"Why is there such an emphasis on you being a Father? I mean, its seems to be the way you most reveal yourself."
Asks Mack, a man who has suffered brutal abuse from his own father and lost his young daughter to a serial killer who leaves a bloody red dress in a remote shack only to be invited back that same shack four years later by God who appears as a black woman.
"Well, there are many reasons for that, and some of them go very deep. Let me say for now that we knew once the creation was broken, true fathering would be much more lacking than mothering. Don't misunderstand me, both are needed -- but an emphasis on fathering is necessary because of the enormity of its absence."
So begins the conversation between Mack and God, soon to be joined by Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost in The Shack, by Wm. Paul Young. For Mack, and for us as readers, what transpires in the shack requires creative imagination not unlike that in Harry Potter or any number of fantastic tales. But in this case the subject is far closer to home: the healing of a broken heart. Mack is one of those many good people beset by tragedy and unable to get beyond the great sadness it brings with it.
The Shack is also an exploration of God and Spirit from a completely different dimension, both matter-of-fact and revolutionary in its condemnation of organized religion's shortsightedness. As I read the book I felt myself climbing into a gradually more and more comfortable womb of safety and found myself beginning to believe that everything does happen for a reason, even the most painful events. In darkness there is light and love.
For Mack the issue comes down to forgiveness and reconciliation first with his abusive father, then God, and finally his daughter's murderer. The gravity of Mack's situation, perhaps the worst scenario any human being could go through, allows us as readers to reflect on our own flavor of tragedy and those we have yet to forgive.
The underlying theme of The Shack is that rugged individualism doesn't work. There is no evil, only lack of goodness. The human flaw is to believe that we can live free of our relationships with one another and with God. The horrific set-up to the book, Mack's tragedy, takes just a few pages. The rest is an exploration of Mack's rehabilitation.
In one memorable scene Jesus touches Mack's eyes to allow him to see the light and color of human energy, both dead and alive. As a reader, I had to suspend my cynical mind. Butit wasn't hard given the beauty described. One of the gathered is experiencing great pain, affecting all those around him. It's Mack's father, the man who chained him to a tree and beat him. Mack sees, finally, that the key to his salvation is forgiveness. Not for the perpetrators of the crimes but for himself.
The Shack is one of the most compelling modern descriptions of faith because it is able to describe the indescribable in an easy to understand narrative. We get the sense that God appears as the Trinity because that is what will work for Mack. Much of the book is intended to point out the limitations of religion when it comes to faith. None is better or worse than another but so too none hits the mark of what God has to say to Mack about why his father beat him and his daughter was brutally murdered and why, despite all that, he is loved by the Devine and there is room for joy in his life not despite these events but in fact because of them. It's speaks equally both to those who are devote followers of religion and those who are not.