As promised, my contribution to the monthly newsletter (and blog) in the coming months will be a (hopefully) thoughtful and (hopefully) useful look into the massive sensation that is The Shack. Last month I wrote, and Chris said from the pulpit, it is essential that we know God and worship God as he has revealed himself. Just as a wife does not feel loved and honored when her husband is completely ignorant of what she loves most about herself so God is not honored and glorified when we proclaim him or, much more, actually put words in his mouth (as The Shack does) in a way that does not truly reflect his nature and character. Husbands don’t get away with telling everyone their wives’ eyes are blue when they’re really green. Similarly, we don’t have the right to go around telling people that God acts one way when, according to Scripture, he does not.
Let’s take a look at and unpack one example straight from the book.
On page 96, the main character (Mack) and God the Father (or “Papa” portrayed as an African-American woman) have this conversation about the crucifixion.”
Papa: “We were there together.”
Mack: “At the cross? Now, wait, I thought you
left him—you know—‘My God, my God, why
hast thou forsaken me?’”
Papa: “You misunderstand the mystery there.
Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I never left him.”
In this section of the book Mack also notices scars on Papa’s wrists, indicating what Papa says above, “We were there [on the cross] together.” Now this is tricky territory. What the author is doing first and foremost is challenging a widely held belief that when Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” that the Father had, in fact, abandoned the Son to the circumstances of the cross. A common way of articulating this view is that God is unable to look upon sin and therefore “turned his face” from Christ as he took on our sin. What’s tricky here is that this particular “common” belief is actually worth attacking. William Young is on the right track for two reasons here.
First, every time God “forsakes” or “turns his face from” someone in all of Scripture there is not so much a sense of abandonment on God’s part but rather a pouring out of wrath or judgment. This fits with what the rest of Scripture says about Christ on the cross. II Corinthians 5:21, is a sufficient example, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.“
Second, if you read Psalm 22 it is evident that when Christ cries out “why have you forsaken me” he is directly quoting the Psalm. The striking thing about the fact that Jesus would quote this Psalm is that it’s not about God abandoning “the afflicted” but rather decisively, intentionally, and radically saving a people for his very own possession for the display and proclamation of his glory. Psalm 22:24, illustrates the point well, “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”
Read Psalm 22 today. You’ll see that when Jesus quotes it, he’s actually announcing his VICTORY at the peak of his suffering. Say it with me…”wow”.
So, The Shack is right when it says that The Father never left the Son at the cross. But that’s where the truth ends and the misdirection begins. The problem with The Shack’s explanation is deeply flawed, not based on any interpretation of the Bible, and perverts the unique and glorious roles of the Trinity in that glorious event. Here’s why.
Take a look at Ephesians 1:3-14. I won’t cite it here for the sake of space so you’ll have to look it up and follow along with me.
You’ll notice that Ephesians 1 assigns quite specific roles to each member of the Trinity in the redemption of mankind. Notice verse 4. Who is doing the “predestination” or “the choosing?” The Father is choosing to love people and save people. What is the nature of this choosing? What are they chosen to? Verse 4 again, “in [Christ]” so that we would be “holy and blameless” in fellowship with God the Father. You’ll notice also the emphasis regarding redemption in v. 7. Through whose blood do we have redemption? According to the Shack it’s the blood of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. According to the Bible we have “redemption through [Christ’s] blood.” The Father chooses and sends the Son. The Son obeys and is sacrificed for our redemption. And how is this all sealed up and applied to us? Verse 13-14, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
I think we get a hint as to why God chose to do things this way in verse 5, (note the emphasis) “he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
There is delight on God’s part in the way he has chosen to redeem mankind and there is delight in each member of the Trinity as they each play their distinct roles. Consequently, his children should be delighted in the revelation of the Father choosing, the Son dying and rising for our sins, and the Spirit’s comforting seal and application of grace. Why does William Young try so explicitly to subvert what God has ordained to be for the praise of his glory? I think at least part of the answer to that question is that he stopped taking the Bible seriously a long time ago. Considering what he’s missed – that’s a tragedy.
Praise God for his glory in the redemption of our souls and our adoption as his children!