But when Oregon Public Broadcasting called me last week and wanted to know if I'd be on their Friday show with Shack author William "Paul" Young to talk the "Religion to Relationship" transition and about the Shack specifically, I figured I better read the book.
"She picked up the wooden spoon again, dripping with some sort of batter. 'Mackenzie, I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it's because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman, and suggest you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning...
To reveal myself to you as a very large, white grandfather figure with flowing beard, like Gandalf, would simply reinforce your religious stereotypes, and this weekend is not about reinforcing your religious stereotypes."
"The man standing next to him looked a bit like Papa; dignified, older, and wiry and taller than Mack. He had silver-white hair pulled back into a ponytail, matched by a gray-splashed mustache and goatee...
'Papa? Mack asked.
Mack shook his head. 'You're still messing with me, aren't you?'
'Always,' he said with a warm smile and then answered Mack's question before it was asked. 'This morning you're going to need a father...'"
Should we ever portray God as other than the transcendent, holy, terrible and awe-inspiring God of Mount Sinai who comes with thunder and lightening in His wake? Well, only if we're serious about keeping the transcendence and the immanence of God both at the forefront of our thinking.
Yes- if the only picture you have of God is of a never-angry, always happy big black woman who embraces you, you are probably about as out of whack as the person who has only a picture of a great King on a throne as their image of God.
It's both, people. The King, high and lifted up who is angry about sin and what we've done to His world and to each other. Our Abba, our daddy who waits for us to come home and embraces us without a mention of what we've cost Him in our wandering... I'm grateful for the portrayal of God in the Shack and only hope that those who read it take its portrayal in balance, as one aspect of God, not the totality of God in all that He is. Just a snapshot- a true one, but as incomplete as any picture of anyone is in explaining who they really are.
So does the Shack promote goddess worship?
The idea that this is goddess worship is a bit laughable when you actually read the book. Not only is there a dual portrayal of God appearing as both a man and a woman, but He not only specifically states that He is neither and simply appearing as both. Also in the book is a wonderful and, I think, extremely compelling reason given for why we refer to God in masculine terms and titles (though there are occasionally feminine metaphors given). Aside from there being no neuter prepositions and terms that aren't also impersonal (God is not an "it"), the Shack posits this:
"'But then,' he paused, still focused on staying rational, 'why is there such an emphasis on you being a Father?'
'Well,' responded Papa, turning away from him and bustling around the kitchen, 'there are many reasons for that, and some of them go very deep. Let me say for now that we knew once the Creation was broken, true fathering would be much more lacking than mothering. Don't misunderstand me, both are needed- but an emphasis on fathering is necessary because of the enormity of its absence.'"
"His gaze followed hers and for the first time Mack noticed the scars in her wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus also had on his. She allowed him to tenderly touch the scars, outlines of a dep piercing, and he finally looked up again into her eyes...
'Don't ever think that what my son chose to do didn't cost us dearly. Love always leaves a significant mark,' she stated softly and gently. 'We were there together.'
Mack was surprised. 'At the cross? Now wait, I thought you left him- you know- "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"...
'You misunderstand the mystery there. Regardless of what he felt at the moment, I never left him."
'How can you say that? You abandoned him just like you abandoned me!'
'Mackenzie, I never left him, and I have never left you.'"
Other than the issue of the person of God, there are two issues behind all the criticism- one spoken , the other less-so.
"Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats , Republicans and many who don't vote or are not part of any Sunday morning religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, But I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.'
'Does that mean,' asked Mack, 'that all roads will lead to you?'
'Not at all,' smiled Jesus... 'Most roads don't lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.'"