It's been a while. I've missed you. I'll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together.
It has indeed been awhile since I first read Paul Young's book 'The Shack', several years ago. So when I received an invite to see the prescreening of the movie, I was eager to see how they might reflect the many scenes and chapters of the story since many of them are still vivid in my memory.
Stories have significant lasting power in them and although Paul Young's 'The Shack' is a fictional narrative, it holds some very strong transformative truths beneath the surface of his characters experiences. While many of my friends questioned why I would go to a "Christian" movie (many of them knowing that I'm not a fan of the cheesy acting, bad writing, poor theology, and unrealistic "bow tie" endings), I never saw this story as a "Christian" narrative.
The story centres on the experiences of Mackenzie, or "Mack" as he deals with the abduction and presumed murder of his little daughter. After receiving a strange invitation in the mail a year following his daughters disappearance, he returns to the mysterious shack where his daughters blood and dress was found, expecting to find maybe, the killer. Instead, he encounters a mysterious relationship he had long misplaced and through which would take him into the deepest questions he had longed to find answers in for years.
The Shack deals with significant questions around the Trinity, Forgiveness, Humility, Healing, Judgement, and others. But at its central core, it is Mack's story as a whole that carriers all the weight to any truth the book or film has. Is his experiences true? Did he really meet Papa or God?
Like Mack, I too experienced the mysteries of a sort of "shack" after being in a car wreck many years ago (sorry, if this is a spoiler). In April of 1994 I was in a car accident that took the life of my mother and left me a C4/5 & T4 quadriplegic. I laid there in an ICU bed broken, heavily medicated, and on the brink of death. A pin hole of light appeared at the end of my bed and began to grow brighter. With an overwhelming sense of her presence in this light, I heard my mother's voice, "You and your father will be alright." I had no idea what she meant and I'm sure this is not "theologically sound", but it didn't matter; she was with me and I didn't want her to leave.
My life experience has taught me that this encounter with my mother was not just a simple moment or event. It has great significance and power as she points to the reality that my story is to continue and have purpose in the relationships around me. Like Mack, I am to be part of God's healing and reconciliation with others in the course of my life.
This is where I say the film lost its way to the power of Mack's story and Paul Young's characters. Opening his eyes in the hospital, Mack sees his friend and neighbour while slowly working the words out, "Where am I?" His friend responds, "Your in a hospital, Mack." Mackenzie then here's the story that he never made it to the shack in the woods. After blowing through a stop sign he was struck by a semi tractor and had been unconscious all weekend.
The book reflects on the pain Mack began to experience as he regained consciousness. And lets face it, nobody is struck by a semi and walks away from it. But the film seemed to fail to show this anguish and human reality. There was barely a scratch on Mack and the closing scenes were rather more of a quick tying up of the loose ends while he padded the bed and ushered his older daughter to sit with him as they spoke of overcoming the loss of missy.
Are the producers afraid to show weakness in the Christian character? Is restoration, redemption, and God's healing only for the physically whole?
Jesus said that, "power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9) Why then should we not see the power of Mackenzie's story made perfect in the pain and anguish he chose to return to in the continuing presence of God's healing work and reconciliation with his family?
No, if we are to be honest with the power of all our stories, all the moments, events, and "shacks" we encounter in our lives; we must embrace a reality of God's perfection amidst our frailty. Like Mack having to dig up the horror of his buried little girl in the rocks, we must take up the cross of our own brokenness and trust that the power of our story telling comes not from our own appearances, but that of a living God journeying with us. Or in the words of Jesus as he spoke to Mack at the side of the lake, "It works better when we do this together."