Thursday, March 30, 2017

Review: The Shack

I went to see “The Shack” last night. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. Spoiler alert: parts of this review may give away plot elements.

And then I came home and read some reviews. And was surprised (I’m not sure why. I have certainly heard and read enough attacks by people who call themselves “christians” over the years.) 

Here’s where we need to start. This is a film based on a novel. It is not a systematic theology (and if you are getting your total picture of God and his work from a systematic theology, you need to rethink that approach). It is a “true” story in the sense that it is rooted in the main character’s (Mack) experience in the world (including an abusive father, loss of a child, overwhelming grief). It is a modern parable (don’t make the mistake of trying to make every detail represent something vital).

As a work of fiction, it takes us out of our comfort zones into places most of don’t have to go, it takes us to places where we see something of the incredible depths of God’s love. 

Many seem to be stuck on the portrayal of the Trinity in the film. People, remember this is all part of a dream sequence in the film. It is an attempt, it is not a definitive statement on the nature of the Trinity. In fact, I love how Papa sometimes appears as female and at another time as male (and incidentally, and thankfully, none of the trinity characters are white males) – which is a very biblical picture. This picture painted in the film of the Trinity is of a community of sacrificial, others-centered, love (which is orthodox). Seldom do we/can we imagine what the Triune community is really like. The Shack provides a fun and engaging image of this as we try to comprehend the Trinity. I liked the scene of the Father, Son, and Spirit sitting at the meal table. It reminded me of the icon depicting perichoresis. The marvel of redemption is that we get to sit at the table, too.

Some see in the film the idea of universalism. But I did not see any “all religions lead to God” teaching. Nor was there a minimizing of sin and evil, of these being taken lightly with no judgment to fear. This is not a film about all aspects of theology, nor does it pretend to be. It is the story of one man’s journey of finding God, healing and resurrection life.

The thought the film deals honestly in its depiction of devastating human pain and the Jesus’ command to love and, yes, forgive. The film raises the question: How can a good, loving God plan or allow evil? There is no flippant, superficial forgiveness in this film. 

Having just returned from Uganda and seeing the work that some of God’s people are doing in helping people find and offer forgiveness as a result of the incredible pain inflicted on them by the LRA [Jospeh Kony & the Lord's Resistance Army], seeing that the resolution to human pain is found in the deeply loving Trinitarian God who suffered with and bore our pain is so important to grasp.

The Shack – both the book and the movie are great conversation starters.

But here’s what saddens me: many of the criticisms of The Shack are offered not as conversations points but as pronouncements. They shut down the dialogue. In contrast, The Shack raises the question: How do we present God as Father to this father-starved generation and call them to draw near to Him, when the mention of “father” conjures up images that are uncaring, distant, and (in more cases than we’d like to admit) abusive? The Shack tackles that question by starting in the kitchen with “Papa” represented as a warm, embracing African-American woman and leading Mack from there to know “Papa” as Father who will shepherd him gently through the hardest stretches of his journey. 

Papa, says of every human she meets or recollects, “I am especially fond of him.” If there is one line I wish people would grasp it is this: God says of you, “I am especially fond of you.”

The Shack is about being reassured of God’s relentless love for you in the presence of your greatest reason to doubt Him. How ironic for Mack to come to grips with God’s love at the murder scene of his daughter where God’s love seemed so wholly absent. What a great starting point for deep conversations about all of life.

The film / parable is about how we feel about ourselves in our own “shacks.” Do we really believe – deep in our guts, not just in our heads – that God is “especially fond” of us?

This is where The Shack engages us. It encourages us to embrace the loving relationship into which God invites us. No, it does not answer every question, address every aspect of God’s nature or reflect on every topic of Christian theology. Instead, it zeros in on the fundamental way in which wounded people erect barriers that muzzle the divine invitation to loving relationship.

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