October 9, 2008
Live from Catalyst: Day 2 Color Commentary
The Shack and Its Aftershocks
Skye is offering a terrific play by play. Let me offer a word of commentary on one entry he mentioned.
One of the people I was most interested to meet at Catalyst was William Paul Young, the author of "The Shack," the self-published novel that was given a spectacular endorsement by Eugene Peterson, got amazing word-of-mouth distribution and rocked the publishing world, selling millions and sparking a heated blogosphere debate among Christians over whether the book is heretical in its depiction of God or whether it's a helpful and clarifying portrayal of God's three-in-one character.
Today Paul (he goes by his middle name) was interviewed on the main stage. At yesterday's Catalyst lab, Paul explained to a mostly supportive audience the origin of the novel. He said it was NOT written to make a statement about the Trinity. Instead, he said, it was written to be given to family members to help them better grasp issues of God and gender! To work through the pain of earthly fathers who are distant or absent during times of Great Sadness.
Oh, my, I thought. If anything is more volatile than the Trinity, issues of gender would be on a fairly short list of things guaranteed to be impossible to address without offending a whole lot of people. The intricacies of describing the Trinity will offend the theologically trained, but the suggesting God has gender issues will disturb just about everyone.
"God is spirit," Paul reminded us, "not male or female." But to describe God's relationship to people, the Bible describes God with both male and female terms. Paul pointed for example to "El Shaddai," a Hebrew term he explained as "from the same word as ?breast,' referring to God as nurturer and provider and one who would give her life for her child." Instead of "the Lord of Breasts," the King James Bible translates the term "Lord of Hosts," which Paul said he considered a bit ironic.
And I thought the Bible's calling God a "living stone" and "mother hen" were problematic. Silly me. So Paul Young portrays two persons of the Godhead as female and one as male in perfect unity.
Paul explained his primary purpose in "The Shack" was to show that God is not an absent Father, but is in "The Shack" with us, in our Great Sadness, usually showing up in a way we do not expect.
His explanation certainly won't pacify his critics, but it's still helpful to see a novel in its larger context.