Mack is grieving after the his daughter Missy is murdered by a serial kidnapper of young girls. He is enveloped by the “great sadness”. He then receives a note from “Papa” inviting him to the shack where the bloodied dress of his daughter was found. “Papa” is how Mack’s wife calls God. Mack drives up to the shack and there he meets God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. God is not at all what Mack expected him to be. He turns out to be this large, beaming African-American woman. Jesus is a middle-eastern Jew dressed as a labourer, and the Holy Spirit is an elusive, beautiful Asian woman named Sarayu. The Trinity personified. He spends the weekend with the three, going over questions of faith that have been bothering him for many years. At the end of the book it turns out he had an accident on the way to the shack and spend the weekend in coma, so the entire experience was apparently an “almost death” encounter with God.
I wouldn’t have given this book another thought if it were just a nice fairy tale by an obviously good-intentioned, if somewhat confused, middle-aged man. But as this book has sold millions in the US and is being described using superlatives such as “spiritually profound” and “theologically enlightening”, I cannot but express my utter contempt for its supposedly “religious” content. And this contempt does not derive from the fact that I’m Jewish and therefore do not believe in the Jesus or The Trinity, but rather from the supposedly deeper insights into the God-Man relationship that the book purports to reveal.
What Young is saying is basically this: forget everything you know about God. Forget the Bible, the rituals, the Church. God is what you want him to be and will appear to you in whatever form you need, when you need. The entire God-Man relationship is turned on its head. Instead of a theocentric approach, in which God is in the centre and Man stands before Him, Young presents an anthropocentric view where God is nothing but a servant of Man, appearing when Man is in need. The personal revelation Mack has in the shack becomes the basis of his faith, not the Scripture or the religious practice. Even for Christianity, a religion devoid of practical commandments, this is a serious misrepresentation of what faith is all about. Not to mention that God appearing in three separate bodies is problematic for even the most liberal of believers, placing The Trinity squarely in the territory of Paganism.
And that’s not all. The book rejects any form of justice, divine or human. “Papa” repeatedly tells him that His love for all humanity trumps the need for punishing anyone for sinning. He/She is “especially fond” of every human being and whatever a person may do, there will be no punishment. Indeed, at the end of Mack’s “indoctrination” he is required to forgive the murderer of his daughter (no less!) and place his trust in God, even though God clearly says there will be no punishment.
The book also rejects any knowledge of God. “I am what I am” (the words of God to Moses) are spoken by “Papa” several times, and are fundamentally correct in the sense that human beings have no ability to truly comprehend God. But the way this view is presented by Young leads to total desperation: there is nothing Mack (i.e. we) can do, not even define a “negative” view of God. So there is really no purpose in trying to get to know God better. Indeed, if Man is in the centre, what sense is there in trying to understand He who serves Man in his hour of need?
This is not religion. This is new age poppycock!
I could go on, but I think the message is clear. The book professes to deal significantly and deeply with theological questions, and turns out to be just another pseudo-psychological self-help book, and not a very good one at that. The conclusions to be drawn from its popularity in America are disturbing, if not surprising.