Summary: God is bigger than we imagine and yet closer than we realize.
What God Says About God
Rev. Brian Bill
Video: “Who is God?” (Dare2Share)
People in our culture have a lot of questions about God. Unfortunately, many have no idea who God really is because their view of Him is an amalgamation of what they see on TV or movies or read in books. I like to call this a “smorgasbord of spirituality,” where people include ideas and elements they like and discard those they find distasteful. An example of this occurred during the inaugural activities this past week when an Episcopal bishop addressed “The God of our many understandings.” Blogger Denny Burk offers this pointed insight: “In one sentence, he endorsed the idolatry that is endemic to the human condition—the idea that god is whoever we imagine him to be” (www.dennyburk.com).
I’d like to make some comments about the best-selling book called The Shack, which has sold well over a million copies in a little over a year. The book has connected with a lot of people because there is a “Great Sadness” in almost everyone’s heart. The book starts out by describing a man named Mack whose little girl was abducted and then murdered in a shack in the middle of the woods. As you can imagine, his grief is raw and he spirals into a deep depression. One wintry day Mack goes to the mailbox and finds a letter addressed to him from God. Most of the book consists of conversations Mack has with one person of the Trinity or another.
I read this book this past summer on the plane to Mexico and was moved emotionally and troubled theologically. I’ve been asked a lot of questions about it so thought I would offer a cursory commentary. I have included some more extensive reviews on my blog if you’d like to do some further study (www.pontiacbible.org).
Let me start by mentioning some positive elements. If you have been through a personal tragedy or have wrestled with God about something, you can probably identify with Mack. Much of what he learns in the book helps him heal the hurts that he has. In particular, the message that God is “especially fond of him” speaks right to his heart and the themes of love, forgiveness and reconciliation have resonated with many readers.
Having said that, I share Pastor Jim Nicodem’s two fundamental concerns (www.ccclife.org):
1. The God of the Shack is not necessarily the God of the Bible. First of all, God the Father is depicted as a matronly woman known as “Papa,” Jesus is a man in his early 30s and the Holy Spirit is depicted as an Asian woman named “Sarayu,” which is Sanskrit for air or wind. Remember that this is a fictional novel with information about God coming from the imagination of an author who has gone through some dark times. In an interview Paul Young said this: “In 2004, I came to peace with my sense of who I believe God to be. The Shack is the big picture of how I think about God.”
Does anything bother you in this statement? The Shack is his sense of who he believes God to be. Let me ask you a question. What makes it legitimate for people to come up with their own ideas about God? People say things like: “I think God is open to other religions…” or “My God is so loving that he would never send anyone to hell…” How would you respond if someone said some things about you that weren’t totally true?
Imagine you overhear a conversation where two people are talking in a cubicle or in a break room or outside a locker and your ears perk up when you hear your name. Your heart starts racing because you realize that they are talking about you: “I think he’s like this or that…” The weird thing about this is that neither of them has ever even met you. They didn’t get their information about you from you.
Friend, don’t you want to know what God says about God, not what some author might think? The question really is this: What do the Scriptures say about God, not what does the Shack say?
2. The Shack paints an unbalanced picture of God. I don’t have time to get into the universalism the author seems to argue for, or how he downplays Scripture, or his seeming disdain for the church, or several other doctrinal deficiencies. Let me just point out that the God of the Shack is friendly, personable, laid-back, fun-loving, empathetic and humorous. While some of this is no doubt true of God, we need to believe what the Bible says about God. We must keep in mind that God is both friendly and frightening; He is good and great; He is shepherd and sovereign.