“Triune Shine”….what is that? Ok, I admit it is my own invention. But hear me out, ok?
Many who have attended a 12-Step group for any length of time have heard about the “shine.” It might be an “AA shine,” or an SA, NA, OA, WA, etc. The “shine” is the glow of recovery, and it stands in stark contrast with the first time that someone attended a meeting. In their first meeting, addicts enter despondent, shamed, and hopeless. They attend a meeting as a last gasp of sanity. Through recovery–working the steps which includes confession and spiritual transformation–they begin to “shine” with hope, joy and contentment.
I have turned the phrase on its head. When I say “triune shine,” I do not mean that the Trinity has gone through recovery. I hope that is obvious. I mean the opposite. An encounter with the Triune God leaves a shine on our faces. It is the afterglow of meeting God at our shacks.
Shine, of course, is what shacks need. Our shacks are broken, empty, dark, and hidden. They need healing, filling, light and openness. When our true selves–our shacks–encounter the healing life and light of God in authentic relationship, we are transformed into the beautiful images of God–beautiful homes. Shacks become mansions when we meet God in the circle of love. Our shacks get a triune shine and become mansions.
This is Mack’s vision of God, of course. Mack, contemplating suicide, cries himself to sleep on the floor of the shack filled with anger, grief, and pain. This darkness was Mack’s closest friend (much like Psalm 88:18); the Great Sadness was all too familiar to him (p. 79).
Upon waking, Mack left the shack only to turn around to see it transformed into a beautiful log cabin with a garden and manicured lake. Hearing laughter from the cabin, Mack cautiously approached its front door (p. 81).
This is a critical moment in the book; and it is a critical moment in our lives. Can we really believe that our shacks can become mansions? Can we really believe that our pain, hurt, and shame can be transformed into joy, beauty, and honor? I think it is almost impossible to believe that; it certainly seems impossible.
My own experience tells me it is well nigh impossible to believe that in the midst of the pain itself. The pain is a fog that blinds us. As Papa says to Mack, “When all you can see is your pain, perhaps then you lose sight of me” (p. 96). Shame accuses us, and we feel the guilt and burden of our sin and addictions. I understand how impossible it is to believe; I’ve been there. The shack is hopeless; the fog is real; the soul is broken.
Addicts–and all who know themselves as sinners, and sin is itself an addiction–feel they deserve the shack. It is where they belong. They are unworthy of God’s love; they are a pile of “s**t.” As Mack thought to himself, while “God might really love” Nan, that is understandable because “she wasn’t a screw-up like him” (p. 66). Addicts, shamed by their compulsions and powerless before them, do not believe they are “good” people. Surely, they think, God could not love people like them.
So, Mack, standing on the front porch of the log cabin, is ready to knock on the door. He is angry (“energized by his ire”), but he also feels like a screw-up. He does not know what to expect. What will he find behind the door? He knows God invited him to the shack, but now the shack looks like a summer house, there is laughter inside, and he wonders how there can be laughter in a world where Missy is absent.
I think the story, at this point, invites us to contemplate our own vision and understanding of God. When we knock on the door, who is this God that opens it? When God opens the door to a shamed, guilt-ridden, hopeless but complusively driven addict, how does he greet him? Will God berate us for our addiction? Will he continue the shame by shaking his finger at him and rebuking him? Will God’s face confirm our belief that God is disappointed with us? Will God show his disgust?
This is why I think this is a critical point in the parable. It says something about us and about whom we believe God to be. Will we knock? Will we seek his face? And what will God do? How will he receive us?
Before Mack can even knock, God–in the theopany of a gregarious African American woman–engulfs him in his/her love with a bear hug that lifts him off the ground and spins him “around like a little child.” God greets Mack as “a long-lost and deeply-loved relative” (p. 82).
No disappointment. No shaming. No hesitation. No rebuffing. No reminders of the past. No anger. Instead…an exhilarting, loving, enthusiastic “my, my, my how do I love you!” (p. 83).
When we encounter God, how will he receive us? Will he check his list of rights and wrongs? Will he evaluate us on a point system of some kind? Will he look over our record and shake his head with frustration and disappointment? I think not. Young’s parable has it right.
Intellectually and theologically I get it. I really do think God’s reception of Mack in the story is the way it is. But, along with Mack, it is emotionally difficult to receive it and believe it.
I grew up with an angry God for the most part, at least I heard it that way. He was the God of the Old Testament who zapped Uzzah for touching the ark, killed Nadab and Abihu over something as small as where they got the fire for the altar, and threw his original creation out of the garden over a piece of fruit. My simplistic hearing of those stories fired my fear of a God who was always looking for my mistakes and ready to give me what I deserve. He was, in my young imagination, Zeus ready to fling thunderbolts at those who displeased him.
I also grew up with a God whose approval I sought, at least I heard it that way. The little boy in me saw God as one to please in order to gain his approval. I performed to please this God; I sought his applause and his delight. If I could do enough, then he would be pleased with me. If I did it right, he would delight in me. It was a kind of religious perfectionism. Add that with workaholism, and you have one tired dude running all over the world looking for Papa’s approval. That was (is?) me.
This is the joy of the emotional picture that Young’s parable offers. I already knew it intellectually, but emotionally I need to feel it in my gut. I needed to know–to know in ways that are not mere cognition but reach deep within my soul, my shack–that God delights in me and yearns to give me a big ole’ bear hug. I needed to know that God was “especially fond” of even me even when my performance is not “good enough.” I need to feel deep down within me that God already delights in me and that I don’t need to seek his approval. Young’s thrilling picture of Mack’s encounter with God provides an image–a relational picture–that I can hang my hat on emotionally.
Even more….God is already present in my shack waiting for me to show up, waiting for me to be my true self. When I come to my shack, and when you go to yours, God is already there. He is waiting to renew, sustain, enjoy and pursue relationship with us. We find ourselves, even in the shack, right where we were designed to be–in the center of God’s circle of relational, triune love (p. 111).
Ultimately, Mack leaves the shack with a “Triune shine.” He comes to know that all his “best treasures are now hidden in” the Triune God rather than in his little tin box with Missy’s picture (p. 236). His encounter with the Triune God has filled his emptiness and his nightmares have now become colorful, vibrant dreams.
The “Triune Shine” is what I call that deep recognition that I am loved by the Father, filled with his Spirit, and live in the life of the Son. The “Triune Shine” is the joy of living in a circle of relationship with Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu.
When the shack is filled with God and we choose to embrace that relationship, our shacks become log cabins (maybe even mansions ).
Yet, we know that is a long journey. It is not a quick fix. But it is a divine promise.
P.S. As far as the controversial metaphors and ideas about the Trinity in The Shack, I will leave those for another day and another post. I think the point above is much more important than precision in our Trinitarian theology…and who can be truly precise about that anyway?!