The Shack, a movie adaptation of the book by William P. Young, is shaking the Christian blogosphere these past few days in a profound way. Many are re-posting criticisms of the book written shortly after its original publication date. Others have their feathers ruffled anew. We’re hearing very harsh and daring words tossed about like “heresy” and “blasphemy.” But as a follower of Jesus, who completely believes He took my sins and died on the cross to save my life, and then physically rose from the grave 3 days later, I have a different perspective that may surprise (and possibly upset) you. That’s ok though. You can disagree with me if you like. I won’t hold it against you.
I can’t even begin to take a head on approach to each negative commentary that’s out there. Simply because the accusations and reasonings are so varied and broad. Some are upset that God is portrayed for part of the movie as a woman. (God says He chose to appear that way because Mack’s past history of abuse may have made it difficult for him to receive love in that moment from a father. Spoiler-He doesn’t remain a woman.) Others say representing God and the Holy Spirit as tangible people or as ANYTHING solid is creating an idol to worship. Still others warn that because the focus is on forgiveness and the love and goodness of God, the movie fails to present sound doctrine because it doesn’t mention the justice and judgement and holiness of God.
In all of these warnings, I hear a fear that the dogma we hold as safety in our religion will be crushed. Worry that the emphasis on His scandalous and unfathomable love will somehow destroy God’s character by making Him seem like less. I read the book and I saw the movie. And while I would not refer a fellow believer struggling to learn doctrine to the movie (or any movie) for clarity, God, in all of his character and glory, is still on the throne. And this book/movie has not destroyed sound doctrine.
Complete doctrine is only found in holy scripture. The only tenant of faith that we “Christians” all agree upon is Christ crucified for our sins and resurrected. We disagree on many other things. How do we fulfill The Great Commission as presented in Matthew? Or wait, in Mark? How and when do we receive the Holy Spirit? Do we baptize in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Or in the name of Jesus? Or both? By immersing in water or sprinkling? Pre-trib, mid-trib or post-trib rapture for believers? Or no rapture at all? Should the Sabbath be celebrated on Sunday only? Or Saturday? Or does it matter? And SO MUCH more. Otherwise there would not be catholics, lutherans, methodists, baptists, pentecostals, etc. This movie does NOT deny that basic tenant of faith and in fact points to it as truth. That Jesus gave Himself for us because of His great love for us. Why would that be necessary if not to save from judgement? Why do we expect a movie to present the entire Gospel message for us? Have we missed the fact that Truth has many different dimensions? And that Scripture is the one and only source of all of those dimensions? Part of the reason we can read the same scripture multiple times over our entire life and get a new perspective on it each time is because of just how big the truth of God is. . .and how many layers are there and available to be revealed by the Holy Spirit.
Why can’t God use a movie to show us one side of something that many people have struggled to understand? Why couldn’t an unbeliever who has only ever seen the judgement of God portrayed by the religious people in her life see this movie and suddenly find herself drawn in by His kindness and mercy and love? He used a talking donkey to get Balaam’s attention. He used the marriage of Hosea and Gomer to show us the redeeming and long-suffering nature of His love. Who are we to presume what He can or can’t use to move upon the hearts of people?
As I read through all the backlash, what keeps rolling around in my heart is Job 38:4, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (The whole chapter is a good read for me every time I find myself getting too big for my spiritual britches.) Who are we to presume that we know what God can or cannot use to draw people unto Himself or to bring Him glory? We have become so afraid in the American church of threats to our doctrine that we have missed the fact that Jesus encourages exploration. Questions. Seeking His heart and face and scripture for ourselves. We have become a culture who reads the commentary but not the Word, which is alive and powerful and life-changing. Trust me, no one watching this conversation is confused about the fact that God demands justice. We have done a very thorough job in presenting that aspect of His nature. Many of us to the exclusion of the fact that the scripture says God IS love (1 John 4:8) And that He is good (Pslam 119:68). And that His KINDNESS leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). We often leave those attributes out when we attempt to present Him in His role as righteous judge. Because any way we present Him is based on our truly limited understanding of the full nature of our Father. If the message put forth in this movie has made you very uncomfortable, I challenge you to seek to understand why. And to be careful with using your public influence in criticism and warning until you have done so with an open mind. (See Matthew 7:3-5)
We have become a culture who reads the commentary but not the Word, which is alive and powerful and life-changing.
As far as unbelievers being deceived and this movie putting them in danger of hell? They were already in danger. And God calls us as Jesus-followers to love them with the love of Jesus, be the light of the world, and always be prepared to give a reason for our hope. (1 Peter 3:15) He never asked us to defend His justice or to point out their sin. In fact, I ask you to consider this: Are we equipped in our human state to even represent the true picture of God’s judgement? Because His judgment never exists without His love. He cannot be less than who He is.
Because God is secure in who He is, we do not need to debate and explain our dogma to the world. If an unbeliever decides to invite Him in and seek His face? He promises to meet them. And He can only come as His whole self. Full of justice and mercy and goodness and burning against evil while equally on fire with love. It’s ok. We can let God be Himself. He will never disappoint.
Matthew 24:23 says “If anyone tells you then, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Over Here!’ do not believe it. False Messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” What is the best way to recognize only the true Messiah in those (these?) days? Not by closing the closet door of our doctrine and ignoring the world around us, but rather by seeking to know our Messiah for ourselves, so that we are able to recognize His face. Commentary and devotional books and movies depicting Jesus are not dangerous, but SHOULD be weighed against scripture. See whatever movie you want, and if it shakes your doctrine? Find out why. Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate scripture for you as you read it for yourself. Examine your heart and understand why something might make you uncomfortable. Take every thought captive to Christ and look at it with Him as your commentary. Put down your “Danger” sign and pick up your bible. And use your influence to encourage others to do the same.
In the meantime, if we bicker amongst ourselves within our Christian community, we do a disservice to our reputation as His followers. Let’s seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and give Him back the power He already has. To show Himself for who He really is, in all His glory. If you’re really worried that a brother or sister may somehow be led astray? Pray. Pray that God will work all things together for His good (That’s His promise anyway!) Pray that God will shine His light on your own heart and doctrine and show you where it may be holding you back. If it is sound, it will withstand the fire of examination. Invite someone who disagrees with your perspective into a real, open conversation and really listen to their heart. Be open to being wrong. Read the scripture while asking the Holy Spirit to bring new life and revelation to the words on the page. And above all, leave space for God to be God. I promise, He’s really good at it.