A Biblical Conversation with The Shack

William Paul Young initially wrote the book for his children, with the hope that it would be distributed to a wider audience. WOW! That hope is being realized, first as a blockbuster book and now as a hit movie. The movie improves upon the book (See Value Added section.) Young’s novel and the film are a riveting work of fiction that convey how we carry a “great sadness” that can be healed by allowing God’s love to penetrate the source of our sadness. Left to itself, “the great sadness” tragically limits how we can trust God and live joyfully.


  • Creates word pictures to help the reader encounter God
  • Invites the reader into an experience of feeling the fullness of God’s presence
  • Highlights the opportunity for any and everyone to be transformed by God’s Trinitarian splendor
  • Emphasizes that God can heal our “Great Sadness”
  • Speaks to a readership hungry for spiritual adventure of awakening, action, and actualization
  • Stretches the reader’s soul to understand the story and discern biblical theology
  • Stimulates the reader’s imagination to look at possibilities of seeing “reality” from different vantage points
  • Engages the reader to look at his/her self in light of God’s loving presence
  • Stirs conversation on the Trinity, which I think is the most needed focus in theology
  • Challenges families to be aware of how sorrows & healings connect their lives
  • Conveys the depths to which we will go to be healed or the opposite – that we will pursue in order to not be healed

Values Added by the Movie:
I gave the book high marks when it was published in 2007. But I critiqued it by the following:

“Would his story have been strengthened if he had told the tale as a revelatory dream, but not as a real (in space & time) revelation from God? If understood as a dream intended to stretch us, The Shack, has tremendous value with limited liabilities. A dream may represent a real event, the tragic death of Mack’s daughter; but not cast as a thorough representation of God’s nature. As a dream, the dreamer may have a religious experience with God, without concluding each element of the dream actually represents God.”

The movie version strengthened Young’s work by clearly showing it as a Christian mystical vision.

God’s unity is emphasized:
In the book, Young seemed to characterize God’s Trinity as 3 separate modes but this inadequacy was eliminated in the move. In the movie we can stretch ourselves into experiencing the unity of God as:

  • Creator – A black female Father called PaPa, meant to stretch the reader into experiencing God’s non-sexual nature
  • Messiah – Jesus as a Mediterranean carpenter
  • Spirit – Sarayu, a Sanskrit word for wind

The movie conveys a healthy, dynamic view of the church where worship and ministry are vibrant, and relationships are friends as family. The film doesn’t include the book’s intrusive cynicism of the church, seminary, and theology.

The film removes the author’s viewpoint of his faith-experience as being authoritative over biblical revelation.

How does this connect to who is Jesus in the New Testament?
During a pivotal period of Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 16), he asked the apostles two questions­ “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And, “Who do you say I am?” Then was the time and that was the place Jesus chose to call out the faith commitment of those who were ready to give it.

With mounting expectation, Jesus asked, “What about you? You have been with me. You have heard my teachings; seen my miracles; walked with me; asked me questions; calmed your fears by my presence; been shocked, humbled, and bewildered by me. We have prayed and worshiped together. You need to know that you know who I am! So give me your best answer.”

The best of the rest in that moment was Peter. He spoke with a faith that he knew was true- “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” There, it was said. Peter boldly spoke what the others were thinking but were unable or unwilling to say. “You, Jesus,” Peter was saying, “are the anointed Messiah and you are doing this as the sign of God’s living presence – You are His Son.” The remarkable transfiguration experience followed a few days later (Matthew 17).

Biblical Examples of God-ordained mystical experiences:

  • John 20 – Christ healed the Great Sadness of Thomas
  • John 14 & 15 – Christ showed the disciples how our great sadness is healed
  • 2 Corinthians 12 – Paul’s visions and revelations revealed in the third heaven, and his humbling thorn in the flesh
  • Isaiah 6 – Isaiah’s worship encounter with God by which he was commissioned as a missionary prophet
  • Ezekiel 37 – Ezekiel’s “Valley of Dry Bones” vision
  • I Kings 19 – Elijah’s hearing God’s still, small voice
  • Sixteen major dreams-revelations are conveyed in the Bible, e.g., Jacob & Joseph of the Old Testament and Joseph in the New Testament.
Chapter Opening Quotes from The Shack, by William P. Young
Chapter 1 – A Confluence of Paths
Two roads diverged in the middle of my life, I heard a wise man say I took the road less traveled by And that’s made the difference every night and every day.” – Larry Norman (with apologies to Robert Frost)

Chapter 2 – The Gathering Dark
Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets.” – Paul Tournier

Chapter 3 -The Tipping Point
The soul is healed by being with children.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

Chapter 4 – The Great Sadness
Sadness is a wall between two gardens.” – Kahlil Gibran

Chapter 5 – Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner
We routinely disqualify testimony that would plead for extenuation. That is, we are so persuaded of the rightness of our judgement as to invalidate evidence that does not confirm us in it. Nothing that deserves to be called truth could ever be arrived at by such means.” – Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam

Chapter 6 – A Piece of It
No matter what God’s power may be, the first aspect of God is never that of the absolute Master, the Almighty. It is that of the God who puts himself on our human level and limits himself.” – Jacques Ellul, Anarchy and Christianity

Chapter 7 – God on the Dock
Let’s pray that the human race never escapes Earth to spread its iniquity elsewhere.” – C. S. Lewis

Chapter 8 – A Breakfast of Champions
Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.” – Author Unknown

Chapter 9 – A Long Time Ago, In a Garden Far, Far Away
Even should we find another Eden, we would not be fit to enjoy it perfectly nor stay in it forever.” Henry Van Dyke

Chapter 10 – Wade in the Water
New world-big horizon Open your eyes and see it’s true. New world-across the frightening Waves of blue.” David Wilcox

Chapter 11 – Here Come Da Judge
Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” – Albert Einstein
On my soul… be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.” – T. S. Eliot

Chapter 12 – In the Belly of the Beasts
Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.” – Blaise Pascal
Once abolish the God and the government becomes the God.” – G. K. Chesterton

Chapter 13 – A Meeting of Hearts
Falsehood has an infinity of combinations, but truth only one mode of being.” – Jean Jacques Rousseau

Chapter 14 – Verbs and Other Freedoms
“God is a Verb.” – Buckminster Fuller

Chapter 15 – A Festival of Friends
You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” – Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth

Chapter 16 – A Morning of Sorrows
An infinite God can give all of Himself to each of His children. He does not distribute Himself that each may have a part, but to each one He gives all of Himself as fully as if there were no others.” – A. W. Tozer

Chapter 17 – Choices of the Heart
Earth has no sorrows that Heaven cannot heal.” Author Unknown

Chapter 18 – Outbound Ripples
Faith never knows where it is being led, But it knows and loves the One who is leading.” – Oswald Chambers

Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning