The Shack is a motion picture being released on March 3, 2017. It has a Christian message, yet some Christians are calling the movie heresy. What’s going on?
The movie is based on the bestseller of the same name by William Paul Young. It is a deeply emotional story about why God allows suffering. The main character, Mack, gets a note from God, asking him to return to the shack where his young daughter had been murdered. Mack goes, and finds answers to his questions and doubts about God’s goodness. Sounds inspiring, doesn’t it? Then why the controversy?
Negative elements in the book
Many people are bothered by the portrayal of the Trinity in the book. God the Father appears as a black woman who goes by the name “Papa,” Jesus appears as a Middle Eastern man, and the Holy Spirit appears as an Asian woman named Sarayu (Sanskrit for “wind”) whom you can see through. Although they appear as three persons, they are shown as completely one, as they answer Mack in unison from time to time, and whenever he has a conversation with one of them, they always continue the conversations he had with the others. “Papa” reminds Mack that God is spirit, and since Mack had a poor relationship with his own father, he chose to reveal himself to Mack as a woman to get around his resistance. In fact, (spoiler warning: don’t read this next statement if you don’t want to know too much about the novel’s plot…) at the end of the book, after Mack is reconciled to his own father, “Papa” appears to Mack as a man.
Some people will be put off by a few uses of profanity in the book in the dialogue. There is one use of S.O.B., and a few other milder profanities spoken mostly in passages where the speaker is angry.
The most troubling part of the book occurs on page 182. Jesus is talking to Mack, and he says, “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions…” At this point, Jesus appears to be teaching universalism, that everybody will be saved. It appears that Jesus is saying that He has taken people from any background and transformed them. Notice the next words that William Young has “Jesus” speak:
“…I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some were bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.”
“‘Does that mean,’ asked Mack, ‘that all roads will lead to you?’
‘Not at all,’ smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. ‘Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.'”
Perhaps this is universalism, or perhaps it means that Jesus is the only way, but He will do what it takes to reach us. The only thing that is clear is that it is left unclear.
Positive elements in the book
The book does a beautiful job of showing that following Jesus is more a matter of relationship than religion. It illustrates how suffering cannot be understood because we cannot understand all of God’s purposes, thus we simply must trust God.
(Spoiler warning: skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know too much of the plot…) Perhaps the most powerful part of the book is when Mack is asked to “play God” and decide which three of his children will go to hell and which two will go to heaven. Mack’s reaction to this awful choice helps him see how God works through suffering.
There are several good quotations in the book:
“Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” (p. 185)
God says, “I am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a being verb.” (p. 204)
God says, “Forgiveness is about forgetting, Mack. It is about letting go of another person’s throat.” (p. 224)
This is a review of The Shack, the book. I have not yet seen the movie, so bear in mind that the movie could be better or worse. I plan to see the movie, and write a follow-up review of the actual film.
Should you go see the movie, assuming it is similar to the book? If you or those with you will be confused and upset by profanity, unorthodox depictions of God, and implications of universal salvation, then don’t go. If you feel that you can look past these matters to get an inspiring message of how God works through suffering, then you may want to go. Despite it’s negative elements, it can be an opportunity to discuss how we ultimately find hope not in the shack, but in the cross.
Are you ticked off? Angry? Has something made you hot under the collar? In John 9, the Bible tells the story of how Jesus healed a man who was born blind, but instead of people celebrating, he got nitpickers, wound lickers, goodness sakers… and finally, an arm waver. Compare your own attitude with theirs:
1. Nitpickers (John 9:14-16)
The Pharisees nitpicked about how Jesus supposedly “worked” on the Sabbath because he made some mud with His saliva, touched a blind man’s eyes, and healed him. The Jewish Mishnah did not allow kneading dough on the Sabbath, and so in their minds, what Jesus did qualified as a violation. Never mind that a blind man could now see! Nitpickers love to burst the balloons of our celebrations, observing at a wedding that the bride needs to lose weight, criticizing a child for not making all A’s on his report card, complaining about the songs we sing at church. Don’t be a nitpicker!
2. Wound lickers (John 9:18-19)
The Pharisees could not leave well enough alone. They summoned the man’s parents to know if he was really born blind and how he received his sight. They wanted to expose some imaginary wrong. Wound lickers refuse to let others or themselves heal. The husband who always brings up his wife’s past mistakes, the woman who says after a divorce that she will never trust a man again, or the church member who says he’ll never go back to the church because nobody called when he was sick, are all examples of wound lickers. Scarred by emotional wounds, we cannot heal if we continue to lick them and gnaw at them. Don’t be a wound licker!
3. Goodness sakers (John 9:28)
Finally, the Pharisees crossed their arms, and looked down their noses, ridiculing Jesus and the man He healed. They said, “We know that God has spoken to Moses. But this man– we don’t know where He’s from!” Ray Stevens had a humorous song, “Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” with a character named Sister Bertha Better-than-You. Unfortunately, there are a lot of sisters and brothers like Bertha in our churches, putting their hands on their hips and declaring, “For goodness sake, who let those people in here?” Being a goodness saker is the greatest temptation of church members, and it is the biggest turnoff to the lost. For goodness sake, don’t be a goodness saker!
4. Arm wavers (John 9:38)
It’s stunning that this story is almost over before somebody finally celebrates. The arm waver is the man who was healed of blindness. It progressively comes to him throughout the chapter, as he realized just who Jesus is. He calls Jesus a “man” (v. 11), then a “prophet” (v. 17), then recognizes Jesus as a life changer (v. 25), then a “man from God” (v. 33), and finally he calls Him “Lord” (v. 38) and does a full body wave, worshiping at Jesus’ feet. He challenges the nitpickers and goodness sakers, reminding them that nobody in history has healed a man born blind. He declared, “Whether or not He’s a sinner, I don’t know. One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I can see!” (v. 25).
How we need arm wavers. These are the people who cheer for their child’s Little League team when they down by ten runs, and praise the grandchildren for their creative coloring (even though they colored on the wall). They are the ones who jump up and shout when someone trusts in Christ and is baptized. In heaven, nobody will be nit picking (“I don’t like my mansion”), wound licking (“I see your husband didn’t make it”), or goodness saking (“I’ve got a better mansion than you”), but all will be arm waving before the throne of God. So if that’s what we’ll do in heaven, why don’t we live like that on earth?
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
“Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” (Job 2:10, HCSB)
Last week, I met a man who wanted to give up on life. I asked him if he knew the story of Job, from the Bible. He said he had a Bible somewhere, but had never heard of Job. So I gave him the short version of the story: Job was a good man who worshiped God, but he lost everything. Bandits stole his property, a storm killed his children, and then his skin broke out in painful sores. His wife told him, “Curse God and die.” When I said this, my new friend raised his eyebrows, and wanted to know what happened next. I explained that Job refused to curse God. Then his three friends came to comfort him, but instead of comforting him, they tried to defend God. They said Job must have sinned, and that was why God was allowing him to suffer. Job objected, saying he didn’t deserve his suffering. In the end, God spoke to Job, and restored his fortunes.
The wrong question to ask of Job
Many people go to the book of Job looking for the answer to why people suffer. Unfortunately, the only answers they find are negative:
Job’s suffering was not because God was angry or punishing him. Bildad, one of Job’s friends, accused him of this. He implied that Job must have forgotten God, so God forgot him (Job 8:13). But Bildad was wrong! God specifically said in Job 1:8 and 2:3, “Have you considered My servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil.”
Job’s suffering was not because Job sinned. Bildad said that Job’s children died because of their sin (8:3), and Zophar, another one of Job’s friends, accused Job himself of being so sinful that “God has chosen to overlook some of your sins” (11:6). But they were wrong! Job 2:10 says, “Throughout all of this Job did not sin in what he said.”
Job’s suffering was not answered by God, either. After the long debates between Job and his friends, the Lord Himself answered Job from the whirlwind in chapters 38-41. But if you read those chapters to find an answer to suffering, you will be disappointed. It’s not there. Instead, God turns the questions on those who have been asking questions. “Where were you when I established the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding,” God asks (38:4). Then the Lord lists the amazing traits of His creation, and asks if Job can explain all of that. The point is blunt: We do not know all there is to know. Only God does. We cannot understand God. As the Lord proclaimed through the prophet Isaiah, “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
So what is the answer to suffering? The Book of Job doesn’t answer that question. In fact, it’s the wrong question to ask.
The right question to ask of Job
The question to ask is not, Why is there suffering? The question to ask is, What do suffering people need to do? The Book of Job has hope-filled answers to this question.
First, hold on to faith. Despite his losses and sorrow, Job fell to the ground and worshiped, saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of Yahweh” (1:21). Later, in the middle of his debates with his friends, Job says, “Even if He kills me, I will hope in Him.” This doesn’t fit with the so-called “prosperity gospel” that says if you just have faith, all will go well. No, this is a real-world faith, that holds on to God’s hand, even when it cannot see His plan.
Second, live in integrity. Satan, the old accuser before the Lord, said that Job would curse God if Job suffered. But Satan was wrong. This is one of the major points of the book. The word “integrity” is repeatedly used to describe Job. Notice the question Job’s wife asks: “Do you still retain your integrity? Curse God and die!” (2:9) But Job rejects her suggestion as foolish, saying, “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” (2:10) We read in James 2:2-4 to consider it joy when we face trials, because God uses it to produce maturity in us. It has been my observation as a hospital chaplain, that suffering generally reveals the attitude that is already in a person. I’ve seen people handle horrible physical problems with grace and peace, while others with lesser physical ailments complain and are bitter. We choose how we will respond. Job set a standard, choosing to live in integrity.
Third, hope in the Savior. One of the greatest cries of faith comes in the midst of the greatest pain, when Job says, “Even now my witness is in heaven, and my advocate is in the heights!… But I know my living Redeemer, and He will stand on the dust at last. Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh” (16:19; 19:25-26). Long before Jesus Christ came, Job caught a vision of the Redeemer, who would die on the cross for our sins, and be our advocate before God the Father (Romans 8:34; 1 Timothy 2:5).
There is an fable about a poor man who had a valuable horse. People told him that he should sell his horse, so he wouldn’t be poor, but he refused. Then the horse ran away, and the people asked, “Why didn’t you sell it when you could? The man said, “Don’t say that. All you can say is the horse ran away.” Later, the horse returned, with 20 wild horses, and the man suddenly became the owner of 21 valuable horses. This time they said, “We were wrong! Now we know why the horse ran away; it was to bring you riches later.” The man said, “Don’t say that. All you can say is the horse returned with more horses.” Then the man’s son broke his leg, trying to tame one of the wild horses. The people said, “Why did you keep the wild horses? Now your son has a broken leg.” The man said, “Don’t say that. All you can say is my son broke his leg.” Then their country went to war against a larger, more powerful nation, and the army came to their town, forcing all of the young men to join the army, except for the son of the man with the wild horses. The people said, “Now we know why his leg was broken, to spare him from dying in the war.” Once again, the man said, “Don’t say that. We don’t know why. All we can say is my son did not have to go to war.”
Thus the question we need to ask is not why? but what? Not, Why do people suffer? but What do suffering people need to do? Even if we knew the answer to why, it would not help us do anything different. But the answer to the second question gives us hope and purpose that we can put into action. Because our Redeemer lives, we even after our skin is destroyed, we shall see God!
Article copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
Fifteen years ago, on September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked America, flying hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and Washington, D.C. The evil intentions of hijackers on a third plane that day is unknown, because brave passengers resisted the hijackers and forced it to crash in Pennsylvania.
When tragedies like this happen, the inevitable question is, “Why?” Amazingly, Jesus Christ asked the same question as he was dying upon the cross, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34) It is in that very question of Jesus that we can find helpful answers.
He absorbed our evil by His love. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they unleashed a Pandora’s Box of evil that impacts us to this day. But upon the cross, Jesus absorbed that evil, by lovingly sacrificing Himself. The apostle Paul put it this way: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends” (John 15:13).
He empowered us to overcome evil by faith. Jesus’ sacrifice inspires us to identify with Christ by faith, and moves us to action ourselves. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Thus Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
He heals the hurt of evil by giving hope. The greatest medicine for healing is not penicillin or aspirin– it’s hope. During World War II, psychologist Viktor Frankl studied the lives of people who survived Nazi concentration camps, and found the survivors were those who had hope. The Bible says, “For in hope we have been saved” (Romans 8:24); “This hope we have as an anchor for the soul” (Hebrews 6:19); “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Colossians 1:5).
Louie Zamperini was an American aircraft gunman in World War II, whose plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean. He and his friends floated across the ocean for a month, losing half of their body weight and nearly going insane, only to be captured by the Japanese. Because Zamperini had been a famous Olympic runner, the Japanese treated him with particular cruelty, beating him mercilessly. His story was made famous in the 2014 movie, Unbroken. But Hollywood only hinted at the rest of the story. After his return from war, Louie Zamperini suffered so much post-traumatic stress that he fell into despair and addiction. Then a young preacher named Billy Graham held a revival in his home in Los Angeles. At the urging of his wife, Louie went. Graham stood and asked, “Why is God silent when good men suffer?” He reminded the audience that God sends us messages through creation and through Christ that He cares for us. Zamperini remembered seeing a swirl of light in the sky when he was floating across the Pacific, awed by God’s creation. He listened as Graham talked about the good news of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin, and that day, Zamperini found hope in Christ. For the rest of his life, Louie Zamperini followed Christ. He founded a ranch to offer hope to troubled boys, and he even traveled to Japan to forgive his prison captain.
Louie Zamperini found the answer to “Why” in the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So can you and I.
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:
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?
David took Goliath’s life with a stony missile and a conquered sword. Those are the tools of the trade we associate with his victory. But his first step in winning the battle was winning the war of words. “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted.” (1 Sam 17:45) And there were two more weapons with David that day. Those sticks didn’t escape Goliath’s attention, so they shouldn’t escape mine. David’s rod and staff? The same rod and staff of Psalm 23:4? Maybe David carried them to battle for comfort, a tangible reminder of the Good Shepherd who counts, rescues, and protects His own. Today they remind me that our battle with cancer is not fought on one plane with one weapon alone. In the same way a shepherd numbers his sheep as each passes beneath the rod, He numbers the very hairs on Maggie’s head and bids us not to fear (Luke 12:7). And with the staff, He searches and rescues me from the end of my own path. With such a Shepherd, my valley of darkest shadows becomes my place of deepest trust and sweetest victory.
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
“I am pinned and wriggling on the wall.” – T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Oh! Beastly burdened groan
Piercing pain in my side
Blood dribbling from my mouth.
I shot the arrow and missed the mark
Boomerang cutting back at me
I am pinned and wriggling on the wall.
Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?
The incomprehensible creature comes
To pull our arrows out
But what will it be like?
I have grown accustomed to chopped flesh
No! I will keep my arrow
How else can I keep close contact with the wall?
(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
I was comfortable in a dark closet
Thinking dark thoughts
Doing dark deeds.
Then a brilliant burst of light revealed
That I’m in a closet of mirrors
I see my ugly, naked body everywhere
I cannot escape in any direction
Every wall is a mirror.
Outsiders can see me through the mirror
But I cannot see them
I wonder what they think and what they see
But I can only see me—
The one person I do not want to see.
I want to cover myself
But I have nothing.
I want to drive a nail through the mirror
But I have nothing.
I fall to my knees, curl into a tiny ball
Wailing, whining, whimpering.
Oh, God, kill me! I have nothing! I need you!
Softly a nail falls by my side, skipping on the glass
Then two…three…ten…fifty…a hundred…
Nails crash down, crack open
Cutting me — and covering me.
But now I have something
I have a covering—a covering of rusty nails.
And the mirror is broken at last.
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When Will I Stop Hurting? Dealing with a Recent Death by June Cerza Kolf is one of the most helpful, compassionate books I have read to comfort someone who is grieving. As a pastor, I have given several resources to people to help them with the grieving process. A church member who had lost her mother told me that this book was even more helpful to her than what I had given her, so I had to read it myself. Now I see why. Kolf writes as someone who not only understands the grief process, but has experienced it herself. She has a wonderful balance of encouragement and specific, practical advice. It is a resource that a grieving person will want to keep nearby to refer to again and again, and share with others.
The book is divided into three chapters: The Wound, The Flood, and the Rainbow. The first chapter, “The Wound,” explains the hurt and feelings of grief. Grieving readers will find themselves saying, “Yep, that’s me.” Yet they will find it comforting to see how what they are experiencing is normal, and they are not going crazy.
The second chapter, “The Flood,” explains the stages of grief and gives practical advice about making decisions and taking care of oneself through that process.
The third chapter, “The Rainbow,” is an inspiring and practical explanation of how one let’s go of grief and moves on in life.
There is an appendix that gives nearly 20 exercises with a “To Do” list to handle guilt, crying, loss of sleep, remembering your loved one, etc.
However, as good as this book is, I feel that Kolf could have strengthened the book with comforting scripture. She does mention two Bible verses, and talks about God throughout the book. On page 41, she gently recommends “a divine friend who loves me no matter what…This friend, Jesus, is available to everyone through prayer.” Since she chose to mention her faith, she could have strengthened this by citing scripture such as Jesus’ words about being with us and preparing a place in heaven (John 14:1-6), Paul’s words about finding comfort in God by comforting others (2 Corinthians 1:6), or Kind David’s beloved Shepherd’s Psalm, Psalm 23. I have seen people physically relax upon hearing the Twenty-third Psalm. Scriptures such as these could make this wonderful, helpful book even more “hope-ful” to the grieving reader.
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Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
There was an event in the life of Jesus Christ that can show us how to express our emotions. After His last supper with His disciples, just before Jesus went to the cross, the Gospels record that He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Mark 14:33 records that Jesus was “deeply distressed and troubled.” Verse 34 records that He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” When He went to pray, He staggered to the ground. Luke 22:44 says as He prayed, He sweat great drops like blood. He was in incredible agony as He faced dying on the cross for the sins of the world. Jesus expresses extreme emotion in this passage, and He also models for us how to express our own emotion.
Jesus does not hide His emotion. Some people, especially men, try to suppress their emotions. We are told that “big boys don’t cry” and so when we get upset, we try to keep it under control. Especially when we experience the death of a loved one, witness something traumatic, and get very bad news, we often try to cope with it by containing our emotions. Some people suppress emotions by avoiding the subject, others joke around and watch happy movies and comedies on TV, while others turn to alcohol or narcotics. The problem is, that the emotion is still there. If you push it down when it tries to rise to the top, guess what? Your emotion stays deep inside you, and continues to do damage to you. You may develop depression, or physical sickness, and you may suddenly erupt with anger at the slightest thing.
So what should we do? We cannot ignore our emotions. We need to find healthy ways to express them. You will notice that Jesus went to a Gethsemane with only three of His disciples. It was there, in a quiet place with a small group of friends, that He told them of His emotional pain. Then, He went farther from them to pour out His heart in prayer to God.
This is a healthy pattern for us to follow. Find a quiet place, and at the right time, open yourself up to trusted friends, and let them know about your pain. Then you may need to weep over the matter alone. Crying can be an incredibly helpful release, particularly when it is done in private, where we have no inhibitions about who is watching us.
Don’t bottle up your emotions. Jesus was a man’s man, a carpenter who not only nailed nails but was able to take the nails for you and me. Yet He expressed His emotions when He was overwhelmed with sorrow. So can we.