"How do you like the book?", the flight attendant asked? She saw I was reading The Shack, by William P. Young. I said, "It gives words to a song that has been playing in my heart for many years." She smiled and said she had stopped reading about three-fourths the way through. She told me a story of a "religious" mother who had rejected her homosexual son. She went on to say that she too had a homosexual son. "I could never reject him," she said. It appeared to me that she had found an entirely different meaning from the book than had I.
Her comment may be why this book has stirred such controversy in Christian circles. If you search Google for "the shack heresy" you'll find plenty of opinions. I didn't read any of them, except for a few headlines. I don't care much if others think it's heretical. As I said before, it's the words to a song that's been in my heart for a long time. I believe this book contains a timely message to Christians. But, as I saw in my conversation with the flight attendant, this message can be easily misinterpreted.
I think this quote summarizes for me the heart of The Shack's message:
"Paradigms power perception and perceptions power emotions. Most emotions are responses to perception--what you think is true about a given situation. If your perception is false, then your emotional response to it will be false too. So check your perceptions, and beyond that check the truthfulness of your paradigms--what you believe. Just because you believe something firmly doesn't make it true. Be willing to reexamine what you believe. The more you live in the truth, the more your emotions will help you see clearly. But even then, you don't want to trust them more than me (God)."
This paragraph describes the deep and sometimes painful process that God has been working in my heart for the past decade. In short, God's been showing me that I too often put my faith in my religious upbringing, my theology, my knowledge of the Bible, spiritual disciplines, tithing, and a whole list of other self-important foolishness. Like other Christians, I've been fond of saying, "Christianity is a relationship, it's not a religion." But the way I live my life says differently. And when I reduce God to theology and following religious rules it's idolatry as surely as reducing God to a golden calf.
Now I'm sure some people will turn the message of The Shack into yet another theology or popular movement within the Church. Or, like my flight attendant, use it to excuse sin. Some may say that such a familiar portrayal of God diminishes His majesty and glory. But it's vital to see that this message is merely one facet of a highly complex fractal that is God's nature. God is known my many names in the Old Testament for good reason; He cannot be comprehended. And I'll bet we now only know a small fraction of the names by which He will be known.
The heart of God is for relationship. The Shack gives a creative picture of the intimacy God has within Himself and the intimacy He desires with us. The reason we trade this intimacy for dead religion is that such dynamic freedom is terrifying and messy. But such a life is what God desires for us. As I walk with Him, I learn what pleases or displeases Him. Freedom is not doing whatever I want. Freedom is giving myself to Him.
I pray we all opt for the terror and the mess so we can learn to live in His freedom.