Sunday, February 15, 2009

Book Review: The Shack

For Christmas, dad gave us each a different "Bestseller" book to read. Our assignment was to create a "Serial Book club" of sorts--where we read the book and write a note telling why we like it or not, why it should be burned or not, why it should be a bestseller or not, and who else might like to read it. This post may get a little wordy, so I don't expect everyone to read all of it (except my dad). So you can skip to the end to see the bottom line...So here's my review of "The Shack," By, William P. Young:

I was a little unsure and wary as I began reading this book. I keep my faith and testimony pretty well guarded and really have a hard time opening my mind to other points of view. I know the truth; what's the point of reading other's perceptions of truth when I have the real thing? What I found is that despite our differences in religion, William Young was still able to help me understand truths I know a little better.

Young presents God as a very personable character. Mack walks and talks with God face to face. I was a little shocked by the initial visual of God as a big black woman who loves to cook. I like the implication that God is the ultimate servant of man, and the subtle message that God has a warm comforting presence, like the scent of fresh apple pie in the kitchen. That's lovely... but then, just as you're getting used the idea, God changes shape and form. While I know he's all powerful and probably can change his shape and looks on command, I like to think that he doesn't. Young dismisses the traditional look of God--fatherly, bearded, etc.--as just "reinforcing religious stereotypes" (Young 93). But shouldn't religion and churches BE the earthly authority on what God looks like? Instead of changing God, shouldn't man change to accept Him, to try to understand Him?

It's clear throughout the book that Young is not a huge fan of organized religion. After spending some time with God, Mack explains his new understanding of religion this way: "Not a bunch of exhausting work and long list of demands, and not the sitting in endless meetings staring at the back's of people's heads...Just sharing life" (178). That sounds simple. Just be nice to people and you're set? No need for church? I dunno... I'm not so sure about that idea. Yes, there is a sense of giving love and kindness and friendship, but there are also some more specific obligations and ordinances that must be done. Also, gathering together as a congregation and church might be the best way to share life, and it might prove most effective in helping others. One person can't provide disaster relief, but a church group can be rallied effectively to serve. I maintain that organized churches and religious groups are necessary help God's purposes as described by Young. Going to church will help us build relationships with other people and with God. Keeping all those commandments and rules gives us mere mortals a chance to approximate life as a divine being. Obviously, if church doesn't make you feel closer to God, it's pointless. But a church itself is not responsible for that. We're the ones on trial here, not the institution of the Church.

And Adam and Eve didn't mess up the whole plan behind the creation (99).

Ok, so much for the negative. On to things I liked about the book.

Without giving too much away... I'd like to say that the idea that most appealed to me was that "God cannot act...apart from love" (102). Even when tragic things happen, we are not to assume that God has forgotten us or abandon us because we are sinners. He permits us to use our agency, even though it often causes other pain. And yet, he can use our bad choices to help us return and find faith in Him. I liked the focus put on forgiveness--the idea that we ourselves cannot be whole if we don't forgive those who trespass against us. And the ultimate point (I think) of the book: The better way than simply being immune to or suffering pain and evil is to return our independence (that God gave us) back to Him in an attempt to live as He wants us to. Yes, we experience hardship, but if we try to see life through the eyes of the almighty, we can find a higher power, a better plan than what we come up with ourselves.

Or something to that effect. Probably if you read it, you'll get something a little different. THe bottom line is I enjoyed the book. There were some very moving passages that as a parent I think I appreciate more than I would have before. I would NOT recommend it to someone who doesn't understand my belief entirely--I wouldn't want the false ideas that are carnally appealing to eclipse the kernels of truth found in the book. In other words, read the Book of Mormon first, and once you have a testimony of that, you can read this. If you enjoyed "The Five People you Meet in Heaven," or "A Christmas Carol," you'll probably like this one too.

Thanks, dad!
Happy reading!

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At February 16, 2009 5:23 PM , Blogger Aimee said...

Thanks for the review. I'd heard of this book but not sure that I'd want to read it - maybe I will give it a try! Good idea by your dad of a family book club, too.


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