This weekend I saw the much talked about movie, The Shack. I have read a few reviews of the book and the film and listened to numerous critiques, some offered by people I know and respect. The consensus among them seems to be that Christians ought to enjoy the book or movie as good fiction but not rely on it to teach theology.
As a person with two academic degrees in theology I’m inclined to agree. But as a recovering addict I couldn’t disagree more.
One of the most profound struggles of my life is accepting two fundamental truths:
- That God is good and can be trusted with every facet of my life, and
- That God loves me deeply and completely, just as I am in the midst of my mess, not as some “better” version of me.
As an addict I struggle mightily with trusting that God is enough to fill the void that would be left without my compulsion. Can God be trusted with my pain, my fears, my loneliness, my secrets? Can I trust God to supply my every need when my addiction is readily available at any time I please? Can I trust that God has something infinitely better in store for me if I surrender my will and my life over to God’s care? If I jump off that cliff, will God catch me?
My unbelief that God is good causes me to question whether God could really love someone like me. Can God really love an addict who has promised so many times to clean up yet ran back to the pig sty again and again? Can God truly love someone who has caused the sort of pain I have caused in my life and the lives of countless others? Why should I believe God’s love is without conditions when most everyone else in my life has reached their limit with me when I was at my worst?
The Shack, and Christian theology, answers: because God’s love and character are unlike any person I have ever known. I forget this with the frequency of a rising sun. It’s why The Shack is a vital part of my ongoing recovery because it reminded me of the things my academic degrees and my disease far too often obscure.
I want to highlight three quotes from the movie which spoke to me at such a personal, profound level, silencing, in my mind, any and all critiques.
At one point in the movie, Mackenzie is led to the place of his greatest pain, the place where his daughter was murdered. He asks, “Why here?” Papa, or God the Father, answers, “Because this is where you got stuck.”
Pain is a universal part of life, a truth the movie strives to convey. A mentor of mine says often that pain left unattended will attend to everything in my life. The Shack did a beautiful job at reminding me that God is not interested in platitudes, or just sucking it up and forgetting about the past, but is invested in my life, desiring to join me where the pain is the greatest so that he can heal my wounds and lead me towards life.
The second quote came when Papa explained why “he” was revealing himself to Mack as a woman. “I didn’t think you could handle a father right now.” This is important because at the beginning of the movie we learn Mack had been abused by his earthly father.
The reason this spoke to me is because God is always meeting me where I am. I don’t always see it for that in the moment, but looking back I can see countless ways in which God has presented herself to me in ways that I can handle or in ways that I need. God has come to me as a friend, a sponsor, a program, a step, a kind word or a good deed, and yes, even this movie.
I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words, that he became all things to all people in order that he might win some to the good news of Christ (1 Cor. 9:22). I think Paul had a revelation of what God was like. If God is willing to become all things to all people in order that she might save some than I am more likely to improve my conscious contact with God on a daily basis (Step 11), believing in my bones that at any given moment I may be entertaining angels (Heb. 13:2). Furthermore, when I believe God is at work in all the world, seeking the lost and healing the wounded, I’m more inclined to offer grace and acceptance to those who see things differently from me today or who are being met by God in ways different from my own.
The last quote that spoke to me is the great truth I need to hear most. While Mack and the Holy Spirit are working in a garden filled with weeds and rocks, Spirit describes it as, “Wild, wonderful, and perfectly in process. This mess is you.”
Wild. Wonderful. Perfectly in process. That is me. I’m not perfect. I never will be perfect. But I am in process. And I am loved fully and completely in the midst of that mess and process. I don’t need to be some better version of myself to be accepted by God. This is the great truth that can defeat the great lie my addiction whispers to me daily.
I found myself weeping throughout The Shack because God used it to remind me that God is with me in my pain, that God will always meet me wherever I am in ways I need and can handle, and that God loves me furiously as her wild, wonderful and perfectly in process child.
The two things I struggle most to believe – that God is good and that God loves me completely just as I am – found faith and hope in The Shack. I need to spend more time with Papa in the shacks of my past, and I’m convinced that God used this movie to help this recovering addict to move along in my process. I call that a gift. I call it good fruit.