A Father, Friend, and Helper to be Honored, Feared, and Worshipped

I saw The Shack the week after it premiered. Though I did not read the book beforehand, I had read multiple articles describing how it portrays the Trinitarian God of Christianity. So I entered the theatre with some sense of what to expect. There were parts of the film that troubled me, and there were parts of it that I actually enjoyed. However, my aim today is not to give the film’s theology a thorough shakedown. I am only going to focus on the element that benefited me most and the element that bothered me most.

The Shack depicts God as a warm and relational Creator who longs to have an intimate friendship with every human being. Though the bad decisions made by his wayward creatures upset him sometimes, he isn’t all that angry with them. When Mack asks God about his wrath toward sin, he flat out denies that he possesses such a thing. “Sin itself is punishment enough,” he says. The god of this film doesn’t feel the need to exert his authority over anyone. He isn’t a fan of laying down laws or commandments and requiring people to obey them. He would just like everything to be “a conversation between friends.”

The movie’s depiction of God was severely lacking at times and outright heretical at other times, but it wasn’t utterly devoid of biblical truth. For example, I thought it captured God’s relational nature pretty decently. It insinuated that God relates to all people—believer and unbeliever, alike—in the same way, which simply isn’t true. God is wrathful toward those who live in faithless rebellion against him (John 3:18). But as to how he relates to those who take refuge in his Son, I found some biblical truth in The Shack—truth that challenged me, personally.

Though I find it easy to see God as holy, righteous, and awesome, I struggle to view him as someone who calls me his friend (John 15:14). It is difficult for me to envision the great “I Am” sharing a meal with me or casually chatting with me on the front porch, as he does with Mack in The Shack. However, is this not similar to the way Jesus interacted with his followers? Jesus called these men and women his friends and treated them as such. He ate with them (John 21:12-13). He served them (John 13:1-20). He wept with them (John 11:28-35). John felt comfortable enough with Jesus to lay his head against his chest (John 13:23-25)! There really was a relaxed, friendly dynamic to the relationship between Jesus and his disciples—one quite similar to what I saw in The Shack.

However, what bothered me most about this story was its utter lack of reverence toward God. It hyper-casualized man’s relationship with his Creator. Mack and God laughed together, ate together, cried together, and hung out by the lake together—but Mack never worshipped God. He didn’t have a healthy fear of the One who is called “the Fear of Isaac” (Genesis 31:42). And this didn’t seem to bother God at all! He didn’t want Mack’s reverence and worship; he was only interested in his friendship and love.

The Gospels reveal quite a different picture of how man should relate to God. Though the disciples felt comfortable with Jesus and experienced his friendly disposition toward them day after day, they did not see or treat him as their equal. They knew their place. He was the eternal, transcendent, and Almighty God. They were merely human beings to whom he said, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10). Jesus’ disciples bowed to him (Matthew 28:9), praised him (Luke 19:38), kissed his feet (Luke 7:38), and anointed his head with oil (Matthew 26:6). They worshipped the One who called them his friends—something of which I saw nothing in this allegedly Christian story.

It goes without saying that people shouldn’t derive their theology from fictional books or films. I understand that many fans of The Shack would say that its author did not intend to give a theological dissertation. They would argue that he never wanted his book to be the chief informer of anyone’s perspective of God. Whether or not I agree with that argument doesn’t really matter, because regardless of his intent, people have drawn erroneous theological conclusions from his story. I hope that everyone who saw and loved The Shack will open the Bible, see God’s own description of himself, and love him as really he is: a Father (Matt. 23:9), Friend (Jn. 15:4), and Helper (Jn. 16:7) to be honored (1 Pet. 3:15), feared (2 Cor. 5:11), and worshipped (Jn. 4:23).

*Photo credit: Facebook.com/theshackmovie*

  • Lyle Nelson

    i definitely agree with the idea that this film was written to be “entertainment”; it is certainly not a “Christian movie”, regardless of how people interpreted it. What “sucked me in” was the fact that I often am frustrated with God’s invisibility. The three members of the Trinity seemed so likable, people I would love to hang out with. And the fact that they were of both genders and three races was a clever way of reflecting the fact that everyone, regardless of race or gender, was made in the image of God. Jesus, in particular, seemed like He could really be my “best friend”. And I know that He is; but it’s just harder to remain aware of that when I can’t see or physically hear Him.

    But you are right in saying that the “Father” was “too nice”. The wrathful element of His character did not appear at all. We do know that God is also a patient God. He tolerates our negative feelings towards Him, at least for awhile, Many of the Psalms written by King David prove that, and yet He was called “a man after God’s own heart”. Unfortunately, we do not know whether
    Mack ever “turned around”; he was in the shack for what seemed to be a relatively short period of time, and wasn’t even sure whether what he experienced was real or a dream. Regardless, we really don’t know what Mack’s subsequent life looked like.
    It felt like there was no real ending to the movie. Mack could have remained angry at God for the rest of His life, he could have had a deathbed change-of-heart, or come to Christ after a month or two, we simply don’t know. Maybe there will be a “The Shack 2” to tell us!

  • I can honestly say that I didn’t have an intimate relationship with God for twenty years. I thought He was too holy to actually care about someone like me, that He could only love me from afar. I was wrong. The stroke proved that.
    What someone else might see as a bad thing, was the greatest experience of my life. It brought me back to God. I have to rely on Him just to walk to the bathroom, let alone drive, work, remodel the house. He restored all the things of my life, so that I could face my past, and make the necessary changes so that I could be counted as worthy of being His child. For these things, I am thankful.

  • mike

    Exegesis is always important. Context, history, and allegorical construct are all needed to understand this book. The allegorical frame of this story is found in the author’s own history of personal sexual abuse as a boy and more. Such that the ‘shack’ is the prison of his pain and his own eisegesis — his personal opinion of what God is like — a person to blame for all the suffering in this world which I think is well explained in how Mack saw God.
    The original manuscript was never meant for public distribution. Toward the end of the author’s story he has an adulterous affair leaving his marriage and family in tatters. After years of restoration and reconciliation of his marriage his wife asks him to write a story to try to explain what had happened to him in a way their children could understand. Hence the ‘Shack’ became his Christmas present to his own children. It was intended for children whose child like faith would understand the God of Love for suffering people.
    For more, see the ‘The Shack Revisited’ by C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D — a brilliant exegesis of the heart of the Trinity.

  • Kim

    This movie portrays the wrong Jesus, and although it’s “entertainment”, to those who don’t know the Bible it gives a false sense of God being friendly with us, just as we are. Those who know the Truth can pick it apart for it’s errant theology, but for others it’s a potentially deadly misconception. The disciples were comfortable with Jesus as a man – His divinity was fully veiled except for revealing it briefly on the Mount of Transfiguration to a few of His disciples. In Revelation 1:12-14 we get a glimpse of the risen Christ and even John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and who leaned against Jesus as they ate together fainted when he saw the risen Christ. The description in Revelation 19:11-16 inspires absolute awe – no wonder John fainted. I’m heartbroken for those who see this movie and think this is sound theology. John 15:14 is beautiful: “You are my friends if you do what I command.” But, it’s all about what you do with Jesus. He is a lamb to those who believe and love the true Jesus of the
    Bible; He is a lion if you reject Him or believe in a Jesus of your own

    • mike

      Kim, the movie based on the book is an allegory. Like a parable it is not to be literally interpreted just like in the Prodigal son parable the asking and giving of an inheritance to a younger son while the father is still alive is unlawful according to Jewish law and custom. It is a nonsensical request by the younger son. The story would have been mocked by the pharisees likewise. But the message of the parable is that God is not like man but quite unlike what we imagine — his Love is beyond remarkable!
      Like the parable an allegory has a central theme or message. In the case of the Shack it is where is God where there is an injustice. Does He care and most importantly IS He a God of Love?
      The movie resonates with those of us who have been badly beaten up by life both as children and in adulthood. Is God just? Why didn’t He rescue me?
      A God who makes me “faint” while I am in my pain and confusion is not one I need.

      • Kim

        The Biblical parables were spoken by Jesus, not man, and are of God so we can trust what we learn of them. The Shack is of man, and can stand no where close to the Word of God. Giving this book the latitude of being like a “parable”, puts it on theoretical even ground with scripture, and that is just not correct or acceptable. The message of the parable is the Father’s amazing forgiveness, no matter what we’ve done, if we humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness He is always willing to forgive. We must do the same for others, and not be jealous when God forgives someone who doesn’t “deserve” it. None of us deserve anything from God except judgement and wrath. The picture of the father who comes running for his lost son who returned to him is a beautiful picture of God’s forgiveness of us when we don’t deserve it.

        The title of this article is “A Father, Friend, and Helper to be Honored, Feared, and Worshipped” , and says it all. Jesus is our Savior and our friend, but He is also judge and “He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.” Rev 19:15. The Shack comes from a human mind that can’t accept God for all that He is without distorting the Truth and making God out to be what He is not. Judgement is not a pleasant subject, for sure. But, God is as much wrath as He is love. The Shack misses this part of God’s character completely.

        The picture scripture gives us of the risen Jesus is a comfort to believers, though it is fearsome:
        Revelation 1:13 . . among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14

        The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15

        His feet were like bronze glowing in a
        furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16

        In his right hand he held seven stars,
        and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face
        was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. 17

        When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”

        Like it or not, this is Jesus as He is now in all His glory and power. It is comforting that this same powerful Jesus is my Great High Priest, making intercession for me with God:
        Hebrews 4:14-16

        Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.15

        For we do not have a high priest who is
        unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been
        tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16

        Let us then approach God’s throne of
        grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to
        help us in our time of need.

        And Jesus calls me His friend!

        John 15:14 “You are my friends if you do what I command.15

        I no
        longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s
        business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I
        learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

        This is God as He has revealed Himself to us, and we must guard diligently against any portrayal of God that is other than who He really is, no matter the reason. Satan uses any way he can to distort the Truth, including “entertainment”. Yes, God is love but He is also judgement and wrath for those who reject and rebel. Jealously guard the true character of God, that we may worship Him and not an idol. God must be portrayed correctly! This was a great article in pointing this out.