My wife and I saw the sneak preview of the new motion picture, The Shack. I posted a review earlier of the bestselling book (click here to read it) of the same title by William Paul Young, so I wanted to follow up with this review of the movie.
The Shack is a deeply emotional film about a man named Mack Phillips, played by Sam Worthington, who is angry at God because of the abusive and tragic circumstances he experienced as a child and as an adult. The film tells the story of a deeply personal tragedy that occurs at a shack in the woods, and how Mack gets a letter from God, inviting him to return to the shack and deal with his pain. Mack returns, and there meets God in three persons, who engage him in experiences and conversations that allow him to rediscover the goodness of God. After he resolves these issues and learns to accept forgiveness and give forgiveness, Mack returns to his family a changed man. The plot uses flashbacks to tell about the tragedies in his life. Much of the story is framed as a visionary dream, which is a major departure from the plot of the original book. The plot moves well at the beginning and the end, although it may seem a bit long in the middle, if you are not engaged in the conversations.
Octavia Spencer plays “Papa,” a character representing God the Father, who appears to Mack as an affectionate African-American woman. She explains that since Mack could not relate to God as a father, due to his childhood experiences with an abusive father, Papa has chosen to appear as a mother figure. In fact, all three persons of the Trinity are there. The Son, representing Jesus, is a Middle Eastern man, played by Abraham Aviv Alush, and Sarayu (the Spirit), played by Sumire Matsubara, is represented by a young Asian woman who glows and shines and sometimes just disappears. Although God is represented as three different persons, they act in unison, as one person continues a conversation with Mack that he had earlier with the other person.
The movie deals powerfully with the question of why God allows suffering. Papa, The Son, and Sarayu do not offer easy answers, but they help Mack to get a bigger picture of how God loves, forgives and redeems. For example, when Mack angrily tells Papa that Papa could not be good and allow the Son to suffer on the cross, Papa shows nail scars in her own wrist, and says with tears, “Don’t think that I wasn’t also there when my Son died.” In another scene, Jesus sends Mack on a path to a cave where he meets a female called Wisdom, who lets Mack sit in the judgment seat of God and see what it is like to be a judge, an experience that overwhelms him, reminding him that no human should try to play God, and also hinting at the reason Jesus had to die for our sins. Unfortunately, the emphasis on God’s love is so strong, that a balanced statement about God’s holiness is lacking. God reminds Mack that sin has consequences, but when Mack bluntly asks Papa about God’s wrath, Papa could have said that God is holy and offended by sin, but instead only emphasized God’s goodness and love.
The film quality
This is a quality film production. There are breathtaking nature scenes, scenes filled with color and light, darkness and drama. The music is engaging, but not distracting. The main actors and supporting cast are all convincing in their roles. Octavia Spencer exudes love and kindness as Papa, and Sam Worthington explodes with emotion and pain as Mack. Country singer Tim McGraw does a good job as a supporting actor, playing Mack’s friend, who becomes a narrator of the story.
Comparisons with the book
Fans of the book will probably also like the movie, and some critics of the book may like the movie better than the book. I don’t remember hearing any profanity in the movie, although the book has some profanity. The portrayal of God the Father as a woman is explained sooner and more clearly in the movie than in the book. There were several passages in the book that critics accused of teaching universal salvation (that all people will go to heaven), particularly some conversations Mack had with the persons of the Trinity. Most of those controversial conversations do not occur in the movie, although the movie does repeat the words of Jesus that He is not a “Christian” (which came across as humorous to me both in the book and film.) The movie puts more emphasis on God’s love than on God’s judgment, although it it reminds the viewer that God does make judgments of heaven and hell and that sin does have consequences. After the movie was over, I asked my wife, who has not read the book, if she thought the movie taught universal salvation, and she said, “Not at all.”
Spoiler alert: If you have read the book, you will notice that the movie ends a little differently. It makes the whole encounter at the shack into a visionary dream, and while the book has Mack actually finding his daughter’s body and giving it a proper burial, the movie shows that happening as part of his dream. Then the movie focuses at the end on Mack going to church with his family and having a new faith in God. The movie added the friend as a narrator of the story at the beginning and end, which I thought was a good framing device for the story.
I liked the original book, despite its flaws, but I liked the movie even more. What I like the most is that it deals with the important issues of pain, suffering, the redemption God offers through Jesus Christ. I wept several times as I thought about my own sin and need for forgiveness, and it moved me to want to be more forgiving towards others. My wife commented that the story touches nearly every person at some level in their lives. This film offers a vivid story that can open up discussions with our friends and neighbors about how our hope is found, not in an old rustic shack, but on an old rugged cross.
Unless you have been living in a cave somewhere, you probably already know that Rowan County, Kentucky clerk Kim Davis has been sent to jail by a judge for refusing to issue any marriage license since the Supreme Court imposed same-sex marriage on all 50 states, causing an eruption of opinions on both sides of this issue.
On one side are those who would make her into a martyr for the faith. While I believe the judge could have been far less harsh (a gay couple in Kentucky who acted in civil disobedience in 2013 against the law were only fined one penny), we should remember that Mrs. Davis is not a private citizen; she is a government official who has sworn to uphold the law, and she could have resigned her position and advocated for change as a private citizen.
On the other side are those who mock her as hypocrite, especially since she has been divorced multiple times. This ignores the fact that Mrs. Davis only recently became a Christian in 2011, and her multiple divorces happened before she had a life-changing conversion to Christ. Now she openly acknowledges her sinful past, says that Jesus has changed her life, and she sincerely wants to obey Him now, no matter how hard that may be. That is not hypocrisy; that is honesty and courage.
Much more could be said about it, but Russell Moore has written by far the best blog that I have read on this subject. Please read this link to his blog before making any comments here.
(In the guest blog below, Bobby Braswell reminds Christians of some important truths we need to hear, regarding the re-election of President Obama. Rev. Braswell is the associational missionary of Middle Baptist Association in Sylvania, Georgia, where he ministers to pastors and churches in Screven County, Jenkins County and northern Effingham County. Bobby his wife Frankie (pictured with him here) live in Guyton, Georgia. They have two children: Emma, 22, and J.B., 20. You can read his blog at www.brotherbobbysblog.blogspot.com.)
Watching the returns and waiting to see who will become the next president is about as compelling as TV viewing gets. It’s no secret that millions of Christians went to bed with sour stomachs last night. Many, though I am sure not all, who would identify themselves as social conservatives and followers of Jesus were outspoken in our hopes that the incumbent president would have a new career beginning in January. Since that didn’t happen, what are some appropriate responses to a second term for Barrack Obama?
Pray for the president – 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NKJV) 1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
Preach the Gospel – A concern I have had for some time is that a lot of Christians behave as though getting the “right person” elected is THE ANSWER for America. Hello! It’s not! It never was! God changes people from the inside out. He changes the heart. I am not aware of anything that the government can do that can bring spiritual regeneration to people. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can do that (Titus 3:5). People who have experienced the grace of God through Jesus Christ can be a powerful force for transforming North American culture by radical obediennce to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). That is really the only way that God has ordained to change societies. I want upright legislators and leaders, but if the Gospel is not the focal point of the energy of Christians we will share the largest part of the blame for the disintegration of North American culture (Matthew 5:13-16).
See People through God’s Eyes – I think a less angry, less shrill, less paranoid perspective of our fellow human being would be extraordinarily helpful. It is easy to have a hateful attitude toward people who don’t share our worldview and our faith, but where in Scripture are we given permission to think and act that way? And what is the good in that? The truth about me is that I was a wreck of a person before God’s grace found me, and I still struggle and fail and have absolutely no right to look at anyone else’s failures as being more scandalous or wretched than mine. We are all in the same messed up situation–that is not to minimize sin, or to deny it’s severity–just to say that I don’t belong to God by my right but by His mercy!
Share hope – I woke up today, November 7, 2012 with hope, because God is Great and greatly to be praised (Psalm 48:1)! I woke up determined to have my life count for a great purpose because God is a great God! I woke up today convinced that America’s greatness has more to do with the faithfulness of me and all the other Christians I know and churches they are part of and our obedience to God and commitment to the truth of Gospel than what transpired in the presidential election.
Here are two maps of the USA. The first compares the states that voted for Obama (blue) and Romney (red) in the 2012 presidential election. The second shows states that are very religious (dark green), average (green) and below average in religiosity (light green).
It is interesting that 100% of the “above average” religious states went for Romney, and 14 out of 16 “below average” religious states went for Obama. Exit polls show that people who go to church regularly supported Romney by large margins, and people who never go to church supported Obama by large margins.
Religion was not the only factor in the election, as there were many “average” religious states that went for Romney and two “below average” states (Wyoming and Alaska) that went for Romney. This is because there are two kinds of conservatives: social conservatives and fiscal conservatives. Wyoming and Alaska are definitely independent-minded, fiscally conservative states. But the map does indicate that despite all the focus on the economy in this election, the differences between the candidates on the social issues that religious people care about, especially abortion and traditional marriage, made a huge difference in how people voted.
Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
Often on our television screens when we see pictures of Muslims bowing in submission to Allah. In fact, whenever a Muslim comes into a mosque, he bows with his forehead to the floor to represent his total submission to his God.
There is good reason for this. The Arabic word islam means “submission,” and the word muslim means “one who submits.” I am aware that President Bush and others said that islam means “peace,” but they were incorrect. Look it up in any reference work, and you will see that the word salam means peace, but islam means “submission,” and muslim means “one who submits.”
Now here is my point. We who are followers of Jesus Christ do not think of ourselves as Muslims at all. We do not worship the same God. We believe that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, and they do not.
But Muslims can remind us of at least one thing in our own faith that too many of us have forgotten. The New Testament book of James calls upon believers to come before God in humility, and he says this in James 4:7-8a: “Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”
Muslims call themselves by that name because they submit to Allah. Unfortunately, many followers of Christ have neglected the command of scripture for us to submit to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In a sense, you could say that we need to be “Christian muslims;” that is, believers in Jesus who are willing to do more than just say that they believe in Jesus—they are willing to surrender their lives completely to Jesus.
James explains submission in three basic ways: 1) standing up to the adversary (v. 7 “resist the Devil”), 2) cleaning up our actions (v. 8 “cleanse your hands, and purify your hearts”), and 3) straightening up our attitudes (v. 9 “your laughter must change to mourning”– apparently a reference to laughing at sin).
Pastor Nadarkhani is an inspiring example of a Christian “muslim.” This Christian pastor in Iran was arrested and spent three years in jail for his Christian faith, on trumped-up charges of blasphemy against Islam. Despite threats of execution, he refused to recant his faith in Jesus Christ, and after three years, he was released from prison, thanks to the fervent prayers of millions of Christians and international pressure on Iran.
Few Christians will be asked to submit to Christ in such a dramatic way, but most of us must make hard choices to do what is right, not what is convenient.
It’s hard to be a Christian muslim and totally surrender to God. It’s hard to stand up to the adversary, clean up our actions, and straighten up our attitudes.
Yet God gives us a great promise if we do. Read it in James 4:10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
After all, God is not asking us to do anything that He hasn’t already done in His Son Jesus Christ. As Philippians 2:8-10 says, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow.”
Timothy Keller says, “If you go to Jesus, he may ask of you far more than you originally planned to give, but he can give to you infinitely more than you dared ask or think.” (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, p. 63.)
That is the paradox of submission. The paradox is that if we will bow before God, we can stand up to anything and anybody else. When we submit to God, the Devil can’t beat us and the world can’t defeat us. So how about it, believer? Will you surrender your life totally to God’s will?