The Shack, a simple book that isn’t so simple

My birth mother and I have had an on again off again relationship since I was 18 years old. I was adopted by two loving parents at the age of three. My birth mom was a teenager when she had me, and it was no simple decision to let go of me, of that I am certain.

We’ve discussed my lack of faith. And she has encouraged me, beseeched me, to return to Jesus.

Recently, she mailed me a book that is dear to her heart called “The Shack,” by William P Young. My birth mother described the book as simple, but meaning a lot to her.

I started reading it yesterday and I’m halfway finished. I texted her last night to tell her I’m halfway through it, that I’m enjoying it, and made a reference to Stephen King referring to it in one of his books.

She responded that it’s a simple book and again repeated it means a lot to her.

I said it’s anything but simple. It’s a thinker, I wrote.

Then I wrote, I’m going to open up to you about something and I hope you understand. I’ll write more of that in a second.

The book is about a man named Mack. He’s on the verge of losing his faith. When his kids were younger, he took them on a fun camping trip without their mother. The mother is a life-long devout Christian. Her faith is so strong she calls God, Papa.

But Mack admits he cannot bring himself to call him that.

On the camping trip, Mack’s daughter Missy begs him to tell the story of an Indian tribe that is dying from disease. One person decides that she must sacrifice herself to a volcano to save the rest of the tribe. She does and they’re saved. This prompts Missy to ask some hard hitting questions of human sacrifice.

On the last day of the camping trip, two of his kids (not Missy) are almost drowned in a canoe accident that he saves them from. He left Missy up at the camp site coloring in a coloring book. Thinking he’s avoided catastrophe, he returns to where Missy was. She’s gone. No where to be found. A search. And several days later, they find evidence that perhaps she was killed in a vacant “Shack” and the authorities say she was likely killed by a serial murderer named the “Little Ladykiller.”

Years later, Mack struggles with the guilt and pain of loss. Where I am in the book is he returns to the shack after receiving a note from “Papa” to meet him there. He goes there, finds no one, and leaves only to have a sort of near death experience in which he meets a physical version of God (as a black woman), Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

What I imagine is that this experience will enrich his life, answer his questions, and return him to a healthy faithful place of reinvigorated love for God.

But I’ll have to finish the book.

That’s what led me to tell my birth mom it is a “thinker.” This thought that child sacrifice is somehow a positive thing. Here is what I wrote to her:

One thing that it makes me think about is the challenge I have with viewing human sacrifice as a necessary target of one’s adoration. There’s the story the dad tells of the Indian girl who leapt into the volcano to save her tribe. We have the obvious story of Jesus. We have the story — not in the book — of Abraham and Isaac. 

I’ve never met one parent who has said, “I would sacrifice my son or daughter for the greater good.” In fact they would almost always say, “I would sacrifice myself for my children.” 

We are taught that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice. And almost universally, everyone who believes the story of Jesus considers it the cornerstone of their faith. Right? But it’s the unquestioning part of the devotion to this idea that troubles me. I know it’s what I was taught. But I can’t seem to wrap my brain around ever returning to the idea that it was a necessity to bridging the gap that was created when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden of eden. 

So, yeah, this isn’t a “simple book.” Not to me anyway. 

I apologize if this is a hard read or disappoints you. It’s just a mental struggle that I devote a lot of time to.

How is the sin of disobedience worthy of torturing God’s son to death, so that I can avoid everlasting life in Hell? Again, I know what I was taught. And I held it dearly for as long as I could. But call it Satan. Or pride. Or sadness. But I’m not sad. I guess it is prideful to negate the authority of the church. And if it’s satanic, well, shoot. I’m stuck. Thanks for letting me discuss. It’s such a mesmerizing topic.

Her responses are all the packaged, rehearsed and repeated speeches I’ve heard since I was a kid. I’ve said the exact same things to doubters.

She wrote:

Jeremy…  God sacrificed Himself for us to cross that barrier to a relationship w Him a non sinful Supreme Being 

The entire time Jesus was God in the flesh walking among mortal humans.  Weren’t you taught that ? 

How do you know you just didn’t grow into traditional religiosity yourself? Perhaps you have Intellectual assent and it hasn’t entered your heart 

quite yet as what I’m receiving from your text … 

I get weird about this whole topic myself but I know in my heart I’d rather be prepared to meet Him One Day than to be totally sorry for rejecting Him and His free gift of Love and Mercy . It’s not so bad bc I have fallen in love w God and He makes my heart happy and convicted and comforted and content w the meaning of existing & also wise !!! 

I think it was awfully good of Him to take our debt that we could never pay !

And yet here we are.

No proof of a god and yet the existence of the conversation leads a person to stronger faith. It’s a head scratcher.

It’s better to love and win then not love and lose for eternity.

What’s awesome, though, is she’s not being disparaging. She’s definitely approaching it with love. I love having the conversation. I just dropped this one on her:

One of the other big topics of my mind wandering is where was I before you gave birth to me. Say the earth is 6000 to 10,000 years old or millions of years old, doesn’t matter. For all that time, I was an empty vessel, a mindless soul. Floating around in the mind of God. Then suddenly, sometime in what December 1974 or January 1975, you and Robert Ripp had sex and a version of him inserted itself in a version of you and I grew inside of you, mindless, unknowing, dumb. 

And why is it that entering the world through your birth canal that gives me the opportunity to find cognition maybe three years after, to be given into a family that believed in God and devoted their time and effort and money to enriching me with that same knowledge so that when I finally die, I can live forever? 

And for now, there are zillions of these souls floating in space waiting for the right mom and the right dad to put sperm together with egg … and then and only then will they reach cognition after birth … and if they so happen to be born into an American family or any number of Christian families, they too receive the keys to eternal life with God or the eternal life with the bad angels in hell … or they’ll have Muslim parents. Or if they were born in Rome 2000 years ago, chances are they’d think Zeus was god.

What a lottery.

I mean, come on. I won the lottery. She won the lottery. My parents won the lottery for eternal life in heaven. But the thought crime of disbelief is an eternity in hell.

What choice is there?

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