The movie is such a sweet reminder of the love of God. It is so refreshing yet the viewer is left to wrestle with his own uncertainties and doubts about God as the main character in the movie does. The story is about a man (Mckenzie or Mack), his wife (Nan) and their three kids – two girls and a boy (Kate, Missy and Josh). They are such a cute Christian family. Mack had a rough childhood; his father abused him physically when he was young. This resulted in him poisoning and killing his own father at that tender age.
One thing that made me even more excited about the movie was the gender rhetoric that undergirded the entire story – in a somewhat subtle manner, yet very profound and powerful. However, that is the same thing that caused all the controversy concerning the movie. Ok, God is portrayed as a woman in The Shack. Do I see anything blasphemous about this? Certainly not! First of all, God isn’t male either. Indeed, anytime we see God manifest in the flesh, he does so in a male body but that doesn’t mean we should assume he is a man. This desiringgod.com article did a good job of establishing the fact that even in scripture God is given so many feminine attributes. You can check it out. We would have to agree on a few things before I proceed.
- God is not a man, he is a Spirit (according to John 4:24)
- He created man in his own image, male and female made he them (Genesis 1:27)
It is true that when God decided to come to the earth in a human form as Jesus he was a man (male). So it was when he appeared in the form of 3 men to Abraham. All these are still not enough proof that God is male. We might have gotten accustomed to seeing God appear in the flesh as a man to the extent that we think his portrayal as a woman in a movie is heretic and blasphemous. This is so wrong. If God created man in his own image and made them male and female, appears as a male in the flesh, why can’t he appear as female as well? I’m not saying he is obligated to do that to prove a point or anything. All I’m saying is, women were made in his image too, therefore, his portrayal as a woman in the movie shouldn’t bring about this level of controversy. When Jesus was being baptized in the River Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended on him as a dove. Is this blasphemous and heretic too? Besides, this movie is even a work of fiction to project a certain aspect of God’s character that is predominantly common amongst women, so everybody can chill and just munch on the essential message of the movie.
Now that that is out of the way, back to the movie. In the early parts of the movie, we see the family set off on a trip without the woman of the house. While seeing them off she made a comment that appears casual yet pregnant with so much information. She said to the kids “I have faith in your dad’s mothering skills”. This is by far the most important statement in the entire movie. Through the harsh seasons of our lives, how much faith do we have in God’s mothering skills? Nan made this comment because she wasn’t going to be with her kids on that trip hence they need not worry because their father doubles as a mother. This is a flamboyantly colorful feather in the cap of the man. Did he live up to expectation? We shall find out soon.
On their way, his two older kids begged him to stop by a waterfall. He refused the request initially only to barge at the end. While they stood on a bridge having a closer view of the waterfall, his older kids once again asked him to tell Missy, the little one, the story of the Indian Princess. The waterfall, therefore, appears to be a site he and his elder kids had been before, maybe way before the little one was born. So he goes on to narrate the story. From the story, we find out that there was an Indian Princess, who gave up her life for the sake of her people. The waterfall was therefore created by the ‘Great Spirit’ in memory of the Princess. It is a no-brainer that this Indian Princess is an allusion to Jesus Christ. Once again, we see God portrayed as a woman.
They finally got to their destination and it was a lakeside where other families camped as well. It seemed like a pretty cool and decent place to have a little family vacation. The following morning, the two older kids were on a boat not too far away from the shore and Missy was by her father drawing with her crayons. All of a sudden, Josh fell off the boat after his sister stood up to get the attention of their father. Mack ran, dived into the water and swam all the way to the boat to save his son. They all came back to the shore only to realize that Missy was gone. She was gone. The police couldn’t find her anywhere. Later they discovered her bloody dress in a shack up the mountain, but her body was not found.
The death of the little girl tore the family apart. Kate withdrew from the rest of the family obviously because she felt it was her fault her little sister died. Josh had also become secretive. Mack also lost faith in God. I must say the little girl is almost the perfect character to die to arouse all the needed emotions and questions that often flood our minds when we go through hard times. She was innocent, sweet and very inquisitive. All these make it hard for anybody to understand why she should die. Or why she should die in such a callous manner.
Not too long after her death, Mack checked his mailbox and found a letter in there from ‘Papa’ inviting him to the Shack up the mountain. He looked but couldn’t find a trail of footsteps in the snow leading either to or away from his mailbox. Which was pretty strange. His family nicknamed God ‘Papa’ so definitely he knew who it was. He decided to honor the invitation and go to the Shack alone although his next door neighbor had wanted to go with him. The Shack was this old dilapidated wooden structure that appeared to have been abandoned for years.
While walking through the woods, he met a young Middle Eastern man who invited him to ‘his house’. All this seemed to happen in a trance because all of a sudden the mountain became a garden with beautiful flowers – especially the path leading to the stranger’s house. Mack arrived at the house only to be introduced to the entire Godhead. Apparently, the Middle Eastern man who led him to his home was Jesus, the Son. And here is another shocker, the other two members of the Trinity were women! How strange it would be to meet the Godhead only to realize two-thirds of the trinity is female. So Papa was a black woman and the Holy Spirit was a slender Asian lady. Mack’s interactions with the Godhead marked his journey to complete healing from the hurt he felt after his daughter died. In one of his earliest interactions, Papa told him ‘after what you have been through, I didn’t think you could handle a father right now’. Papa said this right after Mack questioned her gender. This is another amazing revelation in the movie. God revealed himself to Mack as a mother because he had had a rough childhood experience with his father. Therefore, his perception of who a father is was based on the kind of relationship he had with his earthly father. This is probably why most of us can’t have a great relationship with God because we are seeing him through the lenses of our earthly fathers and those lenses are giving us a poor image of who God is. It is amazing to know that God knows when to be what in our lives. Now when Mack accused God of always abandoning those he claims he loves, especially Jesus on the cross, Papa showed him his nail-pierced wrist. Indicating that while Jesus suffered on the cross, God did too. Which means God shares in our suffering; he understands our pain.
Papa did drop some nuggets in her interaction with Mckenzie. She said “You were created to be loved. Living unloved is like clipping a bird’s wings”. Then she went on to say that ‘this is your flying lessons”. ‘This’ here refers to ‘the Shack’ experience that the Trinity was taking Mckenzie through. The painful experiences are our flying lessons. We need them to first muster the courage to fly and that is how we experience the Love of God.
Mckenzie’s next interaction was with the Spirit of God. They took a walk through a garden where the spirit made a very profound illustration. She showed Mckenzie a twig that was poisonous. Then she mentioned that on its own it is poisonous, but combining it with the nectar from a particular flower produced a substance with incredible healing powers. This goes to show us how both the good and bad times in our lives are meant to come together for a greater good. When we single out the bad times, it may seem our lives are on the rocks, but having a holistic view of our lives – both the bad and the good times – can produce incredible healing anytime we need it.
By far my favorite interaction in the movie was between Mckenzie and ‘Wisdom’. He met Wisdom in a dark cave sitting on her throne. Wisdom told him he was there, in the cave, for judgment. No, not to be judged, but to judge just as he always did throughout his life. The conversation that ensued is probably the most powerful in the movie. It was laden with so much wisdom and offered answers to questions that I have been grappling with for some time now. Why does God allow evil to happen and not do anything about it? Why can’t evil people be condemned to hell immediately to rid humanity of all the hideousness? Wisdom made some profound statements worthy of note. She quizzed, ‘doesn’t the legacy of brokenness go all the way back to Adam?’. Anytime you want to judge somebody, make sure you judge everybody else in human history whose actions had an effect on the said person – all the way to Adam. That is when you can claim to have judged the person justly. The legacy of brokenness indeed goes all the way back to Adam.
The time spent with God was an exercise to heal him of all emotional and psychological pain. So one morning Mckenzie woke up and there stood papa in the doorway. This time not a black woman but an Asian man. Papa said ‘for what we have to do today, you are gonna need a father’. BAM! So you see, God is the complete parent, no wonder he made men and women in his image. His nature couldn’t be revealed in one gender alone. When he wanted to make a being in his image he had to make two of its kind, hence we have men and women, fathers and mothers. The task that day was to get Mckenzie to forgive his daughter’s killer. This exercise required the stern persuasion of a father. That is why Papa chose to reveal himself as a man in this scene. Mckenzie did forgive the killer, pretty much to my amazement.
There is so much I want to say about the movie but time and space are not my best allies now. I learned so much from it. The shack (where Mckenzie found his daughter’s bloody clothes) represents a place of pain yet a place where God is ever present. C.S Lewis said ‘… God shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world’. God is indeed loudest in our pains if only we can pay attention and listen.