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Movie review: “The Shack”

theshackmovie

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 plot
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.
The characters
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 message
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.
Conclusion
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.

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Taking the road less traveled

HollingsworthRoad

 Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

I’m glad that I met some angry dogs on a country road.

This summer, I was going for a walk on a country road where my in-laws live. I have walked that road for years. I know that many of the homes have dogs, so sometimes I carry a stick for protection. That particular day, I brought my pepper spray. Unfortunately, a woman near the end of the road let her dogs chase me. I had to use the pepper spray to keep the dogs away from me. The woman and I exchanged a few words. I’m not really proud of the argument we had.

This fall, I was visiting my in-laws again, and I decided to go for a walk again with a stick and my pepper spray. I don’t enjoy conflict, and even though I thought the “crazy woman with the dogs” was wrong, I had no desire to have another confrontation. Right before I reached her home, there is another road that turns left, so I turned left down that road. I’m so glad that I did. The side road was so beautiful and peaceful that I put away the spray and got out my cell phone to take a picture. At the top of this page is the photograph I took that day. Click on it and you can see how beautiful the view was. It reminded me of the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, which ends with these words:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Through this experience, God showed me a spiritual truth. Sometimes we have trouble in life, and we don’t understand why it comes. It may cause us to go down a different path, a path we did not expect. But often God works through these circumstances to bring about something beautiful and new. We just need to look for it.

We need to listen to the Holy Spirit when He puts up a road block on a path, and be open to going down a new path. Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you; ‘This is the way. Walk in it.'” When we face trouble, we need to trust in a loving God who desires to bring good results out of the bad circumstances, if we will be faithful. As Romans 8:28 says, “God causes all things to work together for good to those that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”

I regret that I had the conflict that sent me down a different road. I’m even embarrassed that I let myself get into a senseless argument with a woman over her dogs. But, like Robert Frost, I’m glad that the conflict I had on that road opened up a new road I would otherwise have never seen. How about you?

How do I develop patience with difficult people?

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience…” Galatians 5:22

patience You have probably heard the saying, “I like my church (job, family, or fill in the blank with whatever else) it’s the people I can’t stand!” No wonder we say, “Patience is a virtue.”

When studying the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), people generally agree that one of the most difficult characteristics to develop in our lives is patience. There are two different words for patience in the original Greek language of the New Testament; one word means patience with circumstances, and the other means patience with people. The word used in Galatians 5:22 means patience with people; thus the 2011 revision of the New International Version translates it “forbearance.”

It may be easy to be patient with kind, sweet people. But how do I develop patience with people who try my patience? Here are some guidelines from other scripture:

1) I must remember that I am a recipient of Christ’s mercy, and follow His example. First Timothy 1:16 reminds me, “But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” Yes, the starting point of patience with others is to remember how Christ is patient with me. I am a sinner deserving Hell, but God patiently called me to faith, and He continues to work with me and develop me, even as I struggle and fall along the way. Since Christ has set this example for me, I should be motivated to follow His example, as a testimony to the gospel.

2) I must help those who are struggling with weaknesses. Romans 15:1 says, “Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.” If I am strong in a certain area of my life, I must be patient with those who are weak and struggle in that area. We have a tendency to be patient with those who have the same struggles we have. God calls us to be patient with those who are weak where we are strong. After all, they may be strong in another area where we are weak, and we will desire that same patience from them.

3) I must not keep a scorecard. In the love chapter, Paul says, “Love is patient… is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). If I keep score of how many times I’ve been wronged by another person, I am much more likely to snap and lose it. I must ditch the scorecard.

4) I must accept people as they are, not as I want them to be. Ephesians 4:2 says, “With patience, accepting one another in love.” Colossians 3:12-13 says, “Put on… patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another…”  My irritation with others is often a result of unfair and unrealistic images that I project on others. While I want others to do better, I must decide that I will love and accept them as they are now. It helps to remember that I want others to love me with my faults, as well.

5) I must not quarrel. Second Timothy 2:24-25 says, “The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness.” Notice that this passage does not say that we cannot disagree. It is in the context of talking to opponents, people with whom we disagree, that the scripture commands patience and gentleness. We must learn to disagree calmly, without raising our voices, and without attacking the other person.

6) I must be quick to hear and slow to speak. James 1:19 commands, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” It is human nature for me to not truly listen to what another person is saying to me, because I am focusing on what I will say in reply. I would display patience and avoid many unnecessary quarrels if I would slow down, focus on what the other person is saying, and then reflect on what I heard before I said a word. Whenever I practice this communication tool, I am allowing the spiritual nature to rule over the human nature.

I’m praying daily to bear more of this fruit of the Spirit. Please be patient with me as this fruit ripens in my life. How about you?

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Does the Bible say ghosts are real?

ghostCopyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
I received the following question from a man named Jason:
[My wife] came home telling me that somehow at work they got in the conversation about ghosts and whether Christians believe they are real or not. Can you help me with this? And can you provide me with specific scripture?
Here’s my answer:
The King James Version translates “Holy Spirit” as “Holy Ghost,” because in the English language four hundred years ago, the words “ghost” and “spirit” meant the same thing. However, today, we associate the word “ghost” with a shadowy image of a dead person coming back to haunt people, whereas the Bible is referring to the unseen living person of God when scripture calls Him the “Holy Spirit.”

Regarding the modern idea of ghosts, we read in I Samuel 28 that King Saul consults a medium and asks her to bring up the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel to speak to him, and she does! But the Bible strongly condemns mediums and witchcraft (see Leviticus 19:31). In fact, the first part of 1 Samuel 28 mentions that King Saul had banished the mediums and spiritists from Israel, but then violated his own law to try to bring back the ghost of Samuel. So yes, it is real, but it is satanic and should be avoided. Delving in ghosts leads people into dangerous territory. Instead, we should be consulting God’s word, not spirits of the dead. Isaiah 8:19 warns, “When they say to you, ‘Consult the spirits of the dead’… shouldn’t a people consult their God?”