My friend Tim so strongly recommended that I read William Young’s novel, The Shack, that I moved it to the top of my reading list. And I’m more than glad that I did. The book is a work of fiction, but one that contains much truth. I have no knowledge of the author except the knowledge I glean from reading the book, which is that this is someone who has had deep and direct experiences of God.
A man who has suffered a great tragedy in his life is invited by God to spend a weekend with God (the Trinity, actually) at the site of the tragedy. The weekend changes his life forever, as he learns the answer to what the book cover calls the timeless question: Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain? There are many pieces of the main character’s dialogues with God that I have sat with in my morning prayer these past few days. I would love to see everyone read the book for him/herself and so am reluctant to share too many things about it. But I have spent so much time reflecting on it that it is hard to say nothing. (And I’m guessing this won’t be the only post that comes out of those reflections.)
One of the things that struck me so powerfully as I read the book was the expansiveness of God’s invitation and of God’s love. Although we worship God as “Lord” and use terms like “Master,” the reality is that God does a lot more offering than demanding. God offers relationship and God offers love – constantly and always – but it is for us to decide whether to accept it. God will never force us to accept it; indeed, God will force nothing on us. In the book, Jesus says, “To force my will on you, is exactly what love does not do…I don’t want slaves to my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me.” Later, God says, “It is not the nature of love to force a relationship but it is the nature of love to open the way.”
The invitation is on the table. It always was. It always will be. It is for each of us to decide how to respond to it.
P.S. I am aware that there has been some controversy about this book. Let me be clear, I am not trying to suggest that one should uncritically take all of the dialogue attributed to God by the author as theological truth. There is a discernment process that is necessary with everything we read. Having said that, I do think there is much to reflect on here and there is much of what I read in the book that resonates with my own experience of God.