Ten years ago a short book titled “The Shack” exploded across the Christian community in popularity. This month a movie adaptation is being released with a similarly expected popularity. The book is presented as a way to make God more accessible. It has often been critiqued on the basis of flaws in Christian doctrine, such criticism has often missed a critical element.
The book and movie were intended to be an emotional narrative. The author wrote the book to serve as an illustration of the traumatic points in his life and his spiritual journey for the benefit of his family. He made only 15 copies when he first wrote it. The author is particularly gifted in evoking an emotional investment from the reader often approaching a purgative catharsis.
The author has been taken to task for what seems to be an irreverent treatment of the three persons of the trinity which he uses as characters to interact with the protagonist in his story. When one considers the mistreatment he experienced as a child that he associates with his parents (who were missionaries in New Guinea) brand of Christianity, one might be sympathetic with his desire to transform the God of his youth into a more accommodating construct.
A problem arises from looking at Christianity in a binary way with God either being a “meany” or a “softy”. Neither way does justice to the truth. There is no denying that many crimes have been committed by those who claim Christ. There is no denying that God is merciful and loving. However, one has to be careful, especially when emotional wounds are revisited, opened, and pain is brought to the surface that the intensity of these feelings are not used to validate imagery as doctrine or accept assurances that are not Biblical.
Advertisers, politicians, and even employers often attempt to approach us on an emotional level through which they can gain access to our deeper and inner selves. Because this book and movie are so successful in reaching us through this pathway, we are very vulnerable to taking in and accepting other elements in the story that are not true.
For example, a person may have experienced some emotional trauma in childhood and might have such a powerful reaction to a story of healing and forgiveness that he also takes in an imagery of a total forgiveness that excludes Jesus and his atonement for our sins. This could lead him to take assurance that he is destined to go the heaven and by-pass Jesus and the cross. In a way he could even come to think that his particular suffering was somehow a payment for sin.
There are many people who look back on the first overwhelming feelings they had of meth, heroin, or oxycodone with bitter regret. Emotions are powerful things. The feelings they produce can have drug like effects and even lead some to seek continual stimulation. The Bible warns us;
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9
Emotions serve to let us enjoy life and to warn us when something is wrong or needs to be corrected. We should be careful that we do not confuse the work of the Holy Spirit convicting us of truth with our own feelings and sensations that seem to validate, authenticate, and substantiate imagery that was only used as a fictional background for a story.