The Shack (2007) Highlights

Recently I’d done a review (sorta?) of The Shack by WM. Paul Young. If you’ve read that much larger post, you’d understand I have a lot of thoughts about the book, and thus highlights. The early chapters had many paragraph-long sweet spots. After chapter five these disappear, sadly.

Below will be examples of the good, the fun, and the bad.

The Good

I’ll applaud his thoughtful observation on snow day culture, because here in Ohio, we just ended the snowy season ourselves. The moral latitude he lays – don’t harm children – is one we should all agree with. Humbling yourself is a concept new to me. There’s a couple good reminders that responsibility is power and that it shouldn’t be abused. Topped of with a libertarian’s nightmare – no rules?

There is something joyful about storms that interrupt routine. Snow or freezing rain suddenly releases you from expectations, performance demands, and the tyranny of appointments and schedules. And unlike illness, it is largely a corporate rather than individual experience. One can almost hear a unified sign rise from the nearby city and surrounding countryside where Nature has intervened to give respite to the weary humans slogging it out within her purview. All those affected this way are united by a mutual excuse, and the heart is suddenly and unexpectedly a little giddy. There will be no apologies needed for not showing up to some commitment or other. Everyone understands and shares in this singular justification, and the sudden alleviation of the pressure to produce makes the heart merry.

Even commonplace activities become extraordinary. Routine choices become adventures and are often experienced with a sense of heightened clarity.

It seemed that all who spoke, regardless of their point of view, were deeply affected by the situation. Something in the hearts of most human beings simply cannot abide pain inflicted on the innocent, especially children. Even broken men serving in the worst correctional facilities will often first take out their own rage on those who have caused suffering to children. Even in such a world of relative morality, causing harm to a child is still considered absolutely wrong.

You don’t play a game or color a picture with a child to show your superiority. Rather, you choose to limit yourself so as to facilitate and honor that relationship.

Relationships are never about power, and one way to avoid the will to hold power over another is to choose to limit yourself – to serve.

Lies are a little fortress; inside them, you can feel safe and powerful. Through your little fortress of lies you try to run your life and manipulate others. But the fortress needs walls, so you build some. These are just justifications for your lies. … Whatever works, just so you feel okay about the lies.

Paradigms power perception and perception power emotions. Most emotions are responses to perception – what you think is true about a given situation. If your perception is false, then your emotional response to it will be false too. So check your perceptions, and beyond that check the truthfulness if your paradigms – what you believe. Just because you believe something firmly doesn’t make it true. Be willing to reexamine what you believe. The more you live in the truth, the more your emotions will help you see clearly.

[Law] grants you the power to judge others and feel superior to them. You believe you are living to a higher standard than those you judge. Enforcing rules, especially in more subtle expressions like responsibility and expectation, is a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty. … Rules cannot bring freedom; they have only the power to accuse.

The Fun

Every so often the The Shack likes to have a fun poke at itself. God “borrowing” a recipe from the main character’s dead relative and feeding it him is a strange mixture of levity and macabre. From left field, he focuses on something else which gave me a laugh.

And although I’ve never smoked, the stoner logic of “if anything is important then everything is important.” is not lost on me.

“It’s a recipe I borrowed from your own great-great-grandma. Made it from scratch too.” She grinned.

Mack wasn’t sure what “made it from scratch” might mean when God was saying it and decided to leave well enough alone.

If anything matters then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important.

The Bad

Eye roll inducing; everything is all so very convenient. It’s a story, yes, but it doesn’t have to be a badly told one. These next sections ought to have been left out for having sewn the seeds of doubt in this/the reader by giving the main character metanarrative-sight far too late into the book. Kind of a mood killer.

“Obviously you know about my daughter’s fascination with waterfalls and especially the legend of the Multnomah princess.”

Papa [God] nodded.

“Is that what this is about? Did she have to die so you could change me?”

“Whoa there, Mack.” Papa leaned forward. “That’s not how I do things.”

“But she loved that story so much.”

“Of course she did. That’s how she came to appreciate what Jesus did for her and the whole race. Stories about a person willing to exchange his or her life for another’s are a golden thread in your world, revealing both your need and my heart.”

“But if she hadn’t died, I wouldn’t be here right now…”

“Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t even assume that my using something means I caused it or that I needed it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.”

“Actually that’s a relief. I couldn’t bear to think that my pain might have cut her life short.”

“… My love is a lot bigger than your stupidity.” Papa [God] said with a wink. “I used your choices to work perfectly into my purposes. There are many folk like you… Who end up locking themselves into a very small place with a monster that will ultimately betray them, that will not fill or deliver what they thought it would. Imprisoned with such a terror, they once again have the opportunity to return to me.” …

“So you use pain to force people back to you?” It was obvious Mack didn’t approve.

Afterthoughts

These highlights weren’t necessarily intended to make you want to read the book yourself. There’s very little to find here. But what was, is gold.