“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)
Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater
Purpose Weekly, August 21, 2008
Vol. 2, Issue 30
For the last few weeks we’ve been talking about trusting God when the circumstances seem to warrant that you shouldn’t trust in a God who would let those kinds of circumstances happen. Stuff that’s too big for us to reconcile. Like, God loves me more than I can imagine and has only the best planned for me … and … my child was taken from me for no apparent reason.
How do you reconcile that? How can a God that’s supposed to love me allow such great tragedy and pain?
It’s beyond my ability to reconcile a loving and personal and all powerful God with all of the tragedy and pain and suffering I see in the world. If God is loving and personal and all powerful, why doesn’t He, in His love and power, put an end to this suffering and allow us to live in His care and peace and love? It doesn’t add up.
Either there isn’t really any kind of God like I imagine Him – He’s just been made up by man’s tradition. Or, if God exists, He’s really not as personal or loving or all powerful as we think He is.
The reason I can’t reconcile God’s love and man’s suffering in my mind is just that my mind isn’t capable of it. Not because the two ideas are irreconcilable; but because I don’t have the mental capacity to bring it together.
It’s like asking a first grader to solve a problem advanced calculus. It’s not like advanced calculus problems can’t be solved; we know they can. Just not by first graders. The problem of not being able to reconcile God’s love with man’s suffering isn’t a problem on God’s side – He’s already solved it. It’s a problem on our side. We can’t reconcile the two because we’re like the first graders’ trying to do calculus. We can’t do it because we can’t do it – not because it can’t be done. We’re not God.
That doesn’t help much.
What should we do every time tragedy comes into our lives or we’re witness to the suffering of innocents? Throw up or hands and say, “That’s God’s department.” “Nothing I can do about it.” “Too big for me.”?
I don’t think so.
God really is personal and loving. He cares intensely for you personally, not just mankind in general, you personally.
Suffering is a reality in our present situation. Babies die for no apparent reason. Innocent people suffer every day while evil people perpetrate atrocities against them.
God is all powerful. He can do anything He wills.
Then why doesn’t He will to prevent suffering and crush evil? And why won’t He let us in on the secret when He doesn’t? Why doesn’t He give us the answer to the calculus problem?Â So at least, if we have to put up with the idea of God’s love and power coexisting with suffering and evil, we’ll understand it?
Which brings us to THE SHACK, a book written and self-published by William P. Young. Mr. Young (his friends call him Paul, so I’ll be so bold) wrote this little book as a gift to his six kids. It wasn’t really meant for the world’s eyes, but, as often happens with ideas, some can’t be contained. I’m sure his six kids have read it, and by now so have a million others, me included.
It’s received a lot of praise from people who feel that their life was changed by its message. It’s also received a lot of flack from fellow Christians and theologians that don’t approve of Paul’s apparent unorthodoxy. For us non-theologians “orthodox” means “following traditional doctrine.” Paul’s story isn’t very “orthodox.” His critics throw in a few literary jabs too; just for good measure.
As a writer, Paul Young isn’t Hemmingway. But in his literary defense, I kept turning the pages – so did a million other people. That’s more people than have turned the pages of anything I’ve written. I’m guessing it’s more than his critics combined have written. People who live in little glass houses shouldn’t throw stones at people who live in big glass houses. If you want Hemmingway, pick up a book he wrote; then you won’t be disappointed.
What THE SHACK does do is try to answer the question. â€˜Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?’ Here’s the story line from the back of the book.
“Mackenzie Allen Philips’s 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.
In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant THE SHACK wrestles with the timeless question, â€˜Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?’ The answer Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as it did him. You’ll want everyone you know to read this book!”
What does Mack find out? For one thing, God is a black woman. The book actually said “African-American woman.” But knowing a little of the author’s history, she could have been African-Canadian, African-Jamaican, or even African-African. The point made is the He (She) is black and a woman.
Does Paul Young really think God is a black woman? Probably not.
Everybody knows God is a white man. Long white beard. Sitting on a big throne in heaven holding a stick that shoots thunderbolts at unfortunate earthlings who cross Him.
I don’t think Paul’s intention was to blaspheme God by making Him into a black woman for the story (As a matter of fact, he changes God into a man with a pony-tail at the end of the story. We’re not sure of His skin color; Paul doesn’t spell it out for us.)
Paul’s point (I think) is that we’ve put God into a box that’s comfortable for us, and Paul wanted to knock the box into pieces; or at least dump it’s contents out onto the floor so we could see a little bit of what God may really be like instead of at looking at the box and saying it is God.
Who knows? Maybe imagining God as a white man with a long beard, hurling thunderbolts down from heaven is just as blasphemous as making Him into a black woman. As least Paul had the guts to dump the box.
The story deals with love and relationship and forgiveness. And it does a good job at all three. Theologically it may have some points to argue; like the femaleness of the God character (the Holy Spirit is a woman too, Asian this time) and the lack of any hierarchy in the Godhead, or the soft sell on sin.
All good points, but this is a simple story about love and relationship and forgiveness. If you want theology go read Tillich (which you won’t, unless you’re studying for a theology degree, which if you are, you’ll be able to spend the rest of your life arguing about theology with other Christians).
Is theology important? Yup.
That is, if your theology is accurate. Otherwise it’s just empty words.
Am I saying, “Ignore the bad theology and jump into THE SHACK like it’s scripture”? Nope.
It’s not scripture, it hast its faults, but it provides some answers to hurting people trying to understand the love and relationship and forgiveness that God has made available in Christ. Something you custodians of orthodoxy should spend more time doing.
So in defense of Paul and guys like him, honest followers of Jesus who aren’t finding all of their answers in the current, infallible orthodoxy, here’s my advice: Give the guy some air. You people throwing the stones can’t even agree with each other.
Here’s my advice for everyone else: If you want to read a good story about love and relationship and forgiveness pick up THE SHACK. If you’re worried that the story doesn’t properly deal with the Godhead or the reality of Hell or punishment for sin, then find a theological treatise on those subjects. But while you’re reading them, keep an eye out for love and relationship and forgiveness.
Ephesus was a pretty cosmopolitan place 2000 years ago. There were a lot of ideas about God (or gods) floating around in that city when Apostle Paul spent a little ink telling Jesus’ followers in the church there to grow up and get along.
In deference to Paul (not the apostle) and guys like him, I’ll quote from Eugene Peterson’s The Message.
“In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner of the Master, I want you to get out there and walk – better yet, run! – on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, on some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline, not in fits and starts, but steady, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.”
“You were called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift ….Â He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, full alive like Christ.”
“No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for imposters. God wants us to grow up and tell the whole truth and tell it in love – like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He will keep us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.” (Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16)
We could take his advice.