On Saturday – despite the controversy, mixed reviews, and even outright boycotts – my husband and I went to see The Shack. When I stated on Facebook later that night that we had watched it and I was processing “all the feelings,” I immediately started getting questions from people about what I thought about the movie and whether I would recommend it. With all the experts and columnists spouting all their controversial opinions, it seems like real people who genuinely love Jesus are looking for realistic answers about whether they should see the movie or not.

So with that in mind, I simply want to share my viewpoint.

 

I read the book The Shack by William Young several years ago, soon after it came out in 2007. I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I read it, so I don’t recall all the doctrinal details… but I do remember this: This book helped me grasp the personal and beautiful love of God, something I struggled for years to truly understand. I have always appreciated it for that reason.

Which brings us to the movie. Simply put, my views are both positive and negative, and I just want to share them honestly with you. So here are eight thoughts I have about the movie.

1. God’s love and mercy are shown well. The love of God is definitely the overarching theme of the story. We see how He reaches out to us, in the midst of our own suffering and confusion, to show us Himself and bring us back into fellowship with Him. We see His friendship in the character of Jesus, His tender comfort in the character of Sarayu, His constant steadfastness and love in the character of Papa. These show us glimpses of who our Lord is.

2. The Invisible God, the Trinity, is represented in human flesh. Some critics of the movie have shouted out against this, saying it violates the second commandment {no graven images} and sets these humans up as God in our minds. I personally don’t agree… but I do think discernment is required as we watch this. We all know that these people are not God, nor are they attempting to be. They are simply serving as representations, illustrations, of His character. It’s a tricky job, but they do it well.
I will say that I did have a problem with the actress Octavia Spencer stating the line, “I am that I am.” That’s a statement reserved for God and God alone, and it should have been excluded from the movie.
Aside from that line, I appreciated each actor’s individual representation of a small taste of who our Savior is.

3. Love and justice seem to be mutually exclusive. There is a point in the movie when “Papa” denies that the wrath of God is a real thing. When Mack asks, “What about your wrath?” she responds with, “Wrath? I don’t need to punish people. Sin is enough punishment on its own.” I think this is a flaw in the movie’s theology. It seems to be saying that because God is love, He doesn’t condemn sin… which just isn’t true. This is part of the wonderful mystery that is our God – His love and justice go hand in hand! He has to punish sin because He is holy, yet His love moved Him to make a way for us to be redeemed from that punishment. I think The Shack glosses over this point by minimizing the judgement of God on sin.

4. God the Father is portrayed as a woman. I have mixed feelings about this aspect of the movie. The reason is clearly stated: “Papa” appears as a woman because of Mack’s history, because he would be unable to handle a father-figure.
On the one hand, I think it’s brilliant to portray God this way. It meets people like Mack, who have been hurt by their fathers or by other men, who struggle to relate to a “male” God. It also helps break the mold in our religious minds that God is an old, bearded, white man. How small we think of Him! There is so much more to our God’s character that we comprehend. He absolutely has feminine, motherly qualities – beauty, gentleness, nurturing.
But on the other hand, I think there’s an element missing by only seeing “Papa” as a mother, and not as a father. {Even though a father-figure appears in the movie, he’s not a well-developed character and we only see him for a few short scenes.} By only seeing God portrayed in the feminine, we miss so much of His character as a father, a strong leader, a warrior, a protector. I wish more of that had been explored.

5. Suffering is explained. I appreciate that Mack’s suffering in the story is of the very worst kind we can imagine, because it excludes no one. No one can say, “Well, my sorrow is worse than his, so this doesn’t apply to me.” By giving Mack a Great Sadness that’s only a worst nightmare to most of us, the author includes all of us. No hurt is too big for God.
And Mack asks the question you and I ask – “Why?”  Why do awful things happen to good, innocent people? Why didn’t God stop the tragedy from happening? Why does it have to be this way? The Shack tells us the truth: that God does not cause evil, painful things to happen… but sometimes He allows them, because He sees the big picture, the ripple effect, the good that will come out of the pain.

6. But at the same time, the explanation is lacking. Although the answer to the “why do we suffer” question gradually comes out, it takes them the whole movie to explain it, and the question gets glossed over several times in the meantime. At one point, it even seems like we’re told there is evil in the world and God can’t do anything about it. The movie definitely could have handled this deeply important question with more care.

7. The theme of forgiveness is well-done. Besides God’s love and the different aspects of His character, I thought forgiveness was one of the themes the movie best portrayed. Mack is asked to forgive people who have caused him horrible and irreversible pain…. and even to forgive God and himself, as well. I appreciated how “Papa” tells Mack that the anger will not instantly go away, nor will he necessarily feel like forgiving, but it is a choice, and a choice that might have to be made daily.

8. There is hope for healing. After terrible tragedy, Great Sadness, and wrestling with God, Mack finally finds healing. He begins to see the good and the purpose of God rippling from his pain. I loved the scene near the end when the beautiful tree grew up out of the grave, because it represents so much – our greatest sorrows, when we surrender them to the Lord and allow Him to bring healing, can grow into something beautiful and fruitful.

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The Shack definitely gave me a lot to process and think about, just as the book did several years ago. Someone asked me if I would recommend it, and my answer is yes. Yes, I recommend seeing it, but watch it with discernment, with your spiritual eyes open. It’s Hollywood, so we can’t expect it to be 100% Biblical or Christlike. So watch with wise discernment, and see how God might speak to you through it.

One thought on “The Shack: My Honest Thoughts

  1. Thank you so much, Ashley, for taking the time and serious thought concerning the Shack movie and sharing with us! I appreciate your very thorough review as I proceed in my decision to go or not.

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