“The Shack”: An Appraisal


What you call personality and emotion (good and evil), we see as shades of colour and light – Sarayu

I don’t blame those who think that after the Bible, the novel “The Shack” is the best faith-guide ever written, in much the same way the expression goes: the best thing since sliced bread. It was a pleasant surprise by the same token to hear that my beloved formator and mentor, the late Fr Brendan Jordan was a fan and advocate of The Shack – The Book, the rendezvous to honour.

What a book that is so practical and realistic in matters daily live-roaring emotions and faith questions!  What a subtitle: “where tragedy confronts eternity”, for, who in his not so young life has not been rained on or stormed by some tragedy that led to failure, despair, addiction or liquor?

Paul William Young testifies to the traumas and lies he lived and nearly crashed despite a lovely family; then a repeated prompt to write a book as a legacy for their children; then in the train, he pens “The Shack” – the book to read, a video to watch, the place to go back to – that place of tragedy, loss, betrayal, trauma in our lives where his/our worst nightmare happened and lingered; and just behind or beyond which is the Heaven, Paradise, the Trinity, Transformation, challenge, forgiveness, love, retrospection – the supernatural vantage point.

Mackenzie, the protagonist who is penned up and boiling with tragic traumas of a father’s and daughter’s death seeks justice and challenges Papa (God the Father) and Sarayu (God the Holy Spirit) in unequivocal words of rage, is accompanied by Jesus, first to learn from him to wade/walk on water, to Lady wisdom who answers back fire with fire and compels Mackenzie to take her place on the Judgement Seat and judge and condemn and decide who should be punished, who should go to hell, not just in the whole world but from his children and parents and grandparents in the omniscient replay of their lives and sins.  Mackenzie, like Job after Chapters 38-42 nervously drops his weapons of judgment and vengeance and beholds the missing Missy who was kidnapped and murdered and is washed by a savouring torrential rain.  Eventually he heads back to reality, to his family assured by the Trinity that “I’ve always been with you, I am with you, I will always be with you” until the end of time.

The Shack – The Cross – the place of death, of the worst nightmare, of raw evil, rotting flesh, dry woods, night, is the same indispensable place for healing hurts, school of forgiveness, root of redemption, clue to the resurrection, to life after death, to rest in restlessness, to end of the search.

The challenge of all challenges, to see events, things and people the way God sees them, is the quintessential exhortation of God the Holy Spirit: what you see as good and evil, we see as shades of colour and light.  That crushing evil may never be stopped or controlled but definitely managed, manoeuvred, transcended. This, to me, is a lifelong challenge, learning, school; that ability to step back and see things as God sees, even in the worst tragedy, misery, emotional, physical, spiritual turmoil, without judging but pondering, wondering, surrendering.  Talk of serenity, compassion, unconditional positive regard.

The book seems to be for many of us who are either brought up or used to being critical, robust or judgmental against God(‘s ways), authority, life’s enigmas, marvels, puzzles, tragedies; for us for whom “might is right” and “vengeance is now”, for whom order is paramount and the weeds must be weeded out, named, judged and jailed.

Good and evil remain good and evil, especially murder, misery, violence, tragedies, loss; but how these tragedies in our lives are turned by eternity into shades of colour and light is indeed transcendental, beyond our imagination, power or grasp.  The Shack is a masterclass work of theology, spirituality, fiction and grace, a light to shine in darkness, to lighten, enlighten and heal. Kudos to Paul W Young.

Lord open our eyes to see the wonders of your law of love; that we may walk in your ways; that we may be able to imagine how much you are fond of each of us in Papa’s repeated utterances; that we may be accompanied by Jesus and delivered from evil, tragedies, sin, temptations or despair by the Holy Spirit, Sarayu, the Paraclete; that we may see the shades of colour and light in our world and beyond, even in the midst of the tragedies, in the good and the evil that we wrestle, fight or choose every day.  

Our Lady of Sorrows pray for us, that we may always go back to our Shack, embrace our cross, face the sword, lean on the Cross and depend on its Triumph – that sign by which we will overcome all evil. 

Emmanuel Mbeh mhm, 2020

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