I haven’t encountered a religious-themed book with such mixed reviews as William P. Young’s The Shack. Some family members told me it was worth a try. Women at a church I used to go to were reading it in their book club. A woman I knew at another church swore by it as a great novel (and, disturbingly enough, she quoted it more often than the Bible). At the same time, an old high school friend told me that she had tried to read it and lost interest, finding it to be like “a Disney version of C.S. Lewis.” I heard over and over again from various circles (including the “Bible Answer Man,” Hank Haanagraaf) that it was a heretical book, and heard little bits and snippets from the novel that supposedly proved why it was just so gosh darn heretical.
It was time I saw what it was like for myself…but here I have to be honest about something: I really tried to avoid this book. I kept telling myself I should buy it and dive in, but couldn’t bear the thought of spending the money. My mother, at the recommendation of others, bought it for me as a birthday present. Even then, it simply rested on my bookshelf unread, nestled lovingly between John MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos and G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. I’d pass by and take notice of it, then look away and continue on. Something inside just kept me from reading it. Whenever I thought of reading it, it would get sidestepped by something like James White’s The God Who Justifies or Basil the Great’s On the Holy Spirit (you can tell how eclectic my library is by now).
Finally, I said to myself, “Look, people are responding to this book, and it’s making a mark on the Church. I should at least give it a try so I can have a valid opinion.” If it was bad, it was bad, and I could at least explain my opinion to fans. If it was good, I’d be pleasantly surprised (and I have in the past), and I could try to defend it fairly against critics. So, after prolonged hesitation, I dove in.
The book itself isn’t that long (at 248 pages), nor is it that hard to read, as I managed to get halfway through reading off and on throughout one day. The introduction has William Young claiming that the main character is in fact real, trying to give a kind of Dr. Watson-like feel to the story. Personally I don’t know why he did this. Everyone will pretty much figure out this was a fictional story (something even more obvious as we go along). It also doesn’t really add anything, given Young is neither an active character nor is he even present in the story. It’s like those games you remember as a kid, where a friend would fake something that everyone knew was fake, then would conclude it with, “Ha! Just kidding,” as if he had just confounded the world.
The plot involves the main character, Mackenzie Allen Philips (known simply as Mack) living in great depression after the disappearance and assumed murder of his young daughter at the hands of a serial child murderer known by the press as “the Little Ladykiller.” Having worked in the news industry for four years and knowing what makes news managers shiver in their shoes, I personally think any news outlet that used this nickname would be considered tasteless and receive a lot of angry threats of lawsuits from the victims’ family members.
One day Mack gets a strange note in the mail asking him to return to the shack where his daughter’s bloodied dress was found. It is simply signed “Papa,” the word Mack’s wife used to refer to God. Curiosity overtakes Mack and he heads out to the shack. There he finds nothing and, in a fit of rage, destroys much of what is inside the shack. He heads out, only to find the snowy terrain turn into a beautiful landscape straight out of a Disney film. Mack realizes that God must be inside the shack. He enters and is greeted by…a large African American woman. Then appears a small Asian woman. Then out comes a Middle Eastern man. The large black woman calls herself Elousia. The Middle Eastern man, dressed as a carpenter, introduces himself as none other than Jesus (haw haw he’s a carpenter haw haw). The Asian woman calls herself Sarayu. Then comes the climactic part of the chapter:
Thoughts tumbled over each other as Mack struggled to figure out what to do. Was one of these people God? What if they were hallucinations or angels, or God was coming later? That could be embarrassing. Since there were three of them, maybe this was a Trinity sort of thing. But two women and a man and none of them white? Then again, why had he naturally assumed that God would be white? He knew his mind was rambling so he focused on the one question he most wanted answered.
“Then,” Mack struggled to ask, “which one of you is God?”
“I am,” said all three in unison. Mack looked from one to the next, and even though he couldn’t begin to grasp what he was seeing and hearing, he somehow believed them. [pg 87]
From here begins the famous portion of the book where Mack finds his spiritually awakening, interacting with each Trinitarian Person. Several topics are discussed in a kind of “talk it out” fashion, with someone asking questions or bringing up tough points to be answered by another, or someone teaching another certain beliefs or understandings through questions. One can see similar treatment in ancient texts such as Plato’s Republic, or even in more recent works such as Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael. Some parts even come across like Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, with character changes and events in the past being resolved for moral conclusions.
We have here three people in a shack representing the Christian God. This reminded me of an old metaphor for the Trinity that compares it to three people inside a carriage. This metaphor is known as a bad one. Therefore, I couldn’t help but feel I was about to embark on a book that was essentially a 248-paged bad metaphor. It could only have been worse if William Young had written a book about a man who goes to a shack and meets an old grandfather who then transforms into a middle-aged father and then a young son.
Before we even reached this point, I had a problem believing that Mack would have ventured forth to the shack to begin with. In most fiction writing classes (especially those regarding film or drama) they talk about something called “suspension of disbelief,” which deals with a twist or turn in the narrative that starts the main story, and – regardless of circumstance – comes across as believable to the audience. For example, lightning striking a robot would not make it a conscious being in real life, however in the 1986 film Short Circuit was done in such a way that the audience could move forward without questioning. The Shack, I feel, does not meet this criteria with this plot element. Mack seems all too ready to head over to the shack where his daughter’s bloodied dress was found, and seems to immediately assume it’s God there waiting for him. Many of the most devout people I know would probably think the thing was a hoax, or completely unrelated to the event. I probably would have disregarded it entirely. There do exist scenes in the book where Mack discusses with a friend that it might be a hoax, but this is after he has decided to move forward with the trip. I probably would have had Mack continue rejecting the letter until maybe a year later a similar note appeared, prompting further curiosity to see who was sending it.
Now the immediate reaction by some may be to the transformation of the Trinity into a black woman, Jesus, and an Asian woman. Oh, but wait a moment – it doesn’t stop there! In Chapter 11 Mack will be introduced to a Hispanic woman known as Sophia, the supposed embodiment of Wisdom. As I read, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Oh no…William Young turned God into the Burger King Kids Club!” I seriously expected a boy in a wheelchair to come out and introduce herself as the personification of God’s grace (boy, imagine the theological implications of that!).
The transformation of God the Father into an old black woman named Papa would certainly be a shock to anyone, and Mack addresses this to Papa early on in their encounter.
She picked up a wooden spoon again, dripping with some sort of batter. “Mackenzie, I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning.”
She leaned forward as if to share a secret. “To reveal myself to you as a very large, white grandfather figure with flowing beard, like Gandalf, would simply reinforce your religious stereotypes, and this weekend is not about reinforcing your religious stereotypes.” [pg. 93]
Papa will eventually transform into a man come Chapter 16, but the shock here doesn’t necessarily come from the skin color or gender. If I were in Mack’s situation, I would be immediately shocked that God the Father had revealed Himself at all. What was it that the beloved apostle John wrote at the very beginning of his gospel? “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18; ESV). What was it that God did when He appeared to Moses? He covered him up because if Moses saw even a bit of God’s face, he would have died. What did Christ Himself say to the failing disciples? That no one has seen the Father “except He who is from God; He has seen the Father” (John 6:46; NKJV). What did the apostle Paul write to the Colossians? That Christ (and no one else in the Trinity) is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15; ESV). Mack is therefore very fortunate, because he’s experiencing something that few prophets and no apostles ever witnessed. Some might emphasize that Young is responding to common stereotypes by not showing God the Father as an old bearded man…folks, both interpretations are wrong.
I can just hear some readers saying, “But what of Genesis 18!”, referring to the chapter where the Lord appears to Abraham in the form of three men, believed by many to be an early revelation of the Trinitarian nature of God. The problem here is that the chapter states the Lord speaking in unison, and does not differentiate between any of the men in either way. It doesn’t say, “So an Asian guy, African guy, and white guy appeared to Abraham…” You don’t have an incident where Abraham asks, “Which one of you is God?” and all three answer comically in unison, “I am!”
What we’re missing here is the real problem in the transformation of the Father and Holy Spirit into tangible personalities on par with Jesus. The problem therein deals not only with the role of the Incarnation, but the roles between the Persons of the Trinity. No where did it come out clearer than the section where Mack discovers something about Papa’s body:
“How can you really know how I feel?” Mack asked, looking back into her eyes.
Papa didn’t answer, only looked down at her hands. His gaze followed hers and for the first time Mack noticed the scars in her wrists , like those he now assumed Jesus also had on his. She allowed him to tenderly touch the scars, outlines of a deep piercing, and he finally looked up again into her eyes. Tears were slowly making their way down her face, little pathways through the flour that dusted her cheeks.
“Don’t ever think what my son chose to do didn’t cost us dearly. Love always leaves a significant mark,” she stated softly and gently. “We were there together.” [pg. 95-96]
My immediate – and quite literal – reaction upon reading this was: WHAT?!
William Young completely confuses his readers in regards to the Trinitarian roles. The Father and Son were both on the cross? That almost comes across as modalism, except Young has established the Father and Son as two separate characters within the story. The Father has the scars of the crucifixion? In order for that to have happened, the Father would have had to have become incarnate. That was not what the Father did. Only the Son became incarnate. The wounds suffered by Christ were His because of an earthly body. The Father never had an earthly body, therefore the Father could never have had scars.
Furthermore, it confuses the relationship between the Incarnation’s role and our sanctification through Christ. The Eternal Word, becoming incarnate in our sinful flesh, restored it through His resurrection in a spiritually glorified body. Upon ascending to paradise, Christ took the right hand of the Father – not a literal right hand like I would sit beside my Father, but uniting our corrupt flesh to the Divine Glory of the Father. Keep in mind I am not speaking the Christ deifies us into gods (as Mormons and Word of Faith leaders teach) but rather that, by partaking in the death and resurrection of Christ, we are sanctified and restored to the Father.
What about scripture? Paul wrote to the Colossians that “and you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death…” (Col. 1:21-22; ESV; emphasis mine). The “his” used for the section in bold is singular (it’s also masculine) – the his clearly refers to Christ alone, for only the Son took a body of flesh and suffered death on the cross. Which, incidentally, is also referred to as his death – the death of the Son, not the Father.
More tellingly, what did Paul write to the Philippians?
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2:5-11; ESV]
Who was it “born in the likeness of men,” and who “made himself nothing,” “being found in human form”? The text clearly states that it was Jesus Christ. Furthermore, it clearly states that it was the Son, not the Father, who was on the cross. The role of the Father was the exaltation and bestowing of power and authority upon the Son – not taking the form of men and dying on the cross. The blessed apostle Paul would be utterly dumbfounded by this passage from The Shack.
Some time ago, I listened to a lecture by William Young where he explained that his reason for doing this was to show that the Father had empathy towards the Son’s suffering and therefore our suffering as a whole. That’s a very nice and sweet sentiment, but the problem is you can portray the love of the Father towards the suffering without going to unbiblical and unorthodox literary portrayals. Church Fathers and Christian scholars and theologians have done it for over 2000 years while keeping in line with scripture – why can’t William Young do it here?
This confusion between the distinction amongst the Persons of the Trinity continues at a scene where Mack sits down to have a meal with them. Mack asks the three characters which amongst them is in charge, to which Jesus begins an explanation.
“That’s the beauty you see in my relationship with Abba and Sarayu. We are indeed submitted to one another and have always been so and always will be. Papa is as much submitted to me as I am to him, or Sarayu to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.”
Mack was surprised. “How can that be? Why would the God of the universe want to be submitted to me?”
“Because we want you to join us in our circle of relationship. I don’t want slaves to my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me.”
“And that’s how you want us to love each other, I suppose? I mean between husbands and wives, parents and children. I guess in any relationship?”
“Exactly! When I am your life, submission is the most natural expression of my character and nature, and it will be the most natural expression of your new nature within relationships.” [pg 145-146]
I have a feeling that William Young has never studied the monarchial relationship within the Trinity, something that even early Church Fathers wrote on. Namely, the relationship between the Persons in the Trinity and the submission and adherence to the will of some Persons to others. This is not to say that the Persons bark orders to one another (that would be far more possibile in the scenario Young creates), but that there works within the Trinity an order. The Son submits to the will of the Father (Gal 1:4). The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and can be worked through the Son (John 14:26). Furthermore, the very notion that God submits to mankind as the Persons in the Trinity submit to one another is simply blasphemous.
What we are witnessing here, I believe, is a transformation of the Trinitarian relationship among the Persons into a social gospel. The relationship between the Persons of the Trinity is supposed to a model for how we get along to one another. Therein lies a problem: mankind cannot possibly relate to the Persons in the Trinity as they relate to one another. The Persons of the Trinity at their core are coeternal, coexistent and united by Essence – no two people in history could ever make the same claims about themselves.
It is one thing to try to use the Trinity as a metaphor for people to get along. It’s another to turn it upside down and declare that the Trinity DOES get along like three people should. That’s also dangerous and invites a tritheistic understanding of the Trinitarian God.
Once the plot proper takes off, Jesus has a major role in William Young’s novel. One of the first things that struck me about this Jesus was his passive aggressiveness.
“Really?” said Mack, still shaking his head, and not sure if he really believed that. “So now what am I supposed to do?”
“You’re not supposed to do anything. You’re free to do whatever you like.” Jesus paused and then continued, trying to help by giving Mack a few suggestions. “I am working on a wood project in the shed; Sarayu is in the garden; or you could go fishing, canoeing, or go in and talk to Papa.”
“Well, I sort of feel obligated to go in and talk to him, uh, her.”
“Oh,” now Jesus was serious. “Don’t go because you feel obligated. That won’t get you any points around here. Go because it’s what you want to do.” [pg. 89]
Once again, my immediate and literal reaction to this was: WHAT?!
Are you serious? Did Jesus Christ of Nazareth just tell someone “Don’t go to God unless it’s what you want to do”? Is this the same Jesus whose first word in His earthly ministry was “repent”? (Matt 4:17) Incidentally, the original Greek word for “repent” in that passage is in the imperative – in other words, it’s a command. It’s not a, “Repent, if that’s what you want to do,” but a, “Repent, because that’s what you need to do.”
I could suddenly see why Reformed Christians in particular hated this book so much. Some might argue that William Young is simply emphasizing free will, but that’s the problem – he’s overemphasizing it. Even knowledgeable Arminians would recognize that. Could you imagine going to the doctor with a bad flu, the doctor handing you an antibiotic to heal you, and saying, “Here’s the medicine, but take it because you want to take it.” Probably not. Why then should we imagine God saying, “Come to me not because you should, but because you want to.” This means every person in hell can look up to God and rightfully say, “Well, you gave me the choice, now there are consequences to one of them? Why didn’t you tell me that before?!”
Even stranger is what happens only a few pages later, where Papa explains the miracles of Jesus.
“Mackenzie, I can fly, but humans can’t. Jesus is fully human. Although he is fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything. He has only lived out of his relationship with me, living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being. He is just the first to do it to the uttermost – the first to absolutely trust my life within him, the first to believe in my love and my goodness without regard for appearance or consequence.”
“So, when he healed the blind?”
“He did so as a dependent, limited human being trusting in my life and power to be at work within him and through him. Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone.” [pg 99-100]
Yet again, my immediate and literal reaction: WHAT?!
It is true that, in many moments during His earthly ministry, Christ fulfilled His role as the perfect Man. He fulfilled the Law as prescribed by God, He lived a prayerful and sinless life, and He entrusted everything to God’s will. However, He was at all times God, and that deity could not be separated from Him. The miracles He performed, in fact, were evidence of who He was.
Let us stop and think for a moment: if William Young is correct in his statement through the character of Papa, that the Eternal Word was during His earthly life simply a man who entrusted to God’s power to take care of things, then Christ was a heretic and blasphemer. Why do I say this? I say this because of an exchange that occurred between the Pharisees and Christ:
And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”… [Mark 2:1-10; ESV]
“Who can forgive sins but God alone?” the Pharisees ask. Uh oh! Is Jesus in trouble? Not the Jesus of scripture, who responds that this is done so that “you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” This authority, to forgive sins and heal, is found within Jesus because it is Jesus who does them. No, the Incarnate Word was not someone who simply gave up the power of His deities and left the Father to do all the work (which is dangerously close to Oneness Pentecostal theology). He did such work because He was God. Only God had the authority to forgive sins, therefore Christ was either God or blasphemer. We know He was not the latter. Indeed, it was He who created the world, therefore it was only He who could heal the world. Again I say: the miracles confirmed who He was.
Perhaps the biggest shocker is the section where William Young’s Jesus teaches something dangerously close to universalism.
“Remember, the people who know me are the ones who are free to live and love without any agenda.”
“Is that what it means to be a Christian?” It sounded kind of stupid as Mack said it, but it was how he was trying to sum everything up in his mind.
“Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian.”
The idea struck Mack as odd and unexpected and he couldn’t keep himself from grinning. “No, I suppose you aren’t.”
They arrived at the door of the workshop. Again Jesus stopped. “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.”
“Does that mean,” asked Mack, “that all roads will lead to you?”
“Not at all,” smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.” [pg 181-182]
Aside from the silly statement “I’m not a Christian,” as if the person who calls himself a Christian is living in error (of course Jesus wasn’t Christian – He was God!), the teaching presented is simply heretical. He states, “Those who love me come from every system that exists,” and then goes on to mention Buddhists, Mormons, and Muslims, putting them on the same level as Democrats and Republicans.
Is this a proper assessment of various beliefs? Not at all. Democrats and Republicans are members of a political party which function within a government – not a religious system. Could some of those religious sects that William Young’s Jesus mentions truly love him? No. Buddhists are inherently an atheistic faith which would deny the necessity of God in their lives, whereas Mormons believe in a warped view of Christ taught by a heretic and Muslims don’t even believe in the deity of Christ, let alone the Trinity (in fact, they call both damnable heresy). Therefore, including political parties among religious faiths and condemning them all as “systems” is presenting a warped view of the various divisions facing the world.
Stating that religious groups which deny elements of Christ’s person or His very deity “love him” presents a universalist – and therefore heretical – view of salvation. There had been a moment earlier in the book that universalism had been hinted at, in a dialogue between Mack and his daughter Missy.
Mack waited while his girls processed their thoughts. Missy was next to ask. “Is the Great Spirit another name for God – you know, Jesus’ papa?”
Mack smiled in the dark. Obviously, Nan’s nightly prayers were having an effect. “I would suppose so. It’s a good name for God because he is a Spirit and he is Great.” [pg 31]
I did not want to jump to conclusions because I wanted to get into the book and understand William Young’s point of view. Unfortunately, my gut reaction had proved correct.
We are told by William Young’s Jesus that “I will travel any road to find you” after mentioning many such roads. Is this what Christ taught? Let me quote the Jesus of scripture.
“But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 10:33]
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” [John 6:44]
This is a very different picture than what William Young presents. Again, free will is being overemphasized so that accountability and orthodoxy are being forsaken.
The greatest problem with the theology of The Shack is that it presents two conundrums: on the one hand, it presents ideas and interpretations that are deeply unbiblical; on the other hand, it is so vague in its interpretation that sometimes it can hardly be considered doctrinal. It reminds me a lot of many Emergent teachers who give such wording in their theology that you can’t help but feel like there’s something under the surface, and it isn’t until you search deeper that you realize something is really afoot. It’s much like a crocodile who rests partially under the water, still and lifeless and seemingly harmless until it finally snaps at its pray.
The greatest example of this is the statement by William Young’s Jesus, done in response to the question if all roads lead to heaven: “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.” It doesn’t really respond to the question, and given what we’ve supplied before it can only lead to a kind of universalism. Again, too vague to be doctrinal (let alone edifying), and too poorly worded to be orthodox.
The continuing theme throughout the book is that God is love. God is love. God is love. Always love. God is love. That is true, God is love, but with such love comes not only a love for creation but a love for righteousness and truth. Lightness and darkness cannot coexist. What, then, becomes of such darkness? The book seems to avoid any serious response to judgment and punishment, particularly in scripture. Mack confronts Papa about punishment and judgment, saying: “Weren’t you always running around killing people in the Bible?” (pg 119), which Papa eventually shrugs off with: “You raise some important questions and we’ll get around to them, I promise.” (pg 120)
What does this promised resolution to judgment questions amount to? Sophia showing Mack his deceased daughter living happily in the afterlife, followed by the statement, “Judgment is not about destruction, but about setting things right” (pg. 169)
And once again, my immediate reaction: WHAT?!
Later on, in Chapter 15, Mack will meet his abusive father in a vague idea of the afterlife, where both father and son embrace and apparently resolve past differences. This leads one to wonder if William Young is putting forward the idea of a restorative hell, something which has been condemned by most orthodox Christians since the early days of the Church (the belief, known as apocatastasis, originated largely from Origin, and was condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553 AD). In any case, one imagines if this was what the afterlife was like, the rich man would have gone over to Lazarus and embraced him, asked for forgiveness, and then have been welcomed into the bosom of Abraham.
The default is always to fall back on the belief that God is love. It is true that God is love, but it is a divine love that cannot coexist with hate. Christians who thrive on the “God is love” mantra and don’t look deeper into what such love entails become easy pray for atheists, who are not easily swayed by William Young’s “let’s talk about it later” argument and can readily cite passages from the Old Testament to try to prove their point. Indeed, the concept of “love” found in The Shack belongs more in the 1960’s more than in scripture.
As I finished the last page and closed the book shut, I couldn’t help but ponder on what I had just read. This was the novel that thousands of people had drooled over? This was the book that some quoted more than the Bible? Aside from the fact that I didn’t find William Young’s writing style anything near C.S. Lewis, and found the character interactions to sometimes be dull and inconsistent (Papa talks like Florida from Good Times one minute, then like Condoleezza Rice the next), it had to probably have been one of the most theologically unsound works of fiction I had ever come across. It also had some of the silliest metaphors I had ever read (“If a rainbow makes a sound, or a flower as it grows, that was the sound of her laughter”; pg 154).
J.R.R. Tolkien’s subtle metaphors in his Lord of the Rings series were far more Christian than William Young’s more blatant depictions. Tolkien, who often criticized fellow Christian writer C.S. Lewis for being obvious in his literary metaphors, would probably have much to say about the symbolism of Young’s novel. On that note, I might say that I think Eugene Peterson, who is quoted on the front cover saying that this book does “for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his,” owes John Bunyan an apology. No, I do not hold every Christian author up to the standard of Bunyan or Tolkien, but I cite them here simply as examples of what could have been reached for but wasn’t.
The little author bio on the back of the book mentions that William Young “suffered great loss” in his life. No doubt this book, given its wording and focus, is meant for those who suffer great pain in their life. I’ve noticed that many who fell in love with this book may have done so because of such pain. Life pain is difficult, and sometimes we need to better our understanding of God to get through it. However, we cannot fictionalize our theology to create a God who pleases us. We have to keep our focus on the God of scripture, and the God who has revealed Himself throughout the ages first through the prophets and then His Son, Jesus Christ. Yes, He is a God of love, but we must not attempt to recreate or redefine that love. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I have no doubt William Young had good intentions writing this book – the problem is he wrote a 248-paged cobblestone for the road to hell.
The author’s acknowledgments at the end of the book states: “I pray that you find the same grace there that I did, and that the abiding presence of Papa, Jesus and Sarayu will fill up your inside emptiness with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” No thank you! I will entrust the real and true Father, Son and Holy Spirit to do that for me. Amen.