to judge. I’ve reminded myself that it is God’s place to judge, not mine, but somehow it still happens.
There were parts of the book that were a little sappy and a little too over enthusiastic. Overall I really enjoyed it. It gave a fresh perspective and a new way to look at how a relationship with God could be. Now, I’m not saying that what this book says should be THE way, I’m just saying it had a very cool perspective.
I love the cover art for this book as well. Honestly, as I said before, I don’t care if it was made up on a fictional account or a recollection of someones actual experience. The journey Mack goes through is example for all of us how tragedy can affect us and how we can overcome. God is not cruel, and everything has a purpose. Not what I was expecting in this book, but I really enjoyed it. As the dust-jacket puts it, “The Shack wrestles with the timeless question: Where is God in a world filled with unspeakable pain?”
Themes: Kidnapping, abduction, murder, serial killers, depression, religious stereotypes, realtionships with God.
Setting: Modern-day America
Characters: Mack (Mackenzie) Philips, Nan Philips, Kate Philips, Tyler Philips, Jon Philips, Josh Philips, Missy (Melissa) Philips, Willie, God aka Papa aka Abba aka Elousia, Jesus, the Holy Spirit aka Sarayu, Officer Tommy Dalton.
Topic: A man devastated by the tragic loss of his daughter asks the question, “where is God when something like this can happen to a child.” The man, Mack, gets an answer. He spends a weekend in the shack where his daughter was killed with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. He goes through a period of guided self-discovery. What he finds out about himself, and about God’s relationship with him surprises him.