The Shack By Clarissa Worley Sproul

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After about three hundred people (slight exaggeration) recommended I read the book entitled The Shack, I finally found a copy and got to it. By this time I’d seen a cover story (Life section) in USA Today, complete with interviews by Christians who called the book destructive and unfaithful to the Bible. In fact it was these conflicting reviews that got me just curious enough to dive in. Why else would I need to read a novel about a man whose daughter is brutally murdered and how on earth would this radically impact my view of God, Jesus and Spirit?

What can I say? The first half—how Mack wakes up in all this pain, bitterness and confusion—was well written. Not having my own children (my mommy friends patiently explained to me later) meant that I read the story about Mack, not me. I didn’t have a little five-year-old to suck me into the experience in the first-person. Still, it was gripping.

But then I got to the second half. Here is where I can’t begin to express the impact this modern-day parable had on me. Mack, for those who have been living under a rock and do not know, is called back to the shack, the very place they found evidence of his little girl’s death, by none other than God Himself, and Mack goes. He goes and enters a world that we can only believe will be ours someday—as God has promised. It’s a world where God the Father, Jesus and Spirit are present, talking, eating, playing, working and caring for Mack like long lost relatives. It’s glorious.

Now for those of you who want to read on but need the conflicted responses of Christian leaders expounded upon first, let me say that I found nothing in this book that defied who the Triune God are, nor Their Character of love and Their plan to save us. Yes, it is a parable so descriptive liberties are taken—and actually must be, if you think about it since the author has never seen God the Father or the Spirit, much less heard them laughing or eating a meal together. Still it is a parable without any damage to the great themes of the Bible.

What was so incredible for me, and my hard heart was the clarity with which judgment, forgiveness and community are conveyed. Listening to Mack inter-act with Jesus, you long to be with him. Following Mack’s thinking patterns through religion, coping mechanisms, our desperate need to be in control and all those things we hang so tightly too is revelatory. I found Mack fumbling along just as I would. His halting questions, his confounded comebacks, it all felt so normal, so real, so me. For all the years I’ve loved God… what would I say if He were sitting at the supper table tonight?

So would I recommend The Shack? Yes. Last time I checked it was 5th on USA Today’s bestseller list—I know, not a good enough reason to go out and read any book—but still thrilling none-the-less. Thrilling because I read somewhere how the publishers were pitching it into the open waters. Pitching it to people with little knowledge of God and church and how exciting is that? I think it’s lovely. Especially in a world where Christian groups are often political and not very much like the lowly, humble Jesus, and we church folk are often less than vulnerable and open about our weaknesses or great need for compassion and patience.

Yes, I’m recommending the book—especially to myself for a second read of the last half—and though I’d rather not rob the power of how the story of Mack’s healing unfolds, let me just say that the exposing of my sin, my independent spirit, my entitled spirit and my plain old lack of faith and trust in God was the greatest blessing. I walked with a simple guy named Mack through a world of unconditional love and truth, and like him, came away changed forever.

So yes, I do believe it’s worth reading, even if you run across a few things that don’t jive with your understanding of Scripture (which is usually the case with any book about God I read). The Shack will challenge you. It will bring you to places in your heart you really need to see. And more than anything, it will expand your great respect and love for the God we all have come to know and care for so deeply. Let’s just say that I now can see why Eugene Peterson of The Message referred to this book as possibly having the same sort of impact the Pilgrim's Progress once did. I can see that.
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Clarissa Worley Sproul writes from the Pacific Northwest.
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