“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
Proverbs 13:12, NIV
*Preface: If you would like an extensive theological breakdown of some of the controversial concepts within “The Shack,” which there are several, you can look to any number of resources on the internet. I will simply highlight a few as a brief overview. My intent is to focus in on what the Shack got right or what the movie captured better than the book.
The General Theological Issues
First, whenever someone, outside of the Bible, writes on behalf of God we run a great risk of inserting human error. It is one thing to make a claim about God based off of Scripture, and another to make a claim as if it is coming from the very voice of God, outside of Scripture. Most conservative scholars and theologians would push back greatly against the authors use of the voice of God. Allegory or not, the author has taken great liberty to place words into the mouth of the Triune Godhead. The least of our worries, which some have made bigger to the detriment of other problems, is God being represented as a woman. I’m less concerned with that and more with the whole attempt at portraying the Godhead in human form and having them say words that are not found in Scripture. Even the use of “they” is a problem with true Trinitarian doctrine, it is difficult to replicate the Trinity in any visual fashion. Having God the Father appear as a human IS the incarnate Jesus Christ, so we can’t have the two on screen together in human form. It takes a very serious Bible student to read what the author has “God” saying and where to find that in the Bible. Thus, speaking for God without any concrete connection to Scripture is one problem and speaking for God in general is a problem. Human opinion and error is too great.
Second, where the book errors and the movie glosses over a little better is with the idea of Universalism. This may not be a big deal for some in this “Love Wins” religious sect in our culture. However, if the author is saying God judges no one, because it would require sending some people to hell, then he is espousing Universalism. To keep it short, to say all people will go to heaven because Jesus died for everyone’s sin regardless of their faith, is to say God is forcing everyone to be with him and is contradicting the very purpose of the Universalist. The Universalist seeks to keep everyone’s free-will intact, but free-will requires the ability to reject God, which many do. Not everyone will go to heaven because not everyone wants to go to heaven. This is a simple rebuttal of the universalist notion.
To put another spin on this, these same people, the Universalist, reject Determinism, the complete lack of free-will or God’s total sovereignty over mankind. Meaning, everything that happens in your life is predetermined by God, even those who go to heaven and those who go to hell. The Universalist & Determinism are each one side of the SAME coin. In both beliefs, God is doing all the deciding. Determinism say God chooses some and Universalist says God chooses everyone…either way there is no free-will.
The Heart the Movie Captures
What I missed in the book upon first reading many years ago, that the movie captured perfectly is dealing with the problem of pain and faith. Where the book spoke too much for God, the movie minimized it and allowed me to hear more clearly the echoes of Scripture. When screenwriters transfer a book to a movie script, they have to choose the most essential words in its most simplest form to convey onto the screen, in order to keep it it at an appropriate amount of time. The words spoken in the movie would then have to be the highlights within the book. I only sensed a hint of Universalism, only because no one specifically said people are judged for their sins by God. The focus, however was on man’s job of not playing the part of judge. Which is Biblically true. God is the one who judges as the Psalmist says:
“It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.” (Psalm 75:7, NIV).
The main character, Mack, is struggling with many things, mainly the brutal death of this youngest daughter and he continually asks “Papa” (Akin to Abba), how could an almighty God allow this to happen? This is a fair question that the book and movie take a shot at, but you have to add an important piece of information to complete the theological framework. It works all in tandem with faith and the problem of pain. Mack needs to stop judging God for not judging his daughters killer, in order to release the hate and guilt in his heart. He ultimately needed to have faith that God was in control and more importantly he needed to see God as a good God. Early on in Papa and Mack’s conversations, Papa said, “Your problem is that you don’t see me as a good God.”
That for me, is my main take away not just from this movie but from the Bible as a whole. If you assume God is malicious and vindictive, then you will interpret all of life’s events in such a way as to blame God for everything. However, if you believe God to be good, then you have to have faith that all things will be made right in God’s time. As the Psalmist declares,
“You are good, and what you do is good” (Psalm 119:68a, NIV).
The component that needs to be added is that all this is only possible for those who have declared Jesus as their Lord and savior. Those who accept his sacrifice on the cross in place of their own sin. Believe that Jesus died, was buried and resurrected defeating death and is sitting at the right hand of the Father. Lastly, you have to believe Jesus is returning again someday for his saints, because Jesus said it and every New Testament author expresses this future hope.
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (NIV).
I will leave you with this, SPOILER: The scene of Jesus carrying Mack’s daughter into a coffin he had hand crafted for her was Jesus literally carrying Mack’s broken heart and laying it to rest. The role played by Holy Spirit, buries this death in his soul and allows it to blossom into a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”). Seeing that picture on the TV, the image of death into redemption was soul filling. It was beautifully done and the movie, in my opinion ended more poetically than the book. I will say this, the author of The Shack has experienced great tragedy in order to write a book dealing with such a difficult topic. The author must be struggling or has struggled with forgiveness and deeply desires this within himself, that much is made clear.
One final thought, I think people who have dealt with deep pain, loss, hurt and tragedy will potentially fall into believing the incorrect teaching of the Trinity because of the emotions invoked when watching the film. I also think the untrained Christian might not even grasp the false representation of the Trinity to identify it as a problem. Other religions do not accept the Trinity and the book and movie do a disservice in our defense of the Godhead, which is problematic to say the least.
(Photo credit to Dave Aldrich: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10208466201986452&set=a.1184992818846.2026908.1049027589&type=3)