My previous post generated some discussion on and offline, which is great. But I suspect that a few more comments are in order. I’m not here to defend or attack the book, per se – it can stand on its own perfectly well. But I feel the need to make a few more points of clarification…
- It’s Fiction! this is crucial; saying such is not an excuse for the book but merely an explanation of it. And the nature of fiction is that you create a parallel universe. But good fiction uses that parallel universe to highlight and even expose truth and reality in our world.And so in the parallel world of the Shack, you come face to face with all 3 persons of the Trinity – that’s not the way things happen in real life. But we do relate to all 3 persons in some ways in the real world – and so (as I said in my comments on the previous post) the book acts like an extended sermon illustration. No illustration is perfect, especially when it attempts to communicate about God. But that won’t necessarily stop it pointing us to reality.
- God as She? This is clearly something that gets people immediately alarmed. And in many ways, i completely understand why. But i think 2 things need to be said:
- In his defence, Young certainly appears aware of the problems – which is presumably why The Father is always addressed as Papa (his take on ‘Abba-Father’ – there are questions of course on what precisely Abba-Father means, but that’s not for now). And by the end of the book, the Father has appeared as an older man (albeit with a greying pony-tail!). The point is that the protagonist, Mack, has had such a terrible experience of his own human father, that he struggles to conceptualize God’s goodness in Father terms (in common with SO many people), until the end of the book. As this book is about coming to a renewed trust in the sovereignty AND goodness of God, i can see why Young does this in his book. It is clever. You may not like it – but at least understand what he is seeking to do.
- The truth is that God is neither male nor female – both are men and women are made in his image. This is important. This means that neither one gender is better or superior to the other. But it is true that in the Bible, God is predominantly revealed as Father – a male metaphor. I say predominantly, though, for good reason. It is not an exclusive metaphor, as the following verses point us to. Of course there are not many, and they are clearly in the minority. But they are there nonetheless…
- The metaphor of God as Mother: Numbers 11:12 (Moses didn’t do this, implying that God did); Isaiah 49:15; Isaiah 66:12-13; cf Ps 131:2, I Peter 2:2-3
- The metaphor of God as Midwife: Psalm 22:9-11, Psalm 71:6, Isaiah 66:9
- Parables using male and female analogies for God: Luke 13:18-21, Luke 15:3-10
- Images from the natural world: Psalm 57:1; Deuteronomy 32:11-12; Matthew 23:37/Luke 13:34; Hosea 13:8
Now please don’t jump to conclusions from this small bible trawl. I’ve not lost it, nor am i wanting to make a very big deal about it. For to be frank, there are not many other passages that we can turn to. The vast majority of the metaphors are more male than they are female. But never let us get into the hole of making God out to BE male from that. He’s neither. I think the point behind much of the predominance of male imagery is to provide a clear-cut and strong contrast between YHWH and the fertility cults and idols of the ancient world (which were nearly always explicitly female). And we can never escape the scandal of Jesus’ particularity, in that he came as a male Jewish carpenter in ancient Galilee 2000 years ago (which makes us all different from him in some way or another). And the bottom line is that he teaches his followers to pray to God as ‘Father’. We are in no position to overturn that or to start praying to God our Mother. And the intriguing thing is that The Shack never goes near that.
- There ARE problems! As I said in the previous post. These should not be underestimated: particularly concerning in my mind are the omission of divine holiness, the flattening of the Trinity’s inter-personal relationships (eg where does John’s gospel’s frequent insistence that the Son submits to the Father fit with all this), and the problems about the atonement. As long as we are aware of these, i think there is still MUCH to learn.
- Should you avoid this book? Well I would never give a blanket no -simply because there is so much that isgood and helpful. As I said, it has shaken up what I really think about God AND how I relate to him. I’m a great believer in all truth being God’s truth, wherever it is found – so in principle I’m not afraid to read anything (more or less).
So, I would heartily agree with this helpful opinion piece, entitled ‘READING IN GOOD FAITH, in last month’s Christianity Today magazine, which calls for the book to be given a fair hearing. It helpfully explains more of the background and alludes to some of the limitations, while rightly highlighting the book’s merits.