Part of me sympathises with the fans. It’s a book that addresses the pain of loss that afflicts many of our lives. It’s a book that reminds us of the wonder of a God who is Trinity. It’s a book that has some moments of brilliance in helping us comprehend what it means that “God is love”.
The problem with ‘The Shack’, however, is what’s left unsaid. It’s strong on God’s love but weak on his holiness. Strong on Christ’s incarnation but weak on the cross. Strong on our pain but weak on our sin. Strong in seeking to defend God but weak in challenging us.
I read ‘The Shack’ while our family was in Brisbane as Rossie commenced radiation treatment. Its strengths made it ‘a helpful read’ in that context, despite the obvious weaknesses. But then, as I read another book also addressing the theme of suffering, the weaknesses of ‘The Shack’ became all the more glaring by comparison.
This second book was ‘A Severe Mercy’ by Sheldon Vanauken. It’s hard to summarise this powerful, superbly written, autobiographical book (featuring wonderful correspondence between the author and C.S. Lewis). It chronicles Vanauken’s life and the loss of a loved one, and all God taught him through that. A Severe Mercy.
It’s hard to sum up the two different visions of God presented in these two books, and why the latter is so much more biblical in my view. But in a nutshell, I felt the god of ‘The Shack’ to be a comfortable god made in our image, while the God of ‘A Severe Mercy’ to be the confronting Biblical God in whose image we are made (and so the wonder of the cross all the more evidence of the depths of His love). The god of ‘The Shack’ revolves around us in a wholly individual experience. The God of ‘A Severe Mercy’ is He who we are to revolve around, in service of Him and others.
All that said in comparison of these two books, it is of course only the Bible that truly reveals God as he really is. We need to read it constantly so we’re ready to discern all else that we read.