I must be one of the last people to read The Shack. Written in 2007 by William Paul Young, this book quickly swept across the country and has on the New York Times Bestseller List for well over two years. Since being published, over 10 million copies have been printed. And now I see why.
The Shack is the story of Mackenzie Allen Phillip, better known as Mac, and the process he went through after the abduction and murder of his youngest daughter, Missy. Unable to successfully deal with her death, years later Mac is still going through what he calls, “The Great Sadness” which penetrates his daily life. One day, he receives a mysterious note from “Papa” that invites to the shack. The same shack where evidence of Missy’s murder was found. Mac is at first horrified, but then considers the offer and eventually makes plans to spend a weekend there.
After Mac arrives at the shack, it becomes transformed before his eyes, apparently due to the presence of “Papa,” an outgoing African-American woman, who also happens to be God. Now stay with me…God appears to Mac in this form because this is apparently how Mac needs to see Him. Along with Papa are a flannel-wearing Jesus and a small woman named Sarayu, who is the Holy Spirit.
I know it all sounds weird…it did to me, too. But what follows is actually very beautiful. Mac learns how to really have relationship with God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Because of his weekend with them, the barriers that Mac always held up between himself and God are torn down. The three also help him to heal and cope with Missy’s death, bringing Mac closure and peace. Mac learns to put his trust in God fully and completely, even to the point of choosing to forgive Missy’s killer.
I think what has attracted millions of people to this book is the very real, very personal relationship Mac has with Papa, Jesus & Sarayu. Papa delights in Mac, whom she is “especially fond of.” What I see is that God isn’t someone who is ethereal and far away. Or someone who is sitting on a giant throne, ready to squash us if we make the wrong move. God is someone who we can sit at the table and enjoy a meal with. Jesus is someone we can lay on the grass with and look at the clouds with. The Holy Spirit is someone we can go fishing with. We can be honest with God and share our most personal thoughts with Him. And He’s someone who cares so much about each one of us. I love how God’s delight in us is shown in such a real way in The Shack. Mac, like many of us, didn’t have a good relationship with his earthly father and needed to see what a loving Father was like.
I know The Shack has been controversial, due in part to the portrayal of God as a woman. To me, this is explained sufficiently in the book. But this book is meant to be taken allegorically, not literally. If you can read it in that spirit, I think you’ll find a few life-changing lessons in The Shack.