This past Sunday evening I went by myself to see the movie The Shack. For several days I had read a number of comments about it from a variety of writers—most of which were negative and critical. Having read the book a number of years ago, and leading a well-attended three week Wednesday evening study of it at church, I wanted to see what they had done with the book in a movie.
As a pastor for more than 45 years I have gone to see many movies with biblical and Christian related themes with the expectation I would be asked about them. I have recommended some like Son of God, God is Not Dead, and Risen. I have also panned others such as Noah and Gods and Kings. I have yet to see a movie along these lines with which I was completely satisfied.
My short response to The Shack is I am glad I saw it. I realize some will be disappointed by that, but I am neither recommending nor discouraging you see it or not. That is your decision.
The Shack (like God is Not Dead) is not about a biblical story or account, but about theology and the Christian life. And while it is a story, it is fiction. But as we all know, fiction can be powerful. My sense is that many will be touched, challenged, and encouraged by this story and film. I won’t tell the story, but will make a few observations about it.
The primary message of the movie is that God loves people. At one point God tells Mack “you have no idea how much I love you” and later affirms “you were created to be loved.” People need to “know what it’s like to feel truly loved.” The issue, however, that puts into question God’s love is “the problem of evil.” “Evil is real” and there is “no promise of a pain free life.” God tells Mack “when all you see is your pain you lose sight of me.” Part of God’s answer is “I can work incredible good out of tragedy, but that doesn’t mean I orchestrate it.” The challenge is that even when we do not understand, God wants us to trust Him.
The most creative aspect of the movie for me was the depiction of God as the Trinity. The Father is called “Papa” and is played by a black woman. Jesus is a non-white male and the Holy Spirit is an Asian female. The interaction among the three, as well as the dialogue with Mack, was interesting and imaginable to me. I especially appreciated the moments of humor.
At one point in the movie Jesus invites Mack to walk on the water with Him to the shore. Later Mack starts to walk back on the water ahead of Jesus and is unable to do so. Jesus tells him to wait, and then as they walk together notes “it is better when we do this together.”
As others have observed, The Shack has both some good and some bad points. And some of them are very subtle. I find that to be true with most of the biblical/Christian themed movies I see and books I read. Flawed as it is, The Shack challenged and encouraged my thinking about theology and the Christian life.
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