Wm. Paul Young, C.S. Lewis, and my own “Shack” encounter

This post isn’t meant to convince you to see the movie, The Shack. As I said last time, make up your own mind. I also believe you don’t have to agree with everything in the movie or book to derive benefit from it. But what I would like to do is talk about the main point of the story, share my own testimony in that regard, and then add some points about this from a theologian and a highly respected author in the body of Christ—C. Baxter Kruger, PhD and C.S. Lewis, respectively.

Author, William Paul Young, states that the “Shack” represents Mack’s Great Sadness, but it represents ours, too. It’s the inner brokenness we all carry and keep under lock and key.

This brokenness may be not always be evident, and it’s probably different for each of us, but we all carry it, nonetheless. It places an unwanted governor on our soul which limits the vibrancy and fullness of life we know in our heart is waiting for us, but fear keeps us from ever opening the door.

We hope beyond all hope that God is good and fully loves and accepts us, but our mind irrationally rebels, suspecting that we’re more likely to be a disappointment to Him. Only Love can free us from this prison, and He’s always ready to do this very thing…if we will trust Him.

My “Shack” encounter came in late summer 2001. God didn’t meet me as an African American woman. I didn’t need a mother; I desperately needed a father. Unlike the author, William Paul Young, who had been sexually abused as a boy, or Mackenzie Phillips in the story, who was beaten by his drunken father, my father was mostly absent and distant.

So, after 23 years of trying to be a “God-fearing born-again” Christian (including being a leader and pastor for ten of those years), Papa met a 45-year old broken little boy in the middle of his darkest “hell.” No, it wasn’t a fantasy weekend with God in the mountains like the book, but it still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it. I cannot begin to explain to you how radically my life changed and how grateful I am for the constant affirming love and faithfulness of our Abba Father.

But even if we had a good earthly father, we all have a “Shack” hidden within us. Ours may be different but it’s still there, nonetheless. We can stuff it, deny it, even theologize against it all we want…but the only person we’re fooling is ourselves. This is the enemy’s doing. His goal is to dis-appoint and dis-courage us, in order to rob us of the freedom Jesus came to give us.

I talked about my “crash” at length in my book, Sonshift, and how the “The terrorists of my soul who had lured my orphan heart into this darkness had now flown their planes into my flimsy religious house of cards and it was burning down.” (p.35). Everything in my life was failing and all I wanted to do was run away. My deep and hidden wounds were not about abuse, they were about abandonment and rejection, which led to feelings of being an utter failure…to God, my church, and to my wife and family.

It’s in this place where “Papa” met me and became the Father I never had, showing Himself to be more wonderful and more gracious than I had ever hoped for! As C.S. Lewis would say in his own autobiography, I was “surprised by joy!”

Along these lines of unexpected joy and transformation, theologian C. Baxter Kruger makes the connection between Young’s experience and that of C.S. Lewis in his book, The Shack Revisited:

“Both Young and Lewis write as grown men who have learned to play again; they write, as someone said to Lewis about his writing, “as though you enjoyed it. (1)

What Paul [Young] knows is that Papa is good, and that you are accepted as you are, and he knows that you believe that you are not. For me, Paul’s voice, his grin, his eyes anticipating your surprise, all come together when Papa shouts, “Mackenzie Allen Phillips!” on the front porch.”

Here’s where Kruger describes the “Shack” using Lewis’s writings:

“Within us all there lies a broken dream, “our inconsolable secret,” (2) as Lewis calls it, that is so precious to us we protect it with a thousand defenses. “The secret which hurts so much,” Lewis says, “that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence.” (3) We know that we are made for glory, but we’ve only known hints of its joy. In the midst of life we long for more. Something is missing; creation is aflame with a glory we cannot touch, but we know it’s ours. We are moved by ancient music, but cannot find the great dance. So “we pine,” as Lewis says. (4) But such pining is too much to bear. So we bury our longing, and protect our dream’s sleep.” (5)

As already mentioned, I awoke from my “dream’s sleep” in 2001. I read The Shack in early 2008. This was on the heels of three significant encounters I had with God in 2007 that helped put me on the path I’m on today. Needless to say, my heart resonated with the story at a deep level.

So, I would encourage you not to get caught up in how the movie depicts God. None of us are authorities on how God wills to reveal Himself in situations we cannot fully understand. Only Jesus rightly explains who the Father really is (Matt.11:27; John 1:18; 14:6-7; Heb.1:3).

Instead, let’s focus on the main thing…the furious love of God who’s for us and not against us…Who walks right into the middle our deepest pain and darkest hell…not to condemn us, but to heal us and free us. It’s encounters with God like these, that The Shack allegorically tries to communicate, that are the motivation behind why I write this blog (see also “Why I write.”)

Could one reason The Shack is so popular (approx. 22 million copies sold) be because Mack’s story resonates so deeply with all who sense this “inconsolable secret” in their own soul; this “dream’s sleep” they’ve either already awoken from, or now have hope they’ll one day awaken from? Could it be we’ve finally found the “great dance“?

No matter where you are on your journey right now, know that God really is “particularly fond of you!”

(1) – C.S. Lewis, The Grand Miracle and Other Selected Essays on Theology and Ethics from “God in the Dock,” p.156)
(2) – C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses, p. 4.
(3) – Ibid.
(4) – Ibid., p.11
(5) – Whole quote is from C. Baxter Kruger, The Shack Revisited: There is More Going On Here Than You Ever Dared to Dream, p.35-36

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 42 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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10 Responses to Wm. Paul Young, C.S. Lewis, and my own “Shack” encounter

  1. Chris Jordan says:

    Hi Mel,
    I thought I’d drop a quick comment on this post because we have connected online as fellow bloggers, and because we have so many similarities to our stories and beliefs! I feel like we’ve gotten to know each other through our blog posts, and followed each others journeys and cheered each other on along the way.
    That being said, I want to let you know that I am not a fan of The Shack, and will not be seeing the movie. However, I do agree with you that many in the church have not encountered the amazing, passionate, furious love of our Heavenly Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit! I do believe He is a very real and personal God who wants to meet with us in our brokenness where we are at, and that He DOES do that in very real ways in the real world! I believe that our God longs to see us as His children set free from our pains and hurts and find freedom in Him. To be honest, the bigger issue I have with the Shack is not the physical depictions of the Trinity, but rather the author’s subtle anti-church and anti-Bible attitudes that are so prevalent in the emergent church. They say we don’t need the Bible (because ‘we have the Holy Spirit’) – however, I believe we need both – the truth of the Word, and the power of the anointed presence of the Holy Spirit. Also, they say we don’t need the church or ‘organized religion’, rather we can all have a personal relationship with God apart from one another, and I don’t believe that’s right either.
    Anyway, because I know you follow my blog, I figured you would be along within the next day or two and would see my post where I approach The Shack from the other perspective, and I hope that even though we may disagree about this book/movie, I hope it doesn’t affect our online fellowship! I love and appreciate you as a brother and fellow son of Abba – our ‘Papa’! God bless you my friend…
    p.s. feel free to add your comments on my post, if you do stop by for a read, even if they may be different than what I believe… 🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Chris for your thoughtful comments. I totally agree with your point that the story comes across anti-church and anti-authority. That would be one criticism I would have of the story. The problem I think we’re seeing here (more than the book but in general today) is the same reason we’re seeing a mass exodus from organized churches. It’s a reaction to the abuse of authority. This is certainly not always the case, but church leadership has used their authority by manipulative means in many lives for so many people that now they’re reacting the opposite way, which is equally wrong. I think they will eventually return, but how we do church may need to change in some respects.

      I would say though that Young is not anti-Bible, and he would totally agree with your statement that we need both the Bible and the Holy Spirit. The story may give that impression by some of the statements. But some people think he’s anti-Bible because he disagrees with their interpretation. But Young’s theological views are very similar to that of C.S. Lewis’s and theologians like George McDonald, and also early church fathers like Athanasius and the Cappadocian fathers. No one calls them heretics.

      But my biggest problem with the negative response to The Shack is that they are so focused on the doctrinal minutia that they miss the whole point of the story! This is why I wrote this post. It feels like the story of the blind man who was healed by Jesus and then the Pharisees come along and grill him to get him to admit that Jesus is false, and he says to them, “All I know is, I was blind and now I see.” I hope we don’t miss the forest for the trees here because many are starting to open up to Jesus again because of this story.

      To me, this indicates something very troubling in the body of Christ in the West. We have placed doctrine above relationship in Christ. While doctrine is critically important, Jesus clearly told us that we will be known by our love for one another, and our unity in Him (John 13:35; 17:23), not by our doctrinal purity or agreement. In fact, He had to rebuke the Ephesian church in Revelation for getting this priority backwards.

      I will read your post, Chris and comment if I get the time. I really appreciate your heart, brother. Much love.

      • Chris Jordan says:

        Hi Mel – thanks for your gracious response to my post, and your comments on my blog as well. I agree with you that – unfortunately – the church has placed an over-emphasis on doctrine at the neglect of relationship with Christ. Like Jesus said to the Pharisees at one point: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” (John 5:39). They knew their ‘doctrine’, but missed the fact that the Word was supposed to point them to Jesus! Anyway, appreciate dialoguing with you about this. Blessings brother!

        • Mel Wild says:

          Amen. I really think this is what God has His finger on. Let’s all keep our eyes and ears open to what the Spirit is saying, put our rocks down, and listen and learn from one another. I suspect we’re in a pruning process, but we don’t want to throw away the foundation that we stand on (what some in the emergent movement want to do), but let the Spirit prune us back to love, where the life of Christ is, and keep what is good (John 15:1-11). At least, that’s my hope and prayer.
          Blessings back at you, brother! 🙂

  2. Ahhh, what a great testimony! I too have been “surprised by joy,” and that is just such a powerful thing, I just wanted to run and go tell the others. It was much like waking up from a long sleep and announcing, “Hey guys, God is real, even more real then we think He is and He actually loves us!” Such amazing and incredible good news! Alas, unless you have experienced Him or grown very close to Him, it is hard for people to understand. They look at you as if you are just crazy, and so my avatar of “insanitybytes” was born.

    I was and still am really surprised by how scary love is to some people. I suppose I get that on some level, it is scary and it makes you vulnerable, and you fear losing it, and yet what is truly crazy about the world is many people will actually welcome your hatred but reject your love. Somebody smart once told me, “hatred is just the flip side of love, it’s people’s indifference we should fear.” I try to remember that. 🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      “They look at you as if you are just crazy, and so my avatar of “insanitybytes” was born.”
      I love your avatar name! I mean, think about it. What’s so sane about God’s over-the-top, unconditional, relentless love and scandalous grace that He continuously pours out on us! And it’s totally insane that Christ, in whom all heavenly and earthly realms are held together, decides to live in us! That’s CRAZY! Tilt!
      So, anybody who would dare think they can “participate in this divine nature” (2 Pet.1:4) is insane, too. 🙂

      “I was and still am really surprised by how scary love is to some people.”
      Yeah, we seem to normally operate in fear and distance until His love frees us from our orphan fear.
      I’ve come to believe that “taking up our cross” is really more about living in God’s other-centered love instead of fear and self-interest. That’s the real death to self!
      Thanks for your comments, IB. Blessings to you.

  3. I read this post back to back with the last post. Mostly what I appreciate is the interaction and the honesty between you and Chris. It’s alright to disagree without being disagreeable.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen Patrick. The main thing when there is disagreement is to seek to understand each other, not try to make everyone agree with us. When we listen and honor one another we can learn for each other, and all are better for it. Actually, we end up finding out that not that far apart. 🙂

  4. All I can say is Amen….

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