The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity, by William P. Young

I picked up this book on the recommendation of a friend who loved it but didn’t give a full description. The book fits into the Christian Allegory genre, which has certainly been a powerful force in the English language, from Piers Plowman and John Bunyan through Narnia and The Left Behind Series.

In this book a father undergoes a horrible tragedy at a mountain lake in Oregon. Some time later he finds a handwritten note in his mailbox that reads: “Meet me at the shack. Papa.” He makes his way to a shack he’s known since childhood and meets three people, each one of the persons of the Holy Trinity. God is a crusty, elderly black woman. Jesus is his very Jewish self. The Holy Spirit is an oriental woman with a Hindi name.

The three answer his questions and talk about things such as the nature of the Trinity, forgiveness, God’s love, and faith. He even gets to walk on a lake with Jesus.

The author started the book as a gift for his children. He sent a copy to a writer friend who, with another man, helped with revisions. Unable to find a publisher they created their own publishing house and began marketing it from a garage. The book has now sold millions of copies and has been picked up by Hachette for foreign distribution. There’s also a movie in the works.

I can say outright that I prefer my theology straight. I’d rather internally argue with Kierkegaard, Kant, or St. Augustine than take it condensed and sweetened in story form. That said, I’ll give Young his due in that the book is generally orthodox and positive without falling into prosperity gospel. It has moved many people and irritated a few. Young happily debates with detractors on the Internet and says that the book began with a few individual copies followed by readers returning to buy more copies to give to friends and relatives.

The book does a wonderful job in dealing with issues of grief and refuses to treat God as a slot machine, which has become all too common in modern Christian books. It also avoids condemnation and, though Young is clear in his belief that Christ is “the only road to salvation”, he doesn’t threaten the rest of the world with a fiery Hell. His characterization of the three persons of the Trinity was also interesting. In his portrayal of God, Young says he wanted to break the pattern of seeing God as a Gandalf-like white male character. Jesus is portrayed as the brown Semite he was born to be. The Holy Spirit’s name is a Hindi word for a cooling wind.

It’s not the kind of book I look to as a way to increase my faith or change my own deeply-held beliefs, but I can see where it would be a positive for someone trying to hold onto faith while still grappling with the pains life brings.