Mandy's Reviews > The Shack

The Shack by William Paul Young
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's review
Dec 01, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: read-in-2011
Read in November, 2011

Response to the friend who sent me a copy of this book.

You were right about the writing, very overblown, but it wasn't too bad - I could still enjoy the book, because I enjoyed what it was about. I thought that the Jesus in the book declaring that he disliked religion would raise a few hackles, and looking at the reviews on and across the Internet I was right, though I misjudged the why. So today, I have been checking out Young, which was interesting, and having a think about the book.

First off, Young has written a description of how God behaves (not the making pancakes, but the way God feels about us, about sin) which is very, very similar to the way I already saw God. I have always thought that God is love. In some places Young has taken this further than I have, for example - that we do not need to feel obligated or guilty - and I wholeheartedly agree with him - what he thinks makes sense to me, I just hadn’t given it thought before. I don't think God is really concerned with petty human behaviour, except in the way that that behaviour damages us. So, I was reading this book without seeing much in it as a new idea - just a different presentation of an existing idea.

I have never got, for instance, that Jesus’ message, when you read it fresh as a raised non-believer as I was, is so clearly a message for people to turn to God and to have a close personal individual relationship with God. And yet, when you join an organised religion supposedly based on Jesus’ teaching (Christian), thinking that allying yourself to other people who are also searching - or who may already have - a close relationship with God will help, what you find is that in fact you get told what to do, told what to think, and that when you review it, all that stuff does is get in between us and God - it drowns out what God is trying to say to us. Often a Christian religion in fact does not seem to follow the teachings of Jesus at all, but instead worships Jesus and the bible and makes no effort to try to help people get closer to God.

Of course I am now a member of Quakers, and that is an organised religion, nominally Christian (though that is of some dispute by some members) but it is a religion that is run by its members and hugely encourages people to have a close personal relationship with God, so much so that our meetings are a period of quiet stillness to enable us to settle and listen for God’s words within us – well, they are that way for Quakers in Britain, there are Quakers in America and Africa, some of whom have more traditional services. I could not be a member of Quakers if they did not respect the individual beliefs of members, accepting wholeheartedly that we may differ in our beliefs.

I found a lot of the book overly specific – long winded explanations of the Trinity, and of how Jesus is human, and frankly paid little attention to those points because I don’t set much store by the specifics of how it all could work – I’m just not that bothered. It was the same with the walking on water thing, which seemed sheer playfulness, and didn’t really mean anything or advance the plot any.

Reading some of the critical reviews of the book was interesting, as they mostly said that the book didn’t agree with scripture, but didn’t really give any examples that were compelling to me. I think that what people forget about the Bible is that it was written by people a long time ago in other languages, which are largely dead languages now. Other people decided that some of these writings (not all, some have been removed) were the ‘Word of God’ and the collection has since then been treated as if it contains absolute truth. No matter how wonderful any of those people were – the writers or the ones who sat in judgement, or even the translators – they were people, and as equal in God’s sight as me. They were as able as I am to hear God speak – so why would I take their words – old, written to fit a culture I do not live in, in a language that I do not understand (though translated to the best of the translator’s ability no doubt) over the words that God speaks directly to me? To me, the Bible is as likely to reveal a truth about God, or open a path to God as any other piece of writing – I believe God can work through them all. So to me, the Bible, and The Shack are equal in a religious sense.

Things I noticed about the book – the writer was heavily influenced by the film ‘The Matrix’. Papa, in the book, is the Oracle from the film. I noticed that before they started talking about ‘the matrix’ in the book – but as this writing was originally done as a gift for Young’s children, I wondered if one of his kids, or maybe several, were Matrix fans, and that guided his choice. I wasn’t bothered by that – or by Jesus being ugly with a big nose, or by the shifting spirit – it is a metaphorical story, about someone actually having a meeting with God in those three dimensions, so he kind of had to describe what the dimensions looked like. I have no preconceived mental image of God, except maybe as fire – or mist – or a energy field (whatever that looks like!) so there was no clash there.

I think many people are looking for an explanation from God, which is why this book is so popular – it gives one. Personally I am not looking for one. I don’t think there is one, or that there will be one. Jesus had plenty of time to write one, and God is more than capable of making sure that if he did it would be protected and published throughout the world. Instead we have the second hand words of Jesus written decades after his death, by people who may not even have known him (Chinese whispers anyone?) written in a dead language. I think that the Bible is a signpost – which tells us to turn to God and listen to what God tells us, and this book does more or less the same thing. I think that listening to God is the point – the only point – the only religious thing that a person needs to do.

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Nicki Brilliantly put :D

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