Had a 'shack' of a day
Just the joy, not Mack's sorrow, though. I decided to read 'The Shack' today. I like to read books in one sitting if I can. It really captured my imagination, not so much empowering my faith, although it did at times, but challenging it in several ways.
I read for an hour in the car on the way to my parents'-in-law house. I reached the part in the book where Mack smells the delicious cooking of Papa inside the beautiful wooden house and meets the trinity in their glorious manifestations for the first time. We arrived. I put my book in my bag. I was greeted by my father-in-law, a gentle man with twinkly eyes, very few words (doesn't speak good English) and even though, of course, he's male, something about him reminded me of Papa and how Mack describes her. I have to add at this point my father-in-law, however much I love him, does not remind me of God. Papa and God are very separate beings for me.
Anyway, I digress...My mother-in-law seated us immediately at a table with a yellow and white cloth and brought in roast duck, amazing roast potatoes and sweet, sweet gravy. It all smelled beautiful and tasted delicious and I had only eaten a banana for breakfast and so my hunger heightened its flavours. I was taken to Papa's cooking in the novel and all the amasing things that Mack delights in tasting.
After lunch, we then sat in her small but beautiful garden, just bursting with colour and fragrance and basked in glorious hot sunshine as our two children rode their bikes up and down the pathway. We then went for a walk in the wild scrub-land, behind her house and there were these prickly plants, very sharp to touch but smelling amazingly of coconut, almost the smell of pina-colada and I had just been reading the part in the book where Sarayu takes Mack into the beautiful but seemingly chaotic garden and they pick together the most amazing and unearthly plants.
I guess this is all going to sound rather sickly sweet now but back at home, my mother-in-law played English and Polish hymns on her keyboard and then we all hoisted ourselves back into the car, with children falling quickly to sleep in the back for the journey home.
I read on the way home and because my day seemed to echo some of the events in the book, was quite glad to be back on my sofa at home before I read about Mack's car-crash ;). Of course I realise that the seeming echoes were the results of my lively imagination but somehow the book heightened my appreciation for my day and the people I shared it with, which has to be a good thing.
I have had a really beautiful day.
There were certain parts of this book which were meaningful for me. I thought it was quite well written because very sensuous and I enjoyed where it took my imagination. Some people will find it hard to read, I think because it calls upon the reader to suspend their cynicism and celebrate, rather than find embarrassing, the huge range of emotions that we feel as human-beings. Mack's tears drench the pages as you read and you have to accept his emotional displays.I thought it ended too suddenly with a wrapping up of the inevitable, which might have been better fleshed-out. I also felt there was an interesting blend of the illuminating with the very unorthodox but that it would be a good place to take non-Christians who feel that the Bible is intellectually beyond them because they come to the Bible with a great many incorrect preconceptions. If 'The Shack' leads people to the Bible then that is its real triumph.
Anyway, some of the things that I found helpful and not so helpful (there are plenty more but it would take for too long a post)
On page 121, "Papa" says,
...we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or 'great chain of being' as your ancestors termed it. What you're seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don't need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us. Actually, this is your problem, not ours.
I think this makes for a good response to theologians like Carson, Grudem and Ware who insist that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father, although of course you can never refute theologians with fiction, only with the Bible itself, so I am over-stating the case here. The word subordinate smacks of inferiority and no matter how much they speak of ontological equality, their descriptions of the relationship in the trinity just do not communicate that this is the case to me. Just in case, you think I don't think that the incarnate Christ was submissive, I do. Christ says that the Father has sent him; Jesus states that he does not know when the end will come, and that only the Father knows this. Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane for the Father to allow the cup to pass, but submits to his will and goes to the cross. However, this hierarchy only exists on earth and not in Heaven where we see in Revelation that the Son and the Father share the throne.
'We are indeed submitted to one another and have always been so and always will be. Papa is as much submitted to me as I to him, or Sarayu to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect.'
I like this for the way it captures the Bible's egalitarian teaching, for sorry, no matter how many Christians hold to Male headship, where Grudem insists that Head means authority, I disagree. Reading the scriptures with a hierarchy in the trinity which in itself entails a hierarchy amongst the genders is, I believe, a result of our fallen state! It is to Male headship, as Grudem describes it and Piper expounds it as a necessary reason for him to literally catalogue roles for men and women, that I fail to be convinced.
However, Young goes on to describe how the trinity submits to us, which I do not believe is orthodox.
These are some of the quotes which cause me theological discomfort:
"I don't need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It's not my purpose to punish it; it's my joy cure it".
I agree in part with this but I also hold to a more solid idea of God as judge.
On page 63, the author remarks,
In seminary [Mack is a seminary graduate] he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God's voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners' access to God was mediated and controlled by the intellengentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?
I have a much higher view of scripture than this and believe (I think) it is inerrant, although as yet 'inerrant' doesn't quite describe exactly for me what I think of the Bible. I think the word I want to use doesn't exist or I haven't found it yet.
The quote highlights the fact though that we do intellectualise something which God wanted to make abundantly clear to all his children and this saddens me, although I know I am guilty of it, because, as well as it feeding my soul, the Bible challenges and stimulates my intellect and curiousity and has me searching for ways to package and interpret it and turn it into doctrine - a shame in a way.
This quote also helps me to deal with a teaching I find very wounding and that is the teaching of cessationism. Where I have encountered this teaching, I have also encountered a near refusal to believe any of the testimonies which people share of their encounters with the Holy Spirit.
According to "Papa," Jesus did not even have power within himself to perform miracles (pp. 98-99). Papa says Jesus is simply the first to live fully out his relationship with Papa, something that we all have the ability to do, but choose not to do so.
This doesn't seem orthodox really.
Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptist or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don't vote or are not part of any Sunday morning religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.
I have an unshaleable belief in Jesus as the 'way, truth and life'. Although, as yet, I am not fully comfortable about what this means for Muslims and Buddhists etc but this is because I am also aware of God's love for Buddhists and Muslims and so I am a long way from reconciling my theology and feelings on this one.
Interestingly, there is something akin to Barth's universalism here:
I am now fully reconciled to the world." When Mack tries to clarify that Papa means those who will believe in God, Papa responds, "The whole world, Mack. All I am telling you is the reconciliation is a two way street, and I have done my part, totally, completely, finally."
And there is something akin to patripassianism in presenting God with holes in his wrists.
It also presents a somewhat skewed version of redemption going on which puts too much power into humanity's hands, as if we release something in God enabling him as a consequence to forgive:
Mack must forgive the man who murdered Missy. "Mack, for you to forgive this man is for you to release him to me and allow me to redeem him."
Just some of my thoughts on 'The Shack'. I like to think that if I was 'far off', it might have made me want to get to know God. I enjoyed the journey that it took me on but it also made me feel quite protective (ridiculously) of the beauty of God's word, almost as if I need to defend it against possible false teaching. I am aware of course that God is big enough not to need me to defend him.
I recommended this read to my book group (Christian? Not sure? Do not proclaim to be so), so I am wondering what their reactions will be to the book. I will find out next Friday when we discuss it.
Here's Driscoll on 'The Shack' much that I agree with, although hints here about his theology re the genders which I know he fleshes out elsewhere and I disagree with
Here's W P Young in response to some of the criticisms
Ordained Anglican. Thinking out loud about church.