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The Shack is a same-title movie adaptation of William P. Young’s controversial and heretical best-selling novel.
The film treads on very dangerous ground by personifying God in the image of man and putting words outside of Scripture into His mouth. The Shack is the first major motion picture that presents God in three visual, humanized persons: Father God or known here as Papa (Octavia Spencer) is portrayed as a huggable black woman who wears beads and jams to Neil Young; Jesus (Aviv Alush) is a super-chill, kind-eyed Jew who tinkers with wood in the shed and walks on water; the Holy Spirit or Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara) is a swan-necked, sparkly Asian woman who gardens and communicates in whispers. They have personalities, facial expressions, fashion styles—all portrayed according to the imagination of sinful human beings.
Like the book, the entire film unfolds into a long theological dialogue (mostly in gravelly or hushed tones) with little action. Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) loses his bubbly 6-year-old daughter on a camping trip to a sick serial killer who vanishes with her body. As Mack heaves under paralyzing grief, gnawing guilt, and a breaking family, he finds a letter in his mailbox signed by “Papa”—a term of endearment his wife uses for God. Papa invites him to the shack where his daughter died, so Mack shows up with a pistol.
The first time Mack meets Papa, who swooshes him into a bosom-crushing hug, he gasps, “Do I know you?” Papa answers, “Not very well, but we’re working on that.” And that’s how Mack spends his whole weekend: building a new intimacy and trust with God. But it is, of course, a god who is far removed from the God of the Bible: When Mack pointedly questions Papa about his wrath, Papa responds blankly, “My what? You lost me there.”
The novel sold 10 million copies against all odds (such as a piffling $300 marketing budget), so there is a hunger for its contents, which grapple with this time-old question: “What kind of God allows terrible tragedies in the world?” The film addresses serious, hard questions about suffering, evil, shame, judgment, and forgiveness without airbrushing them—hardcore themes that earned it a PG-13 rating. Mack’s questions (“Where were you when I needed you?”) are real and relevant to even the most mature Christians. Certain parts, like the scene in which Sophia (personification of God’s wisdom) challenges Mack to play God and judge who is worthy of love and who is condemned to hell, provoke both heart and mind.
But while The Shack may raise good questions, its answers (and its heresies) will make it just another downhill push for those on the slippery slopes of creating a free-form God out of loose-gripped truths and personal experiences.