William Paul Young’s book, The Shack, has become a national phenomenon. It is a very quick read. It has been described by others as “a little clunking,” which does sort of capture the writing style. That reviewer attributed the “clunking” to it being the first book by Young and the “raw” nature of the story.
In any case, here’s the synopsis from Barnes and Noble’s bookstore site:
Mackenzie Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever.
I am writing about it because I’ve had two clients now ask if I’ve read it. They both loved the book, were moved to tears, and genuinely found it to be personally compelling for them. In one of my areas of specialization (sexual identity), clients often hold in common a very difficult struggle that is often enduring, and the struggle itself is often associated with shame. And maybe this is part of the appeal of the book: It does not try to gloss over a terrible situation. Some Christian authors of fiction seem compelled to wrap up stories in such a way that everyone feels better at the end; that everyone “gets saved” or any misunderstandings are resolved. With this kind of ending in view, it makes some authors work very hard to get there, sacrificing quality of writing for preaching.
Clients who seek mental health services for sexual identity concerns and other very difficult, complex concerns often also struggle with shame. The messages over and over again in The Shack is God as the Father (a black woman) talking about so and so and saying how fond she is of someone. The fondness is not favortism but a genuine delight and regard for a person. Of course, the antidote to shame for the Christian is to see themselves through God’s eyes, and this book provides a narrative through which that happens.
Let me say that the clunkiness may reflect a desire the author had to share an idea. My wife thought that the author had an idea for how the trinity relates to one another and that the story is a way to share those insights. The reader initially thinks its about the daughter but it turns out to be a discussion in part about the trinity, and Christians think about how the trinity relates. Some want to move beyond “water, ice, and steam” as an analogy for the trinity, and this book provides a picture of what one person thinks those exchanges might look like.
That it is “raw” and that it speaks to how God might think about individual persons as tremendously valuable is probably the tie to why people suffering from loss, hurt, and especially shame, find such comfort in acceptance and delight on God’s part with who they are.