I forgot to mention that Same Kind of Different As Me, the book reviewed below, is non-fiction. It is also on the New York Times Best Seller list, and as you can imagine, the authors have a new full time job in speaking engagements, book signings, etc. I also discovered that this book will be required reading for all incoming freshmen at Abilene Christian University this year where my youngest sister is a graduate student. On September 9, Ron Hall and Denver Moore will speak to the student body there.
I read an article in World Magazine recently highlighting the fact that there are currently 14 “Christian” books on the New York Times Best Seller list. The Shack by William P. Young is one of those books. Written by a never-before-published father of 6, it has quickly become a sensation in some pockets of Christendom, and draws quite a bit of emotion and opinion therein. We were introduced to it by a sweet couple in Oklahoma who described it as a must read.
The book begins three years after the abduction of Mack’s youngest daughter, Missy. The abduction is recalled in detail, though, and proves to be quite disturbing especially for a parent. After three years of struggling with grief, questions about the goodness of God, and just trying to move on with life, Mack receives a note in his mailbox inviting him to the shack, signed “Papa.” The shack is where evidence of his daughter’s murder had been found immediately after her abduction. He decides to go, concluding the possibility that the note is actually from God. (His wife has always called God “Papa.”) Once at the shack, and after raging at God over His seeming aloofness and injustice, Mack meets the Trinity, and spends a long weekend interacting with each person individually and together. God the Father is represented by a large African American woman who can cook a mean breakfast, Jesus, by a Middle Eastern carpenter, and the Holy Spirit as a half human half apparition Asian woman. I have to say that I was taken aback by these representations at first. Isn’t this blasphemous? And honestly, each page either angered me over its questionable theology, or roused me to reverence and tears over its profound truths. In the end, though, I was deeply impacted.
Mack confronts many things over the weekend. He gets to ask the hard questions, see his daughter Missy, put himself in God’s shoes at the judgment, and experience the love and care of the Lord. The part of the book that impacted me the most was in chapter 11 entitled, “Here Come Da Judge.” In it, Mack comes face to face with Lady Wisdom, the judge. In their heated dialogue it is revealed that Mack truly does not believe that God is loving, or can be trusted at all. How could He let his daughter suffer and die like she did? But when he is asked to sit in the seat of judgment, a beautiful ebony desk and chair, he begins to understand God’s love for His children as he’s asked to choose only two of his to spend eternity with God. He refuses, but the judge is relentless in demanding that Mack act as judge. Finally, Mack begs to be the one to be sent to hell and tortured eternally, and the judge responds, “Now you sound like Jesus. You have judged well, Mackenzie…..you have judged them worthy of love, even if it cost you everything. That is how Jesus loves.” It was in this chapter that I was struck with a new and deeper understanding of the love of God for ME.
The other theme that is central to the book is that of redemption through pain and tragedy. It is depicted by a garden in which eventually, the body of Missy is buried. The garden represents Mack’s soul and out of the resting spot grows the Tree of Life communicating that the most painful things of life can be true places of beauty because of the intimacy with God that grows, and the comfort we receive from Him. This was Robert’s favorite part of the book.
This book is being hailed by some, namely Eugene Peterson (author of The Message), as a modern day Pilgrim’s Progress. That may sound blasphemous to you as well. I don’t tend to enjoy modern day renditions of classics, either. But, this time I pushed through my apprehension and cringing over imperfect parallels, and gleaned a pure message of true love and a deeper understanding of what I believe is God’s true character, not the one I’ve created and work tirelessly and unnecessarily to please.