I am intrigued by the commotion over a novel approach to who God is and how She relates to the world and its people. In this blog I will not focus on The Shack and legitimacy of the provocative suggestions Young makes regarding the nature of God. I am here more interested in the background reasons for the furor that this book has caused.
Human beings are self-centered creatures whose view of the world tends to presume themselves to be autonomous deities in their own little universe, rather than as creatures accountable to a higher God. This view is not explicit, but implicit, which means that people will seldom enunciate this view, but this paradigm is operative in their function. They operate as though they were autonomous deities.
Another way of talking about this is to say that we all operate with certain frameworks in place. These frameworks are what allows us to make sense of our world, but we seldom pay any attention to the frameworks that structure our understanding of our world. When you wear rose-colored glasses your outlook is always rosy, but in a very short time you become oblivious to, and unaware of, the rose-colored glasses you wear. This problem is only exacerbated when all your friends wear the same shades.
However, when you meet someone who is wearing blue shades you encounter a worldview that presents a jarring contrast to the world you thought you knew. It is this stark contrast which alerts you to the rosy tint which your own framework imposed onto your view of your world, and genuine dialogue with your blue-hued friend shows you a whole new way of looking at your world. If you are willing to really listen to your new friend you are forced to recognize that the world is not only as you had understood it to be. Your world changes right before your eyes, because the way you look at your world has changed. Your experience is of a world that has radically changed, and as you allow new insights to change and correct the way you operate in your world, your world is radically altered.
This is both the promise and the threat of a novel approach portrayed in The Shack. We have read the Bible for many years, and we know what the Bible says. We know what it tells us about God. We know who God is because we know what the Bible tells us. It never occurs to us that we have been reading the Bible through a particular lens. We are completely oblivious to the ways in which these lenses have colored the way we see God described in the Bible. Our first reaction when someone talks about God in ways other than what we are used to is to cry “Heresy!!” We have come to believe devoutly that any characterization of God other than what we read in the Bible is idolatry, and any such other image presents the most sinister threat to our eternal well-being.
Young presents an alternative, not to biblical truth, but to our reading of biblical truth. The fact that his reading of biblical truth is different from ours does not mean that his reading, however provocative, runs contrary to biblical truth. That evaluation requires that we listen carefully to what he is saying, and become willing to get radical with our evaluation of how our own lenses have always colored our own reading of biblical truth.
In the final end, I believe that the allure of Young’s reading rests not merely on the merits of its own provocative suggestions of who God is, but it derives its strength primarily from the promise contained in its potential to broaden our understanding of biblical truth. It is powerfully appealing not because it presents an alternative to biblical truth, but because it presents a larger vision of biblical truth than our frameworks have allowed us to see. To the extent that we are comfortable with the truth we know and are resistant to larger truth, this is diabolically threatening. On the other hand, if we are willing to have an encounter with the God Who Is, beyond our feeble understanding of God as limited by our knowledge, such an alternative carries profound promise. It is the difference between having a god we can hold, or having a God who holds us. When we finally do realize that we can never hold God, it is in fact more comforting to know that it is God who holds us. This realization both relativizes previous frameworks, and it becomes a framework that facilitates a broader and deeper recognition of the God Who Is that must itself be relativized if it is not to become a similarly restricting framework as well as an enabling framework. That God will forever elude our confident grasp and exceed our anemic frameworks is our only hope, not a most threatening heresy. Thanks be to God!!