The image of God can be interpreted many ways. Most envision Him as a Father Time figure that sits on a cloud thumbing his long, silver beard. Some view God as an uncompromising demiurge, while others choose to believe He is a loving deity with bountiful grace. While some consider the Holy Trinity one being, others believe it to be three separate entities. William P. Young, in his fictional novel, The Shack, takes a very different approach on his view of God. The author personifies the Holy Trinity in terms that very few have ever considered. In the formative years of William P. Young’s life, significant events occurred that shaped his presentation of God. The images portrayed in his book conflict with the belief of many Christians today.
The Shack is centered on Mackenzie Allen Phillips, a middle aged father of five. ‘Mack’, as his family and friends know him, suffered a traumatic childhood. His father, an elder in the church, was an alcoholic and often beat Mack and his mother. When Mack was thirteen, he decided the abuse had to end. He put varmint poison in every beer bottle around the house and left his mother with a simple note that read, “I hope someday you can forgive me”. He spent the next ten years traveling and working at random jobs around the globe. In his early twenties, he began studying theology at a seminary in Australia. When he graduated, Mack decided to come back to the states and make peace with his family. He then moved to Oregon where he met and married Nannette A. Samuelson.
The story of The Shack opens on a harsh winter day in March. Mack is going about his normal morning routine of drinking coffee and beginning his workday. Despite the beauty of the snow, Mack’s Great Sadness is weighing especially heavy on him. As any other morning, he makes the trek down his long, icy driveway to retrieve the day’s mail. After a long struggle, he reaches the mailbox only to find a mysterious, unmarked envelope with his name typewritten on the outside. The letter enclosed reads, “Mackenzie, it’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack this weekend if you want to get together”. The letter was mysteriously signed ‘Papa’, which is his wife’s favorite name for God. The book then flashes back to reveal how the Great Sadness came into Mack’s life.
As a final vacation before school begins, Mack decides to take his three youngest children on a camping trip. The trip is a success and allows for Mack to spend quality time with his kids. On the day they were to leave, the worst happens. Missy, his youngest daughter is abducted in a split second while Mack turns his back to tend to his son. After searching for a few hours with no luck, Mack calls the authorities that discover Missy has been kidnapped by a serial killer known as the “Little Ladykiller”. Following a trail of evidence over the next few days, the search is led to an abandoned shack hidden deep in one of Oregon’s largest national forests. There, the forensic team discovers Missy’s red dress soaked in blood and bundled on the floor in front of the fireplace. Despite their best efforts, her body is never found.
After debating with himself, Mack decides to accept the invitation from Papa and revisit the shack to see if God will actually show up. Much to Mack’s surprise He does, in the form of a large African-American woman whose name is Papa. Along with Papa is Jesus, a Middle Eastern carpenter in his thirties and a young Asian lady named Sarayu who represents the Holy Spirit. Together, the four characters talk about life and death, eat meals, laugh, cry, and answer the many questions tormenting Mack about the death of his precious daughter. Through many questions and many tears, Mack is able to find peace and discover new life without the burden of the Great Sadness (Young).
Many theological critics are offended by Young’s interpretation of the Holy Trinity. “It’s a distortion. It is a step away from what scripture declares,” says...