Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More Thoughts on "The Shack"

I have read a number of reviews of The Shack, and while most have been favorable (or at least tolerant), some have condemned this treatment of how God might reveal himself to a struggling person in this day. I want to address three of the criticisms I have read:

God is never described in the Bible using feminine imagery -- Not true. The Psalms in several places use the illustration of the Lord sheltering someone beneath his wings. This is a behavior usually associated with the female bird. See Psalms 17:8-9; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4. I'll admit that these are ambiguous, and the astute reader will note that I used the male possessive pronoun in relation to the Lord. That's just how I relate to God. But one only needs to go the the New Testament to see a clear and unambiguous reference to Jesus using feminine imagery to describe what he longed to do:
Mt 23:37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing."
God never appears to humans except in the form of the Son and no one can see the face of God and live -- Here Scripture can get pretty ambiguous. With whom did Abraham converse at his encampment near the trees of Mamre? (Genesis 18:1-33) The references go back and forth between three men and the Lord. The word translated as "Lord" is God's proper name, YHWH. In any event, the Lord spoke to Abraham, and Sarah overhead at least a part of the conversation (and found it amusing). In another part of Genesis, Jacob spends the night on the bank of the Jabbok river wrestling with "a man", who is identified in this story as being God. Jacob makes it clear what he saw:
Ge 32:30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared."
God no longer reveals himself except through Scripture -- This is a tough one. Of course God reveals himself though Scripture. This is a key and essential tenet of the reformed faith, and the most important source of my knowledge of who God is and what he requires of me. But I am personally convinced that the Lord works directly with individuals when it suits God to do so. But opening the door to ongoing revelation and epiphany also provides a lot of opportunity for mischief or even downright heresy. One one hand, a person who feels they have had a direct revelation from the Lord might decide that he or she has no need of Scripture or the instruction of spiritual leaders or the fellowship of other Christians. But on the other hand, to claim that God no longer interacts with people except through Scripture and the teachings of the Church denies the reality that many have experienced in their lives. Does God physically manifest himself to people today? I don't know for certain, but would not bother me if there were "road to Damascus" experiences today.

When I wrote my earlier comments about The Shack, I believed that it was a bit heterodox, but not heretical. I still hold that opinion. If I had a criticism of the book, it would be its harshness toward organized religion. I know first-hand how the "organized church" can be a support in trying times, and it is hard for me to imagine a world with no religion.


rnoe said...

Hi Denis,

I thought it was interesting that you pinpointed three of the criticisms of "The Shack" for your post. You make some great points, and I like that you have countered some of the negativity surrounding the book.

I wanted to let you know that we're going to have an author chat with William P. Young if you're interested in chatting with him about his book. You can submit questions on our website and attend the chat tomorrow Oct. 22 at 2 p.m. EST. You can find more information here: http://abunga.com/featuredauthoryoung


Inside Out said...

HI there: I was posting on The Shack today too and thought I'd look around. I've not gotten in depth yet as you are, but thank you for what you have written. I was thinking too of Moses seeing the "shoulder" of God.

Viola said...

Hi Dennis,
One of my favorite theologians wrote a review of this book. and although I have not read the book I thought you might be interested in reading the review although it is long. Shacking Up With God by Ben Witherington.

Denis Hancock said...

Rachel -- Sorry I couldn't make it over to your site for the chat with Young, but I was at work.

Inside Out: Thanks for your comment. I must confess that I am not familiar with "the shoulder of God" reference. Where might it be found? I checked the more obvious places, but didn't see it.

Viola: Your timing is impeccable. Yesterday I decided to do a little searching on blogs of people whose opinions I respect, and I read BW3's review. I thought it was fair and reasonable. I am not a theologian, but I still have a problem with the idea that the Father does not take human form. Or am I confusing "appearing in human form" with the Incarnation? I just have to keep in mind what BW3 noted in his review -- that theologians were obviously not Young's target audience. Then the issue becomes "will reading this novel do irreparable damage to someone seeking the Lord?" Personally, I think The Da Vinci Code is far more dangerous to people seeking the truth, and more so because it is far better written.

Viola said...

Sorry about not spelling your name right. I need to quit commenting on blogs when it is late and I am tired. The O.T. does have appearances of God which are called Theophanous but they are temporary and not the same as the Incarnation. A case can be made for many of the appearances of the Angel of the Lord in the O.T. being Christ. One of my Sons-in-law who is now a N.T. Professor did his dissertation on that subject. I think one of my favorite passages where this is probably so is the story of Samson’s mother and father. Which I consider a very funny story. Manoah, Samson’s father is a buffoon. Any way it is Judges 13:1-23 and there is a passage where the Angel calls his own name “wonderful.” If you cross reference that with Isaiah 9:6 you will get the picture.

I agree with you about The Da Vinci Code I read that right after I finished a class on Church History and felt a need to write about it. that is sometimes my way of dealing with things that bother me.

Viola said...

Sigh, that should have theophanies.

Denis Hancock said...

Ahhh -- "Theophany" was the word I was trying to call out of my memory banks. I was thinking "epiphany" but I knew that wasn't quite right.

I've been discussing The Shack with two friends at church on an informal basis, but we are thinking of a more structured discussion group which might delve into just how God seeks us out, even as we try to do it all on our own. My wife has read the book, and has some different perspectives, and with more people who have read it, it could be a revealing discussion.