I am consistently bothered by the unwillingness of some to understand the idea of fiction and its point. The line between reality and fiction has been questioned more and more lately with the phrase “fake news” being tossed around at every article, blog post, or source that threatens our comfortable worldview.
The Shack, a book that hit best-seller lists and made quite a splash on its publication several years ago has been made into a movie. And you know what? I have no idea what the quality of that movie is because nearly every Christian I have heard talk about it has very adamantly stated that they will be boycotting this one. And every supporter has been spending all of their effort defending the idea of the movie rather than listing its merits as a film and work of art. I would rather hear about its quality, the editing, the writing, and acting of said feature than “12 Reasons Why This [Insert Media Here] Makes Me Uncomfortable: Part Deux.” If I sound overly sarcastic, I apologize, but discomfort is an important tool in our human toolbox, right next to pain, in helping us to process life and our experiences. Instead of fleeing from discomfort, can we begin to ask the question, “Why does this make me uncomfortable?”
So what is The Shack about, anyway? It’s about a man whose daughter is murdered and his own journey to forgiveness, of himself and of the murderer, as well as coming to grips with God in the midst of his despair. In this fictional account of coming to grips with all of this distress, the man finds himself at a shack where God lives, God, the Trinity, being depicted by a black woman (the Father), a middle-aged worker (Jesus, the Son), and a wispy Asian woman (the Holy Spirit.) The man then has conversations with them together and separately in order to work through his inner turmoil. It’s not a particularly action-packed account, but it is emotionally packed.
The Shack was a helpful book to me. It has informed my theology in some ways, but probably not in the way your mind just concocted. (And anyone who has issues with the portrayal of the Trinity in this book should try writing their own fictional account that perfectly balances every minutiae of Church doctrine while maintaining an interesting narrative structure. Then, write an essay on how difficult it was.) The idea of God appearing to someone in a way that would put them at ease doesn’t make me uncomfortable. In fact, it helps me to understand the nature of God better. Scripturally, God appears to each individual in different ways. He showed Himself to Abraham as a fireball and met with him as 3 men. He met Jacob as a wandering luchador and wrestled with him. The Israelites saw a cloud, Moses saw a burning bush. God used whatever would attract their attention at that moment. Also, God appeared to 1st Century Judea, Galilee, and Samaria as a middle-aged Jewish carpenter/teacher who looked and smelled like the road he had been travelling without a place to rest his head. “But God inspires fear!” you say. Yes, and that’s why God continually ends up saying, “Fear not” during these encounters. When we belong to Jesus, God is our adoptive Father. He wants us to both respect Him and love Him. So does it bother me that God is portrayed as a black woman? Not at all, especially since God refers to Himself with feminine traits throughout the Bible (and so does Jesus.) We are all created in the image of God, so it would make sense that God has both masculine and feminine traits that He then instilled into men and women.
Here’s what is most important about The Shack: it is fiction. It is as real as Pilgrim’s Progress, or the Chronicles of Narnia. (And I’m terribly sorry about that revelation… I never found a Narnia portal or received my Hogwarts letter, either.) There is truth in all of these, as there is in all fiction. We react to stories because stories allow us to experience things we normally would not. Stories throw us into situations that are uncomfortable and dare us to ask, “Why do I feel uncomfortable right now?” Honest answers to that question are often painful and teach hard lessons.
Why are we uncomfortable seeing the feminine aspects of God more directly? Why are we uncomfortable when mutual submission out of love in the Trinity is considered? Why are we uncomfortable with the fact that a fiction book may be drawing people to God?
You know, the disciples were often uncomfortable with what Jesus did. In one instance, the disciples brought up a case where someone unaffiliated with their group was driving out demons in Jesus’ name – and who was obviously successful, or it wouldn’t have been brought up. They had told the man to stop doing this action, but Jesus responded to them by saying, “‘Don’t stop him,’ […] ‘Anyone who isn’t against you is on your side.'”
So while we’re putting so much effort at trying to stop a book or movie that is, in effect, introducing people to God, what problems are going unsolved? Who’s going hungry? Who’s going unloved? Who’s remaining unreached and untouched by the Good News? What are you going to do with the $20 you would have spent on that movie?
I’ll leave you with this story: My youth minister growing up had a vinyl record night with us. (My parents did this sort of thing, too. I recommend it. Your kids won’t hate it as much as you think they will.)
He brought in a variety of records and we listened and loved each one. I developed a taste for “Camp Granada” that night. But one record stood out more than the others, and not for what songs were on it. When played backwards, you could hear the album say, “Why are you searching for the devil, when you should be searching for the Lord?”