Also, this note feels very not-finished to me, too. But nothing else is coming, so I'm publishing it.
I've been doing some straightening, cleaning, and organizing today in the house. I came across a birthday card I received from Joan, a wonderfully thoughtful and spiritual person with whom I work. Joan always manages to keep things simple when folks are having trouble -- her faith is like a Mustard Seed and it's a big bright yellow (that's probably not actually possible) French’s Yellow Mustard-colored seed that anyone who is in her presence can see. Actually, perhaps that means her faith is like a mustard tree.
Joan gave me the card. Here's what it says:
Just wanted to share what the Shepherd has promised you for your birthday and every other day of the life he’s given you!
You are My child.
Your times are in my hands.
My thoughts toward you are precious.
I will love you with an everlasting love.
I will bless you.
I have placed my hand upon you.
I hold you with My hand.
I do everything for you in love.
I am for you.
I will not fail you.
I am your provider.
With me, all things are possible!
***Warning. If you haven't read The Shack and intend to read it in the near future, you should probably stop reading and come back when you're done reading.***
I hadn’t read The Shack when I received this card on my birthday. I have now, and I immediately was reminded of it when I reread this card. I love that so many lined in the card are present tense. Not that that’s THAT different, but so many times, we’re told, “God’s going to bless you,” or “God will take care of it.” No, God IS taking care of it. Right now. And it doesn’t look like what I thought it would. It might not look like what I think it should, but The Shack gives such a wonderful reminder that even when stuff goes in a direction opposite of what we want or think we need … and more importantly even when stuff goes in a direction opposite of what God wants, God remains in control at all times, and God can use any – ANY – situation for God’s purposes.
I am actually reading The Shack a second time now. As many of you know, it’s a book in which it is very easy to get wrapped up emotionally… That happened repeatedly with me as I read, so I’m reading it again to make sure I get what’s being said. Or at least that I know what I think is being said. There’s a lot of criticism for the book – A LOT of criticism for the book. There’s some criticism for the book which is based on theological principles I don’t even know. There is also a great deal of criticism of the criticism. The whole deal looks like this, sort-of.
The author is suggesting that God _____.
No, the author wrote a work of fiction.
The author also says ___________.
Which works for him, as a way to relate to such and such tragedy that happened in his life.
Also, the author seems to directly contradict scripture here, here, and here.
Well, that depends on if you’re referring to our current, mega-filtered scripture, or the Gnostic gospels.
Man cannot present literature which teaches “Truth” about God (esp when that “truth” seems to contradict what we’ve already been taught.
Man wrote the bible. In fact, God told man to write the bible.
It simply goes against too much of what we consider doctrine to be healthy.
Actually, it simply helps people who may not feel comfortable at church actually feel like a relationship with God is possible in spite of their disconnect with systemized religion.
Like I said, I’m not nearly smart enough to know exactly what the author meant to communicate when he wrote the book. I’ve never met him nor asked him about that. I also don’t know nearly enough about the bible and about the FACTS we know about God to have a lot of confidence that God would have written this story God’s self.
BUT. I do know that the main character in The Shack got to know a God of love and absolute grace – A God that I believe DOES EXIST. I know that the main character was able to work through a lot of blinding pain and hate and despair as a result of the weekend of relationship building with God in Three Persons. I know that the character was able to take what he learned and bring good into others’ lives afterward. I know that I have not felt threatened by the book in any way. And I know that if the side of the argument characterized by the last line in the dialogue I wrote above is true, the book can’t be all bad. In fact, maybe, it can’t be AT ALL bad.
A few quotes I enjoyed:
God speaking to Mack about Jesus: “Mackenzie, the Truth shall set you free, and the Truth has a name; he’s over in the woodshop right now covered in sawdust. Everything is about him. And freedom is a process that happens inside a relationship with him. Then all that stuff you feel churnin’ around inside will start to work its way out.”
Jesus speaking to Mack about authority: “As the crowning glory of Creation, you were made in our image, unencumbered by structure and free to simply ‘be’ in relationship with me and one another. If you had truly learned to regard each other’s concerns as significant as your own, there would be no need for hierarchy.”
God speaking to Mack about free will: “…your choices are also not stronger than my purposes, and I will use every choice you make for the ultimate good and the most loving outcome.”
Jesus speaking to Mack about worrying: “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.”
Jesus speaking to Mack about choice: “Have you noticed that even though you call me Lord and King, I have never really acted in that capacity with you? I’ve never really taken control of your choices or forced you to do anything… To force my will on you is exactly what love does not do. Genuine relationships are marked by submission even when your choices are not helpful or healthy.”
“…my life was not meant to be an example to copy. Being my follower is not trying to “be like Jesus,” it means for your independence to be killed.”
Jesus speaking to Mack about loving others: “All I want from you is to trust me with what little you can, and grow in loving people around you with the same love I share with you. It’s not your job to change them, or to convince them. You are free to love without an agenda.”
God speaking to Mack about guilt: “But that is in the past now, where it belongs. I don’t even want your sorrow for it, Mack. I just want us to grow on together without it.”
God speaking to Mack about grace: “Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.”
God teaching Mack about unconditional love: “Let’s say, for example, I am trying to teach you how to not hide inside of lies… And let’s say that I know it will take you forty-seven situations and events before you will actually hear me – that is, before you will hear clearly enough o agree with me and change. So when you don’t hear me the first time, I’m not frustrated or disappointed. I’m thrilled. Only forty-six more times to go. And that first time will be a building block to build a bridge of healing that one day – that today – you will walk across.”
There are some things said in some of those criticisms that make me kind of uncomfortable with this book and this author. There are a LOT of things in the book that make me uncomfortable. I just don't necessarily believe discomfort has to be bad. But at the end, when everything is said and done, I believe that many healthy, "right" relationships with God and Jesus will happen as a result of this book which might not have without it. And I believe a bunch of folks will find their faith and/or their relationship with God energized some by reading it. Those things might also happen if those people just picked up their bible, but Paul Young would teach us that God can and does use every choice we make for "the ultimate good and the most loving outcome." :)