Reflection on The Shack
By Christine Baumgardner
Our Lady of Sorrows' Coordinator of Religious Education
Back in 2007, right after I had experienced a personal tragedy myself and suffered some loss in my life, I had a spiritual awakening and developed an appreciation for the Catholic faith that I hadn’t had before. It was at this time that the book The Shack was released. My husband and I both read it. In fact, I even participated in a book study regarding it. At first glance, I thought it was okay, though I was dismayed on a couple of points that the author, William P. Young, shared with his readers. Other than that, I didn’t think much of it.
That is until this past summer when I learned that it would be made into a movie. I was intrigued. Admittedly, the story line had become a little fuzzy over time. Over the years, I have become very selective in what I will allow myself to watch on television and listen to on the radio and I was happy that this movie seemed to fit my list of allowable criteria. Yes, this does solicit eye rolls from my teenage boys, but I have found that limiting myself as to what I will expose myself to helps me to keep a more pure relationship with Christ. I’ll also let you in on a little secret. Regarding this matter, I really don’t care what my teenagers think about me. I’m just hoping and praying they’ll learn from me!
As the movie release date approached, I began to hear that there were some Christian groups who had concerns about the movie. Some complaints were more serious than others. I even learned that our own pastor, Fr. Paul, had some reservations about this film. I began to think about it with a more critical mind. One day, while discussing the film in the office I volunteered to go see it on my day off and report to everyone what I thought about it. Yep….that was a huge sacrifice on my part. So, I rounded up my best friend who hadn’t read the book (and is no longer a practicing Catholic) and we went one afternoon to watch it. Here’s my thoughts. Because I try to be a positive person, I’ll start with the good points without giving away too much of the plot line.
This is a powerful story that addresses a parent’s worst fear. It speaks highly of the love between a husband and wife and how a couple might overcome a serious tragedy in the course of their relationship. The movie points to the forgiveness that God extends to us without us ever even asking for it. The movie also speaks of how strong our relationship with God can become when we choose to reconcile with Him. It shows what living in judgement can do to the soul and how healing it can be to let go of the past. This movie could encourage someone to foster their personal relationship with Christ and even stretches our minds in how we perceive God to be. It speaks of the Trinitarian relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Sounds great, right??? But, before you go get a ticket I’d like to point out some flaws in the author’s thinking. While there aren’t as many imperfections these are some big points….especially for Catholics.
The character, who plays Jesus, is quoted saying that “He didn’t come to establish religion. Rules are not important.” This thought was in the book as well. This was where my eyebrows raised both when I read it and saw the screenplay. To break this down, it is correct that Jesus did not come to establish a religion. He came to establish a church. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells Peter that he is to build his church upon this rock. Jesus gives him the keys to the kingdom of heaven. We must remember that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. He came to fulfill prophesies in the Old Testament. Jesus did not come to divide us, he came to unify us, which is why he left himself as a gift to us in the Holy Eucharist. It’s not Jesus who has formed different sects of religion….rather, man has done that himself. Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells us that he didn’t come to diminish the law or abolish it, but to fulfill it. What this means is that Jesus wants to put the law in its proper place and restore the natural order to it. Laws provide logic and structure so we can practice our faith in a way that is pleasing to the Father. It allows us to deepen our relationship with the Trinity and grow into fuller union with him. Law is absolutely necessary, but it should never be placed with more importance than doing the will of the Father. Rules, in the spiritual sense, are meant to give us opportunity for freedom, not confine us. These are points that we need to keep in mind when watching this movie or reading this book.
So, my final recommendation…well, I say the choice is yours. Know what you’re walking into before you go see the movie. It could be the launching point for you to explain some precepts of our faith to another person in your life or could serve as a catalyst for you to understand some element of our faith that you might not understand in its fullness or struggle with. One thing I would caution against is taking this story line at face value and/or as the truth Jesus wants to instill in us. In reading some interviews from this author shortly after the book was released almost a decade ago, he suggests that the story he wrote helped him face a lot of demons from his very own past. This story was a therapeutic way for him to work out his own questions about spirituality, masked behind the main character, Mack. In short, this is not a theological read per se, but a personal witness- an account of a journey as to how one comes to know Christ. As we all know, journeys are long and there are many twists and turns along the way. They can be messy, sometimes littered with mud puddles and potholes. Just when we think we have arrived at our destination, we are taken on yet another route and learn even more about ourselves. It’s a lifelong process that we’re never really “done” with. For what it’s worth, my best friend walked away with the same thoughts I had.
Finally, one more thought I would like to share. Shortly before this movie came out in theaters, author William P. Young released another book. It is not a fictional story, but his take on theology entitled Lies We Believe About God. I don’t want to sound too harsh since I haven’t read this book. I have, however, perused excerpts from this book that do not correlate with what we, as Christians, believe. While the author’s thoughts are nice and they aren’t entirely wrong, they also aren’t entirely right. He misses the mark on several items, or so I’ve read in lots of reviews. He also claims to be a theologian, but he relies on himself too much and not enough on trained professionals. This fact may stand as evidence that the author was attempting to convey more than originally thought through his story and now movie.
Additional “food-for-thought” can be found in the links provided below.
My favorite, Bishop Robert Barron reflects on this story.