Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Shack and Job

I keep hearing from friends and family that some people believe that "The Shack" by William P. Young, is somehow heretical. While it's message certainly is challenging, I am hard pressed to see the heresy. It is not my purpose to argue this point with those who disagree, but I would like to point out that "The Shack" is a story, not the Bible itself, so it's failure to be a full exposition of the faith is understandable, because this book is intended to emphasize God's love for us.

In this way the book reminds me of Job. Job is the least favorite book of the Bible for many people, and it's message is hard, but I think it is illustrative of God's love. Like "The Shack," Job is a book about tragedy and it's effect on one man. Job is written on three levels. One is the earthly plane in which Job lives, suffers and is redeemed. The next level is the heavenly realm where we see Satan challenging God's judgement of Job. In this realm, we see Satan (literally, The Accuser) telling God that Job is only righteous because it benefits Job himself. This sets the stage for the tragedy that unfolds.

(An aside, after the tragedies that befall Job, his friends come to comfort him. But they can't help but let slip that they think he must have angered God because of his miserable condition. Job justifies himself and asks to stand before God. He actually calls God his accuser in verse 31:35, but it is Satan who is actually responsible for Job's misery. Later God says to Job's friends that they have not spoken of God what is right, even though his friend's thought they were speaking on God's behalf by rebuking Job. A cautionary tale in itself, when we might judge others in our hearts or aloud.)

The third, and not so obvious plane, is the one in which the thinking of God himself is revealed. For me that is the most interesting level. I realize that I can only catch a glimpse of His thinking, but I should have faith. When Job finally encounters God, after asking for judgment, God never directly answers Job's central charge that God has been unfair. Instead God points to the enormous beauty and power of his creation, his amazing generosity, "making rain fall in a desert where no man lives" and asks Job, who is he to queston the Almighty. At first glimpse, this is very unsatisfactory to us, because we tend to think of God as merely an all powerful human. But he is not, he is Lord of All, and beyond our full comprehension. He asks that we believe in his goodness. (The first sin was not that Eve took the fruit, but that she doubted God's goodness and listened to the serpent.)

But God does something else and you have to read the whole of the book to get it.
At the start of the story Job is a religious man, performing all of the required sacrifices and who serves God out of fear. But God uses all that transpires to change Job. After a personal encounter with the living God, Job takes on more of the character of God himself. He is magnificently generous, he gives a share of his inheritance to his daughters, for instance. This was unheard of in that culture, since daughters would become part of another family and they would not take care of the patriarch in his old age.

"The Shack" is like Job in this way. A man is transformed both by tragedy and an encounter with God into a new man; his fear is lifted and he can love those around him more fully as he draws closer to the nature and character of God.

I am indebted to John Ortberg who wrote God is Closer Than You Think for reshaping my thinking on Job.

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