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How Is God really?                                                                 

1 November 2009



I had already read in a newspaper about this book, but I did not have the chance to hold it in my hands, when couple of weeks ago on a Saturday evening I visited one of my members, she was reading the book. She didn´t come to church on that Sabbath on purpose, because she started reading the book on Friday and then she couldn´t stop reading it. The first thing she told me even before saying hello was: “ Pastor , you MUST read this book.”


The book called “ The Shack” came out for the first time in 2007 in the U.S. Since then it has appeared for 60 weeks non-stop on the Bestseller list of the New York Times. For the 50 weeks it was in first place! Until now the book has been printed in 20 millions copies, translated in 30 languages and a film adaptation/version is on the way.


What is the story behind this book? You may ask.


William P. Young a former office worker wanted to make to his 6 children a special Christmas gift…..and he wrote a book. When some of his friends read the draft, they encouraged him to publish it. So he decided to go ahead and publish the book, but when he asked various publishing houses, none of them were showed any excitement for his draft.


For the Christian publishing houses the material was awkward and dodgy. For the secular ones was his book to religious. In a short time Young and two other fellow pastors established their own publishing house with the only goal of publishing this book.


Windblown Media” adverts the fact that only 300 dollars has been spent for the publicity ploy and now the book is on the first 3 places of Bestseller list in U.S., Canada, and most of the European countries.



What is this book all about?


Firstly, you have to know that the book is a novel,… a made up story. Mackenzie Phillips, a father of 5 kids is going through a devastating and dreadful trauma. During a holiday trip that he undertook with his 3 younger children, he is lost his youngest daughter Missy, who became victim of a violent criminal.


Her bloodied dress is found after a long and tiring manhunt in an old, forgotten, rotten shack, deep inside of the Oregon forests. He quarrels with God, but he can not find the way back to a reasonable normal life. This trauma is chasing him day after day, until one day when he was checking his post box in the morning he find a piece of paper where was written:


Mackenzie…. It has been a while. I have missed you. I will be at the shack next week, if you want to get together. Papa”


The words are for Mack like a thunder-bolt.


Papa”….this is how his wife was calling God for some time.

Was God writing to him?


This God who apparently let him and his family down in such an ignominious and outrageous way? And he…..of all things should meet this God in that shack, where he 4 years ago found the bloodied dress of his beloved daughter?


After some back and forth struggle, Mack decides to go to the shack.


What he is experiencing there in one weekend changes his entire life. He encountered God! And this God indeed is made up of 3 Persons:


There are: a well-humoured afro American lady who is called Papa, than he gets to know a very friendly carpenter who is not surprisingly called Jesus and also a charming Asian lady, Sarayu, the Holy Spirit.


The rest of the book is filled with discussions between Mack and this God, some of them thoughtful and deep theological, some other easy and humorous and Mack starts to feel increasingly well by this God, who is answering questions that he hardly dares to ask.


For the first time in his life Mack is experiencing how God really is, a God….all but touchable. Mack is fascinated and deeply moved.


As I was reading the book I asked myself: ” Why on earth had this story such a big success? Why are millions of people all over the world buying and reading this book, and after they have read it, they recommend it enthusiastically to others?”


Apparently all these people are craving and have this big longing for a friendly and an accessible God like “Papa” in this book, who can bake cookies and can chat very relaxed with Mack while having a cup of tea.


Is it perhaps the reason that some of us want to somehow ease the distress and pain we sometimes experience - with answers that only a just God can give?


Or maybe is the intuitive perception that almost all our human relationships ultimately fail to bring the inner fulfilment and satisfaction, which we can find just by God.


Do we need a made up story in order to find out how God really is? Maybe yes, maybe not. By having a look in internet at the chat room I realised that “The Shack” is in the Christian circles quite controversial and disputed. The author has got many accusations of all kinds from heresy to shallow Theology.


But somehow you get the feeling that all this criticism is not able to affect the core of the story. Indeed some of God’s descriptions you find, can actually be questioned, because focusing excessively on God’s human face hides the danger of trivialization of the eternal Ruler of the Universe. Nevertheless this book stirs something in our human hearts: our deep inner longing for full acceptance, our desire for an impartial hug, our search for an uplifting experience.


Actually, I am not sure if I want to recommend you this book because this amazing God in His whole greatness and his whole humiliation is revealed to us for a long time in another great book.


We may ask: “ Why despite all the sermons and Bible reading, and Bible study, don´t we sense the same as Mack sensed in that forgotten shack in the wilderness of the forest?”


The reason could be that we always need 2 components:


  1. The information -we take by reading

  2. The experience- we make by practising


God inspired his Word so that we will be able to read how He really is, but He also sent his Son so we can experience in “ Flesh and Blood” how He really is. And this Son called His followers to create for our fellow men the same climate and atmosphere of trust and confidence.


Maybe is worth taking couple of minutes and ask yourself : ” How is God real for me?” , and then show to one of your friends or neighbours how God really is, and maybe after that he might not need “The Shack”.



Claudiu Popescu