My favorite lesson from The Shack
warning: story spoilers ahead In 2007, The Shack by William P. Youngwas released. I'll never forget how it came at the perfect time, right at the beginning of my most painful decade. The story opened a place in my heart, as every good story does. I'd love to share with you how the book (and now movie) impacted my walk with the Lord and answered the question posed above, once and for all.
The book is essentially about a man named Mackenzie whose daughter is kidnapped and murdered. In the midst of his deep pain, he is invited to meet Papa (his wife's name for God) back at the place where he got stuck -- the shack in which they found the evidence of his little girl's murder. He spends a weekend getting to know the Godhead - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He began the story drowning in his own pain, paralyzed by the pain of losing his daughter and the anger at her murderer. In the end, he comes back to his family a changed man, a man who knows God's heart. A man who understands where God was in his pain.
If God is so good, then why does He allow for so much pain?
At the end of the day, we question: if God is so good, then why would He allow for so much tragedy, horror and pain to touch His children? It's a question worth asking, and it's a question worth knowing the answer to.
Most of us stop. Right there. We don't look any further, and we make the judgement that God is not for us.
But if we try to make sense of our world based on an incomplete picture, we will never understand God. We will never understand how He is at work in our lives for good. We'll never trust Him. Essentially, we misunderstand the Mystery.
In the story, Mackenzie blames God for all of the pain and suffering in the world. At one part of the story, Mackenzie is put in the seat of the judge. He is asked to do what he thinks God does, decide who is guilty and not guilty, and ultimately -- to decide who goes to hell and who goes to Heaven. He is given the task to decide which of his children will go to heaven and which will go to hell. He is told that he must make a decision. Completely distraught, Mackenzie cannot make a decision. He cannot judge his children because he deems them worthy of love. So, he says that he will go in their place. He will go down to hell to spare his children.
That's when Mackenzie begins to understand God's heart. God deems all of his children as worthy of love. He cannot fathom sending a child to hell, so he takes their place. He comes down from Heaven, lives on earth, allows Himself to be tormented and killed, and ultimately goes down to hell in our place. He allowed Himself to be sacrificed because he loves us so much, just as Mackenzie loved his children so much. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be redeemed, so that we could live with Him in Heaven, for eternity.
My sin, your sin, our sin, put Jesus on that cross. To misunderstand this is to misunderstand the mystery. God never orchestrates our pain, but He is always working to make good come from all of our situations.
If we don't fully understand how much God loves us, if we don't see the sacrifice that He made for us, then no wonder we are confused. The pain of the world doesn't make sense. We are at risk of becoming so focused on our own pain that we completely lose sight of Him.
All God wants is our hearts. He doesn't want us to become perfect, He just wants us to love Him with all of our hearts, minds and souls. That's all that we were created for. And it's all that He wants us to remember.
Just like a bird was created to fly, humans were created to be loved. In the book, God says to Mackenzie, "living unloved is like clipping a bird's wings." Pain left untangled can cause us to forget what we were created for. Just like birds are not defined by being grounded, but their ability to fly, humans aren't defined by how they seem, but by the intentions that God has for them. We were created in His image, and He is Love. Love is the flying. Love is what we were created for, what we are defined by.
God didn't intend to bring Mackenzie back to the shack just for the sake of returning to the shack. He brought him there, back to the place where he became stuck, to heal the pain from his daughter's death and from years of grief and shame. I believe that we all have our own "shack." Our own place where we became lost, a little stuck in the road. The place we avoid passing by, the place we avoid looking at in the rearview mirror.
The Shack is really an invitation to all of us to take God's hand and return to the place where we got stuck. To return to it, to unravel it, to look back and see where God was, and move forward as a child of God, changed by Love.
Will you accept God's invitation? ❤