Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Shack and the Problem of Pain



The Shack movie releases in theaters this weekend, as this year marks the tenth anniversary of Paul Young’s self-published novel of the same title. The book appeared in 2007, and traveled through the wider Christian market to become a global phenomenon. By early summer, 2008, more than one million sales were reported, and by the end of 2009, more than ten million.

Young grew up as a missionary kid and was sexually abused (not by family) on the mission field. The Shack, he says, was birthed in his own wrestling with his trauma and his existential “problem of pain” — how God can be sovereign and good, and not just allow such evil in the world at large, but such evil toward me personally.

The Shack is fiction, but don’t think for a minute that Young isn’t clearly and intentionally writing theology. He’s the first to say so. Theology isn’t merely conveyed in abstract propositions. Dozens of literary genres make up the Christian Scriptures. It’s not only the apostle Paul who speaks for God, but also the Psalms and Proverbs and the apocalyptic writings. Jesus himself spoke in stories, called parables. Story is a powerful tool for teaching someone about God and his world. The fact that Young writes a novel doesn’t mean that he’s indifferent to how his readers think about God and their pain. In fact, the key to understanding why so many love his novel is it speaks so vividly about God and pain.


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