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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready...
Author: William P. Young
A few weeks ago character James Whitmore passed away. In a radio interview his widow was asked about his religious faith. Mrs Whitmore relayed a story of how the actor was in a battle with the Japanese during World War 2. As he was walking among the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers, he saw one soldier who died grasping on to the picture of his wife and children. According to the story, Whitmore, who had once felt called to become a minister, became an agnostic. He couldn't conceive of a loving God who could allow such suffering into the world.
This is an oft told story of conversion to agnostic faith. The faith of uncertainty which is resentful of the loving God for not existing....because such a God couldn't exist in the face of human suffering. Some are even made at God for not existing. Yet, William P. Young's, bestselling novel, The Shack, asserts, this is exactly the point. Even in the face of the worst suffering the reality of a loving, compassionate God is more present than ever in our lives. As C.S. Lewis was fond of saying, "God whispers in our pleasure, but He shouts in our pain."
Mackenzie Phillips, suffers the worst of circumstances. His beautiful seven year old daughter is abducted and murdered by a serial killer while on a camping trip. Months later, Mac is lost in bitterness. How could God allow this to happen? He is then sent a mysterious invitation to the shack where his daughter was murdered. What happens during this pivotal weekend results in a deep fellowship with God through the Holy Trinity, renews his faith and restores his hope.
Like the best work of C.S. Lewis and Fredrich Buechner, The Shack never allows easy, cliche'd answers and only settles with the clarity of God's involvement with humanity through the Gospel. It also gives us another unique characterization of God, in someways resembling Aslan of the Narnia series. Literalist and linear believers may have trouble with the licences Young takes with his characterizations. But its hard to argue with the content. It is clear, complex and yet, a paradox that, at the end of the novel, remains a mystery. And isn't this just like the God we've come to know?
While the novelist falls short of giving us a great piece of literature, the narrative is easily read and accessible. Perhaps this is the idea, in today's quick consuming society; these concepts need to be presented quickly and without any form of poetic art.
The Shack may not become as immortal as the works of Lewis or Buechner, but it will surely draw many into discussion about God and suffering and perhaps allow some agnostics to doubt their doubts.