For the past three years, Mack has struggled to keep his faith in God and to maintain healthy relationships with his wife and children. A horrible tragedy took the life of their youngest child, damaging Mack’s ability to trust that God truly loves him and loved his child. But when Mack receives a note from Papa, the name he and his family use to refer to God, asking him to meet at the location where tragedy struck, Mack knows he must respond. There, Mack has a first-hand encounter with God and the opportunity to change the course of his life. But will Mack be able to overcome the years of bitterness that have calloused his heart?
This novel is all about searching for God in the chaos of human life, seeking answers to the questions that have plagued us through the ages. Where is God in our pain? How can a good God, a loving God, allow innocent children and people to be so severely harmed? Through straight-forward, honest language, Young seeks to grapple with these questions through Mack’s suffering. The conversations that Mack has with God in the persons of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, offer a logical and thoughtful discussion of these questions.
The story of loss, suffering, and forgiveness are universal. So many people can relate with what Mack has endured and have asked the same questions he asks. This novel offers a means by which people can see God in their suffering, and understand where suffering, free-will, and God’s love intertwine.
Some readers may be more than taken aback by the descriptions of God in this novel. In my personal opinion, it is good to consider how we’ve established our vision of who God is physically. Are these ideas Biblical, or simply accepted ideas? It is important to remember that this is a work of fiction; Young is not asserting that this is what God looks like, but simply imagining how God could reveal himself to a human in special need of his presence.
That said, my qualm with this novel is that it is presented initially as truth. The novel’s Forward message claims that Young is ghostwriting this novel for his friend, Mack, and that all of the events are factual, though seemingly far-fetched. The Author’s Note after the novel explains that the novel is actually completely fictitious, that some of Mack’s experiences are based on the author’s own suffering. Originally, Young claims that he wrote the novel for his family and wrote the forward about ghostwriting as a joke for his family. My issue with this is that most readers may not read the author’s note and that this story is presented as factual. I appreciate the perspective and ideas that this novel offers, however, I believe the forward should have been removed and the story completely presented as a work of fiction.
The Shack is a moving novel that touches on questions that so many Christians and non-Christians have had over the ages. It certainly is a creative take on the personage of God and how he reveals himself, but I would argue that C.S. Lewis does something similar in The Chronicles of Narnia. The difference is, Lewis presented his work as fiction. I still recommend this novel as an important read for those seeking God, with the qualification that this is a fictitious work. Mack’s experiences, while not factual in regard to this story, do represent experiences of many grieving fathers and families, and the questions raised are still pertinent to Christians seeking truth.