Friday, September 5, 2008

The Shack by William P. Young

I read this book for another one of my book clubs, which met last night. I had heard a great deal about this book before picking it up and honestly probably wouldn't have read it had it not been a book club selection. The reviews I've seen have been very mixed -- people either love it or hate it and for various reasons. The book tells the story of Mack, a man struggling with his faith and trying to make sense out of life after the abduction and assumed murder of his youngest daughter. It deals with the big issues that some people have with God. How can a loving God allow such horrible things to happen? What role should organized religion play in a person's spiritual life? How can someone ever be good enough to merit grace?

Several years after the fateful camping trip where Missy was abducted, Mack receives a note in his mailbox. As crazy as it sounds, the note is from God and asks him to meet him at the shack in the Oregon wilderness. Mack knows exactly what shack he's talking about -- the one where his daughter's bloody dress was found during the police search. As you might expect, Mack first assumes that this is a cruel joke or worse yet that the note may be from the killer himself. Mack struggles over what to do, but eventually goes to the shack. What he finds there changes him forever. He spends a weekend with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. They are nothing like he imagines, but he slowly comes to realize that what he needs most is a personal relationship with them. There is some question as to whether this actually happens in the book or if it's a dream. The author leaves that door open for the reader to decide. I don't think it really matters one way or the other. The end result is the same for Mack.

The author originally wrote this book for his children and a few close family members and friends. I think he had ten copies printed if I remember correctly. They passed the book on to others and it took off like wildfire. The book is fiction, but it does have some parallels to the author's life. For me, the book explains the author's journey from pain, grief, and bitterness into a place where he's made peace with himself and his God. Some who've read it have been deeply touched by it. Others, mostly evangelical Christians, oppose what they believe is a departure from scripture. For me, I read it as a book of fiction about a man's life and how he dealt with a tragedy that I would never want to have to live through. The book is well-written and imaginative. Personally, I loved his depiction of God as an African American woman. I personally believe that God is without gender and/or race.

As I said earlier, I probably wouldn't have picked this book up to read on my own. However, I can say that I did enjoy the book. Of course, I wasn't trying to analyze it against the Christian Bible or anything else. I took it for what it is -- a good work of fiction. I'm glad that the author didn't go into great detail regarding the abduction of Missy because that's something I have a hard time reading. I also think the middle portion of the book when Mack is at the shack with God is a little long, and a couple times the author seems to be trying to hammer home a point regarding his theology. However, it was a good book, which I enjoyed reading. It's a quick read, as well.

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