Meeting God at the Shack II: What is the “Shack”?

[My book on the Shack is now available on Kindle.]

“Mackenzie,

It’s been a while. I’ve missed you.

I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together there.

–Papa”

God invited Mack to the shack (p. 16). His first gut feeling was nausea but it quickly turned to anger. He had always tried to avoid thinking about the shack; he never went to the shack. He insulated himself from the shack in every way.

The shack created turmoil in the pit of Mack’s stomach. The shack was a dead and empty place; it had a twisted, evil face. It was a metaphor for emptiness, unanswered questions, and far-flung accusations against God (p. 77).

Yet, God wants to meet Mack at the shack.

“Why the shack–the icon of his deepest pain?,” Mack rages in his inner thoughts. “Certainly God would have better places to meet him?” (p. 65).

The shack is Mack’s deepest pain. The shack, metaphorically, is his own woundedness, his hurt.

We each have our own shack.

The shack is Young’s metaphor for his hidden, wounded self.  It is his real self; the one he hides behind a facade as if his life were a beautiful, well-kept house. But the shack is actually Young’s soul. It is something which he and others built, just as we build our own shacks through our own experiences and choices, joys and tragedies. William P. Young, the author, is Mackenzie Allen Phillips, the main character in the story.

Young’s soul is pictured in The Shack as a shack. The story is fictional, but true.  It is a modern parable.  It is the story of a soul–wounded, filled with hidden secrets, addictions, and lies. In this story Young’s true soul meets God.

Young has told his story in several settings, but the most powerful telling I have found on the internet is to a small group in the home of a friend. His personal story is worth 75 minutes of your time.

He was a preacher/missionary kid in New Guinea in early childhood.  Without cultural identity, afraid of his angry father, sexually abused by other children, he himself became a predator of sorts. He became a religion addict–a perfectionistic performer, and ultimately sexual sin was revealed while a minister of the gospel.

The years of guilt and shame took its toll on Paul. He built his own shack where the shame could reside, where the woundedness could hide. He attempted to win God’s approval just like he attempted to earn his own father’s approval. He went to Bible College, then to seminary, and then into the ministry.

But he lived filled with shame. On the outside, it looked like his house was in order, neatly kept as God’s good minister. His perfectionistic attempts at performance hid the shame as he attempted to achieve some kind of self-worth. Maybe God would forgive him, love him, and accept him if he worked hard to compensate for the sin and shame which he found unable to control. To do this, he had to stuff and numb his feelings. He did not know how to feel. He was empty on the inside except for anger and shame, and he was mostly angry at himself.

He had built a shack surrounded by a Hollywood front. The front was a lie; the shack was the truth. But he could not speak the truth because it was too shameful.

The Shack is Young’s parable about how God met him at his shack and rocked his world. God invited him to the shack. God met him in his pain and shame–not to judge it, but to heal it. God does not invite us to the shack to shame us or express his disappointment; he invites us to experience his mercy and love. He invites us to let us know that he is “especially fond” of us.

The Shack invites us to enter into this metaphorical journey to the soul. Perhaps, and it is Paul’s prayer, that through this story we will hear God’s invitation to meet him at our own shacks and discover him anew.

The last paragraph of the book–the last paragraph of the Acknowledgements in the back (p. 252 if it were numbered)–expresses this hope and reveals the purpose of the parable itself for readers beyond his own children for whom he originally wrote the piece.

Most of us have our own grief, broken dreams and damaged hearts, each of us with our unique losses, our own ‘shack’. I pray that you will find the same grace there that I did, and the abiding presence of Papa, Jesus and Sarayu will fill up your inside emptiness with joy unspeakable and fully of glory.

William P. Young



11 Responses to “Meeting God at the Shack II: What is the “Shack”?”

  1.   Dottie Says:

    Thank you for commenting on this book and how this book affected you – I picked up this book to read – then I laid it aside – took it up again – laid it aside – and finally determined I would read it from cover to cover in as few sittings possible. I read it all, practically in one sitting. I saw all kinds of things I disagreed with, but all through the book, I wept and wept and wept. When I laid the book down I loved it and hated it and haven’t been able to touch it since. Picking it up again would help and spending time processing would help – so am anxious to read more of your thoughts. Blessings on you, John Mark!

  2.   Matthew Says:

    I have not planned on reading this book because usually I am not into the popular christian writing, but I think I might just this one out. Thank you for the review.

    http://www.matthewsblog.waynesborochurchofchrist.org

  3.   Darrell Phillips Says:

    I appreciate your review, but I think this book is heresy. It seems to try to give us a view of God that leans more toward universalism, while creating an image of the Trinity that misrepresents who the God is. The book seems to operate out of emotion, and once it gets into your heart, it appears to try to redefine the God of the Scriptures in a different way. Please be careful, and I would not suggest it especially to a new believer, one who is not grounded in the Word.
    I sure don’t mean to offend anyone, but I wanted to be honest about my opinion. Thanks….

  4. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Darrell,

    I think your post would be more appropriate once we begin discussing the theological controversies associated with the book in later posts. So, I will reserve my judgment about heresy till later. You are welcome to post about topic later if you desire. But for now, I am not interested in a theological debate except on what is covered in the posts up to this point. I will get to the controversial elements down the line. I find them interesting.

    But in terms of what I posted in this post, is there any heresy? I don’t think so. In fact, I think there is not only emotional health on the point of this post in the book but it is something many Christians need to hear about themselves. I don’t think it is simply emotional fluff but a powerful balance about our hurts and pains through the lens of both emotion and careful thought.

  5.   Terrell Lee Says:

    I was a student in a class taught by Doug Brown at HUGSR many years ago (1982 I think) in which he challenged us with thoughts “Beneath the Glitter.” That was the title of a sermon someone preached, which I have on file somewhere.

    Beneath the glitter one finds David’s adultery, murder, cover-up and arrogance.

    Beneath the glitter in Israel’s worship was activity that God rejected as worship because it lacked the basic ingredients of sincerity, mercy, justice and humility.

    Beneath the glitter one finds the filth in the lives of Hollywood’s stars, the emptiness of the wealthy and the arrogance of self-delusion.

    The Shack is that part of our existence that lies beneath the glitter. What others see is more glitter; what God sees is the shack. Yet, we pretend the shack is not there. We live like God doesn’t see it. We avoid transparency with others out of fear of rejection. Yet, only by revisiting the shack (with God!) in complete openness can we find deliverance.

    Strangely, and I can’t prove it, it just may be that God enjoys those times we visit our shacks. Because it is then that we are most honest about who we are. Actually, God may even lead us back to the shack again and again because it is only when we are there with Him that we allow someone to see us in all our vulnerability, nakedness of spirit and pain we’d rather deny than discuss and find mercy.

  6. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    “beneath the glitter”….yes, the shack that is hidden under the facade.

    God wants us…invites us…to visit our shacks, that is, to be real. He values honesty, right? And I have no doubt he leads us to our shacks in ways that we will never fathom. I would suggest it is part of his “testing.” The question becomes whether we will embrace the invitation and actually enter the shack where God already waits for us to heal us.

  7.   Darrell Phillips Says:

    Mr. Hicks,
    I mean no disrespect, and I sure don’t wish to engage in a debate.
    All I was doing was leaving a response as you invited, in the fashion as the others before me.
    Please know that I understand your defense. It is because of the emotional ties that you have made with this book. You are in relationship with it, and we defend those we love, whether it be our children or our own ideals.
    But after reading this, can you honestly say sir, before that great cloud of witnesses that the God depicted in The Shack is the God of the Bible?
    Please weigh this carefully, as you seem to have the responsibility for a large readership. Please know that this is a yes or no answer. No gray areas okay?

  8. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Darrell,

    I did not take it as disrespect, but I was suggesting that the “heresy” discussion of the book wait until I take up those issues in later posts unless there is a heretical point in the post before us. I will certainly get to the “issues” some believe are present in the book at a later point. You have, in my perception, jumped the gun.

    I will be happy to answer your question when I get to it. I don’t intend to avoid it but will offer my opinion later as I develop my review.

    However, to assume my “defense” is largely or mostly rooted in “emotional ties” as with my children is a huge assumption. Those who know me know that I am heavily weighted on the intellectual side of the scale rather than the emotional. In fact, I think I offered intellectual as well as emotional points in the posts so far. My assessment of the book will be both intellecutal and emotional, and the emotional is not simply something ambiguous but rooted in both experience and Scripture.

    But I will soon get to the issues you perhaps think are most important…some time next week, more than likely. So, hang on…be patient…and you are invited to discuss them in this forum if you desire.

  9.   Darrell Says:

    Thanks so much. I didn’t respond earlier as we were out of town…got a couple girls in gymnastics, and we travel to the meets every so often.

    I won’t trouble you anymore, and I appreciate your allowing me to respond to your comments. I’m really not interested in debating with folks, and to be honest, by the way your write…(which is very good), I could tell that I wouldn’t really change your thoughts.

    I just wanted to possibly cause your readers to take a second glance at “The Shack.”

    Perhaps only saving one, but it’s worth all our efforts huh?

    I wish you the best…

    Darrell

    Darrell

  10. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Darrell,

    I hope you continue to read. Perhaps you might be saved from accusing somone of heresy when it does not apply. :-) Perhaps only saving one is still worth the effort. Or, perhaps the discussion might enlighten us both and we would both be better for it.

    May God bless you

    John Mark

  11.   Darrell Says:

    Thanks so much John Mark,
    May you be blessed as well,

    Darrell

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