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.