Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Notes from "The Shack"
My reading list for my trip the last two weeks was interrupted by my mother's urging that I read "The Shack" by Wm Paul Young which she conveniently had a copy of with her in Florida. Since it looked like a reasonably short read, I took her up on the challenge and am glad that I did. While I had not heard of the book, it seems it is taking readers by storm and I even noticed another lady at the beach in front of our condo reading the same book...which tells me a lot of people must be reading it.
I will try to share a few themes in the book that struck me without putting so much detail as to ruin the read for those who might read it in the future. But I did want to write some commentary while it is still fresh in my mind.
For me, the book is primarily a contemporary allegory illustrating the Christian views of how God wants to relate to humans and explaining the difficult concept of the Trinity...God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God in relationship to himself and to man. From an intellectual standpoint, you probably have to be a "believer" or roots in Christianity in order to understand many tenants of the book. If you have no interest in matters "spiritual" or of faith, the book will probably not hold much meaning even though anyone can identify with the struggles of the main character, Mack, in trying to sort out the mysteries of life and why bad things happen to good people "if there is a just and loving God".
I found myself identifying with the main character which I later found out is probably representative of the authors own personal history and search for truth. We seem to share common questions about religion and the struggles of mankind. Of course, one could only wish for the mystical reunion with God that "Mack" experiences at the Shack...it would be easier to be devout in ones beliefs to have such an experience. But, I did find it to be a creative way to explain the answers the author has evidently arrived at in his own views and relationship on God. I also found it interesting after reading it and discussing with my Mom who had also read it how different we interpreted some of the message or what things stuck out or not between us. I guess it is understandable in light of how hundreds of Christian churches and denominations interpret differently the Christian Bible. Of course this book is much more "basic" than the Bible to read...and totally based on the human experience. I don't think it's meant to be "apologetics".
Here are a few quotes that I took notes from that I found to be most dynamic. Most are direct quotes and "God speaking" to Mack in the Shack and I notated page numbers on some of the topics...
God lives in the present…so should we (pg 141)
We live in the future out of fear. “It is your desperate attempt to get some control over something you can’t. It is impossible for you to take power over the future because it isn’t even real, nor will it ever be real. You try and play God, imagining the evil that you fear becoming reality, and then you try and make plans and contingencies to avoid what you fear”…
“So why do you have so much fear in your life? Because you don’t believe. You don’t know that we love you. The person who lives by their fears will not find freedom in my love. I am not talking about legitimate fears, but imagined fears, and especially the projection of those into the future. To the degree that those fears have a place in your life, you neither believe I am good nor know deep in your heart that I love you. You sing about it; your talk about it, but you don’t KNOW it.”
World System… (pg 181)
“The world system is what it is. Institutions, systems ideologies, and all the vain futile efforts of humanity that go with them are everywhere, and interaction with all of it is unavoidable. But I can give you freedom to overcome any system of power in which you find yourself, be it religious, economic, social or political. You will grow in the freedom to be inside or outside all kinds of systems and to move freely between and among them. Together you and I can be in it and not of it.”
Many love their God but are also sold out to religious activity and patriotism…what about them? “God loves them, and you wrongly judge many of them. “For those who are both in it and of it, we must find ways to live and serve them… Remember, the people that know God are the ones who are free to live and love without any agenda.”
Understanding Emotions (pg 197)
Not much to understand actually. They just are. They are neither bad nor good; they just exist. Paradigms power perception and perceptions power emotions. Most emotions are responses to perception- what you think is true about a given situation. If your perception is false, then your emotional response to it will be false too. So check your perceptions and beyond that check the truthfulness of your paradigms- what you believe. Just because you believe something firmly doesn’t make it true. Be willing to reexamine what you believe. The more you live in the truth, the more your emotions will help you see clearly. But even then, you don’t want to trust them more than me”.
God is a Verb (pg 204-205)
“I am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be…I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a being verb…And as my very essence is a verb, I am more attuned to verbs than nouns. Verbs such as confessing, repenting, living, loving, responding, growing, reaping, changing, sowing, running, dancing, singing, and on and on. Humans, on the other hand, have a knack for taking a verb that is alive and full of grace and turning it into a dead noun or principle that reeks of rules: something growing and alive dies. Nouns exist because there is a created universe and physical reality, but if the universe is only a mass of nouns, it is dead. Unless “I am”, there are no verbs, and verbs are what makes the universe alive.
“For something to move from death to life you must introduce something living and moving into the mix. To move from something that is only a noun to something dynamic and unpredictable, to something living and present tense, is to move from law to grace…”
Relationship vs Religion
“You won’t find the word “responsibility” in the Scriptures…Religion must use law to empower itself and control the people who they need in order to survive. I give you an ability to respond and your response is to be free to love and serve in every situation, and therefore each moment is different and unique and wonderful. Because I am your ability to respond, I have to be present in you. If I simply gave you a “responsibility”, I would not have to be with you at all. It would now be a task to perform, an obligation to be met, something to fail.”
Expectancy versus “expectation” in relationships… “If you and I are friends, there is an expectancy that exists within our relationship. When we see each other or are apart, there is expectancy of being together, of laughing and talking. That expectancy has no concrete definition; it is alive and dynamic and everything that emerges from our being together is a unique gift shared by no one else. But what happens if I change that “Expectancy” to an expectation- spoken or unspoken? Suddenly, law has entered in to our relationship. You are now expected to perform in a way that meets my expectations. Our living friendship rapidly deteriorates into a dead thing with rules and requirements. It is no longer about you and me, but about what friends are supposed to do, or the responsibilities of a good friend.
In summary, to me this book turns a lot of preconceptions about religion and God upside down. It helps exhibit some biblical concepts of God, Jesus and Holy Spirit into human terms and expressions we can understand. While we cannot really know many of these things for sure about the identity or attributes of God, we can definitely WISH for these things to be true. After all, "...faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1 NIV). Regardless of whether God is really this way or not, I come away with renewed encouragement to LIVE IN THE PRESENT, learn from the past, and not worry about the future which is out of my control. Secondly, it is better to live in LOVE than in JUDGMENT of others. We cannot control nor understand all the actions or reasonings of another person...for sure not God. It is a pleasant thought of Him living IN and THROUGH us instead of being some mystical, far away authoritarian figure. If you are interested in seeing God in this light, this is a good book to read.