The shack

The shack: where tragedy confronts eternity

William P Young
Hodder and Stoughton, 2008, £7.99, Pbk., 254 p., ISBN 978 0 340 979495

“Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?” The books written on this subject are legion, many giving religiously “correct”, textbook answers that bring no comfort and shed very little light. The Shack is an attempt to grapple with this question using the literary genre of the novel. (Yes – the novel – the genre that John Bunyan used to such stunning effect in Pilgrim’s Progress, perhaps the greatest Christian novel of all time.) It is difficult to write too much about The Shack without giving away the plot. Suffice to say that it is the story of how a Christian father comes to terms with the kidnap and brutal murder of his six-year-old daughter, and in so doing, how he experiences the Trinity – Father (“Papa”, who for some of the story, at least, is female), Son and Holy Spirit – in a totally new and mind-blowing way.

This is a work of the imagination. If you believe the imagination to be suspect when it comes to dealing with Christian truth – particularly with a topic as sacred as the Trinity – or if you believe that God never uses human imagination to reveal more of himself to humankind, then this book is not for you. It will probably shock, even outrage you (in much the same way that Jesus outraged his listeners, come to think about it.) As with Jesus, you need to be prepared to think “outside the box” – or at the very least, to consider thinking outside the box. This does not mean abandoning all critical faculties. Although the book is superbly written, and the colour and flow and depth of the narrative will amaze you as it carries you on its mind-blowing journey, the effect is occasionally marred by the explanatory “theologising” indulged in by the Trinity. (Ironically, some readers might find this to be the only worthwhile feature of the book. Whether they agree with all of it is another matter.) But the fact remains that, if the blogs are to be believed, many Christian parents who have been bereaved of a child have found restoration and healing through reading The Shack. They have come to understand and experience their loss in a totally new way.

The author of the book was born a Canadian but now lives in the United States, where the book is set. Patrick Roddy, Producer of ABC News, writes: “With every page, the complicated do’s and don’ts that distort a relationship into a religion were washed away as I understood Father, Son and Holy Ghost for the first time in my life.”

A great many Christians are more at ease with a religion than with a relationship.

The book can be readily found on the fiction shelves of W.H Smith – which must tell us something!

Contributed by: Barbara Gilman, MA, a retired librarian who has previously worked for the University of Hull and the Torch Trust for the Blind.