What would you do if offered a beautiful piece of cake with a small skull and cross bones sticker on it? The cake is gorgeously made with all of the frills possible. It is also seems superb to the taste. You can tell your taste buds will enjoy every bite. It looks like the most attractive cake dessert you have ever seen. It is one of the best technically made cakes.
Yet, there is the sign – Danger! – warns the skull and cross bones.
What is the problem? The cake looks great but some of the ingredients are rotten and possibly poisonous. The eggs were so spoiled or the milk so sour that they will make you sick. They may even kill you. What is the momentary pleasant taste worth to you?
You will enjoy the taste of the cake as you eat it, but it will cause you problems. The only question is how severe the illness will be. You will experience symptoms ranging from mild discomfort to death. The bad ingredients are going to affect you, it is just a question of whether it is noticeable.
Would you still eat the cake for the short term sugar rush?
Would you serve it to others?
Would you let your small children eat it? How about your frail grandparents?
This scenario likely does not present a difficult decision. Reasonable people do not ingest food that can possibly kill them. Yet, this cake dilemma mirrors the one faced with the movie version of The Shack, a movie that has some positive external aspects but is filled with harmful theology. It presents the same questions:
What should you do with a movie that is very well made but tainted by rotten ingredients?
Why should I not enjoy a movie that tastes good going down even if it makes me spiritually sick?
Abhor what is Evil, Cling to what is Good
The Shack is an emotionally powerful and well-told story. It is beautifully portrayed on the screen. Some points of the movie do capture the mercy and grace of God well and it is one of the best technically made Christian movies I have seen. Yet, it is also rotten at its core. The author’s projection of his spiritual and theological issues onto God taint everything about it. I would not recommend it. It is just too far off the mark to want to push anyone to see it.
If you are unfamiliar with the storyline, here is the summary from Wikipedia:
Mackenzie “Mack” Phillips suffered physical and emotional abuse as a child at the hands of his drunken father. He witnessed similar abuse of his mother as well. There is the implication that as a 13-year-old boy he attempted to poison his father with strychnine. Whether he succeeded in killing the man is not entirely clear, although subsequent events suggest that he did. But as an adult, he has a bountiful life with his wife, Nan, and their three children: Kate, Josh, and Missy. His spiritual life though is shallow and impersonal with God.
Mack’s life is shattered, however, when their youngest child Missy disappears during a camping trip while he is saving Kate and Josh during a canoeing accident. The police determine Missy is the victim of a serial killer after finding her torn dress and blood in a vacant cabin. Kate blames herself for Missy’s death because of her own reckless behavior in causing the canoe accident in the first place. The tragedy derails Mack’s faith and life until the onset of winter when he receives an unstamped, typewritten note in his mailbox. The surrounding snow is devoid of any incriminating tracks. The message is signed “Papa” (which was Nan’s nickname for God) and invites him to meet at the cabin.
Thinking this may possibly be an opportunity for meeting and capturing or killing the serial killer, Mack drives himself there and, finding the ruined cabin cold and desolate and empty, is overcome with frustration, rage and an almost irresistible impulse to turn his handgun on himself. But he suddenly encounters a mysterious trio of strangers who invite him to stay at their well-furnished, cozy little house that is situated just down the path and, oddly, in the midst of a beautiful, sunshiny, summertime wilderness.
The trio of strangers gradually reveal their identities as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The purpose of their invitation is to first help him to better understand his life as seen from a much broader context or higher perspective. This realization helps free him from an inclination to pass judgment upon himself as well as upon everyone else who crosses his path. It is from that new starting point that he may then continue his long, slow journey into healing for himself and his family and forgiveness for himself as well as for those who have grievously harmed him and his loved ones.
The storyline in the movie stays generally true to that of the novel. Thus, the movie follows Mack as he journeys from great pain to joy and forgiveness in the Lord. The makers do an excellent job of conveying the huge loss suffered by Mack and his family. The horror and sheer randomness of such a grievous crime occurring to a loving family are palpable. It comes through to such an extent that I cried along with them.
Mack and his kids go from idyllic family camping fun to mourning over a too small and too empty coffin. The grief would be unimaginable. The movie does a good job of showing how it tears apart the surviving members. Mack and his wife appear to be barely holding it together. The two surviving children appear greatly troubled. Mack is covered with grief and filled with anger. It comes through in everything he does.
Emotional Manipulation is Not of God
The overwhelming emotional trauma of the opening is not just part of the storyline. The Shack uses the tragedy involved like a con man uses alcohol on his mark. The story is written to trigger enough empathy and pain to break down your defenses of spiritual discernment and solid doctrine.
The characters are regular folks, just like you and I. They are put in a horrible situation that is both unthinkable and all too possible in today’s world. As you are watching, you are drawn in by the tragedy, suffering, and more suffering until it feels unbearable. The Shack deliberately puts you in a position of great tension to get you to not only overlook the huge doctrinal errors, but to applaud them as if they were your idea. It is the only way to reach a satisfying emotional conclusion within the facts as presented.
This is classic emotional manipulation. You bombard the target with waves of emotion to inhibit logic and reason and prey on their responses. It is the sort of tactic that allow cults to thrive.
Satan Masquerades as an Angel of Light
The enemy does most of his work against the church in disguise. No Christian would follow evil if it appeared as obviously demonic. You would never agree to leave the narrow road of Jesus if promised nothing but death and pain. Satan masquerades as something good to lure you away using your own weaknesses against you. He often does so by manipulating the Word of God to his needs. This happens in The Shack though the author presenting false pictures of God. They are kind of like the God of the Bible. They share similar names and claim to be that same God. But in reality, they are one of the authors creation made to suit him.
The story arranges a meeting between God and man by taking Mack and sending him to the cabin where his daughter was killed. It is a terrible place to contemplate. Instead of leaving him there in the abandoned cabin, God appears in the form of three persons plus one person – Father, Son and Holy Spirit and wisdom.
Great, God shows up, yay! Well, no, not yay.
William P. Young did not write The Shack so you can understand the God of the Bible. Rather, it was so he can express what he thinks God should be like. He created a new improved god that he can accept – not that mean old biblical version. His version looks a lot more like the embodiment of the self help movement than Jesus. This comes through in ways large and small.
The main character, Mack, has a problem with men in the story. His father was abusive. God the Father, therefore, appears to him as a woman. The Son, evidently claimed to be Jesus, appears as a non-threatening middle eastern man. The Holy Spirit also is shown as a woman.
Do you see what The Shack does there? It is almost like the author gives away the core of his theology.
It is not about the gender of the characters. Rather, The Shack changes God to suit man. The story line has the eternal maker of heaven and earth change Himself so as not to offend a self involved, angry, and rebellious man. This is madness. It also reflects the self centered theology of the author. God is merely a cosmic affirmer of how wonderful you are in Young’s theology. Man is the center of Young’s religion rather than God.
God loves the lost and broken. But He does so perfectly as He is, even when people don’t understand Him. We change to understand God. It is not the other way around.
The story also greatly errs in how Mack and the god characters interact.
Mack is sullen, angry and insolent to God. At one point, he even angrily accuses the Papa character to her face. All three god characters respond by stating that Mack just needs to understand how much they love him. The Shack turns God into a dysfunctional dad begging for acceptance from his wayward child.
What is wrong with this picture?
God is love. Yes, this is true. Jesus also is patient and kind and puts up with all sorts of disrespect before the Cross. But God is also perfectly holy. He is righteous. He is glorious beyond all of our imaginations. Sitting on the throne of heaven is a God so magnificent that we have no comprehension of what it is like to come face to face with Him.
Fall Down and Worship Him!
In the Bible, when people interact with the heavenly beings as they truly are, whether it be with angels or with God, the reaction of the people is dramatic. “Fear not” or “get up” are usually the first words spoken as the person has fallen on their face in awe or is terrified by the brilliant holiness before them. God by nature is awesome and glorious and powerful and holy. He does not ever, ever, ever ( did I mention ever) apologize for it. You simply cannot understand God unless you understand His whole character.
The Shack’s version is a nice, sympathetic and culturally palatable view of God, but it is simply inaccurate. It may make people better about the Father to picture Him as a kindly grandma, but it is a distortion of the God who sits on the throne of the Universe. It is a diminishing of aspects of God, His glory, power, and majesty in favor of His love for His people.
Jesus did not die to lower the Father to us to placate man. He did so to bring man up to worship God. We are told to go boldly to the throne of grace not to have God come off His throne. God loves us but doesn’t cater to us.
In our self-centered world, frankly, this is just about the last inaccurate picture of God we need to offer to people.
What is Wrath?
Even despite these issues, I was hanging in there with the movie until it dealt with the issues of sin and punishment. The Shack rejects the ideas of sin and punishment in favor of the claim that God loves us so much that sin doesn’t matter.
The author clearly has an issue with the concept of responsibility for our own actions. Culpability for every wrong action by any of the characters is explained away by the god characters. Mack’s father in the story is a horribly abusive drunk. Yet, we are told that this should be excused and understood because his father was abused. Mack murdered his father when Mack was a teenager, yet, this also must be understood without judgment. Even the serial killer who murders Mack’s daughter is given a free pass to escape responsibility. His parents were also abusive so it would be unfair to him for God to judge.
This is not even close to what the Bible says. Yes, God understands the pain that we suffer – Jesus wept with us – but we are also each responsible individually for what we do. The wages of sin is death. Free will allows us the ability to make bad choices, but God says explicitly that we are to give an account for every single one of those choices – for the good or for the bad.
The only free pass we get is through Jesus. It is free only because of Jesus
Which leads to the moment which was somewhat shocking in its complete and total disregard of the real God. After Mack spends a good portion of the movie angry, he somewhat insolently asks the god character about wrath. The Father character answers by feigning ignorance about what the word “Wrath” means. She states sin is punishment enough by itself.
This is self indulgent nonsense. It sounds good, but is inherently unjust.
Consider these Scriptures:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. Romans 1:18
From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. Revelation 19:15
God’s judgment and wrath are also clearly spelled out in the Bible. There will come a point where God’s judgment is going to poured out on the earth to settle accounts for what we as humans do to each other and to God on an everyday basis. There is no legitimate way to avoid that conclusion from God’s Word.
It is also logically fair, if we think about it. It would be unfair if the actions of the serial killer preying on little girls in the story are excused. Yet, that is the contention of The Shack. It goes so far as having the “Papa” character says she is especially fond of the serial killer. This shows no understanding of the character of God. It also removes any need for Jesus.
Jesus’ greatest act as Savior was taking the wrath of God upon Himself on the Cross so that we could be spared it.
9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. 1 Thessalonians 5:10
In the world of The Shack, there is no need for Jesus stepping in for us. Papa loves us too much to punish us – we just need Papa to patiently wait until we stop insulting her and then agree with her how great we really are. Papa is the perfect god for a narcissistic world.
For these reasons and more, I would highly recommend skipping The Shack. Like the beautiful piece of cake, it may be tempting and may taste good initially, but it is filled with rot and poison. It may not kill you, but it certainly is not going to help your walk with Jesus.