I recently watched the movie "The Shack" with my wife. I've never read the novel that this movie is taken from, and so my comments are based purely on the content of the movie itself, and not any specific passages from the book. Since any excerpts from the book that I might take theological issue with do NOT appear to be in the movie, it doesn’t deter my appreciation for the fact that this can be a great springboard into many useful conversations about God and how He works in our lives.
I was actually quite pleased that, for once, a mainstream movie with a “Christian” theme didn’t have the bulk of its message watered down to fit into a Hollywood agenda. The themes of “why God allows bad things to happen to good people,” “dealing with the guilt and shame of our sinful behavior,” “mans’ judgment of man – including himself,” “trusting God,” “forgiveness,” and “letting go of our shame and guilt” are dealt with creatively and unapologetically. I was moved and inspired as the main character stumbled his way through the process of pain, anger, guilt, shame, confusion, trust, forgiveness and healing.
But I’ve noticed that some Evangelical and Catholic leaders have taken to the Internet and Social media to denounce the book, its author, and now the movie, for what they see as heretical theology – and are urging “good church folk” to boycott the movie. They’re primary sticking points appear to be the portrayal of God as a woman, the Trinity portrayed as three “individuals,” the Holy Spirit portrayed with a Hindu name, God being absolutely non-judgmental, and the concept that “sin as its own punishment” fits more into the Eastern concept of karma.
As much as the Church insists we want the world to know (above all else) that God loves them – and the fact that Jesus said the world will know us by our love for each other – Church leaders continually criticize any attempt made to portray that love outside of a strict adherence to how God is portrayed in scripture. This begs the question: what’s more important to us - that the main character in a movie (a visual parable that utilizes metaphors) encounter God in the same fashion as Moses did – a burning bush with a male voice . . . or the reality that God can (and does) communicate with us within the context of our life experiences (?): when Mack is surprised to see God as a woman, God explains that it seemed the best way to initially present him/her self, considering Mack’s past.
In his book, Credible Christianity, Hugh Montefiore responds to the notion that God is “male” this way: “The very question verges on the absurd.... God exists eternally, and in the eternal sphere there is no sexual differentiation. God has no gender. He is neither male nor female.” And Steve Singleton concluded in his article “Is God Female?”: “God is not male or female. God is God. Do you hear the answer which God gave to Moses on the mountain when Moses asked, ‘Who are you?’ God said, ‘I am that I am!’” It’s important to remember that one of the biggest temptations of any human being is to anthropomorphize God. We want to talk sensibly about God, and we naturally do so in language that describes God relative to us. But even throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus challenging these deep seated patriarchal assumptions that were born out of this flaw.
Our being made in the image of God has nothing to do with physical characteristics. Genesis 1:26-27 reads: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Man and woman are only patterned after the image of God – we’re not “copies” of God. In fact, in the Hebrew language, in the Old Testament, the divine presence of God (the Holy Spirit, or Shekhinah) is actually feminine. So, enough with the indignation over God being portrayed as a women.
Those protesting the movie’s theology seem to have lost sight of something else as well: what this story is NOT about. The themes of this movie do NOT include “Gods’ salvation,” “Gods’ judgment of sin,” or “heaven versus hell.” The story allows us to witness one mans’ journey (a man who’s already responded to Gods’ salvation) out of guilt and shame into a deeper relationship with God through trust, forgiveness, and healing. And in doing so, he heals his family as well. Isn’t THIS the story all Christians are supposed to be sharing with those around us? Isn’t how God works in our own lives intended to be the narrative we use to expose the world to His love, grace, mercy and salvation? Why is there such demand that the story of one (fictitious) mans’ spiritual journey must include some reference to “The Four Spiritual Laws,” a (solely) masculine God, and a sermon on the wages of sin resulting death?
This preoccupation some have with insisting that any artistic effort attempting to share an aspect of who God is, must declare all aspects of God within a strict biblical framework – lest it be deemed “unworthy” – remind me very much of the Pharisees that Jesus warned. “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” – Matt 23:4. What really draws mankind to the Gospel: the love, mercy and grace of God exposed through the lives of those who follow Him, or the preachers’ ability to dissect and translate the finer points of eschatology?
Look at how Jesus dealt with the criminal being crucified next to Him in Luke 23:39-43. He didn’t walk him through all his past sins and make sure he was repentant before He invited him into Paradise. He didn’t protest that the man would have to go back and make restitution with everyone he committed all his criminal acts against first. Jesus didn’t walk him through the "Four Spiritual Laws" to insure he understood the decision he was making. This criminal didn’t even say the “magic words” that all Christians are taught to say when they accept Christ as Savior. All he said was “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” No clear acknowledgement of his sins. No confession of repentance. No “I’m sorry.” No restitution. No satisfaction for his victims that Jesus judged him unworthy. Can you imagine the scathing critique a movie made about THIS story would elicit from these same Church leaders?!?
Instead of picking at the theology of this movie, wouldn’t we all be better served to take advantage of the broader theme, and use it as a starting point for conversations that discuss the reality of how God can (and does) meet us at our deepest need within the context of our individual lives and history?