Our first evening in The Shack fulfilled the promise of a stimulating discussion. Much of the first chapters set the stage for Mack's encounter with God at the shack. There can be little doubt that Young has a critical appreciation for the corrective of post-modernism with regard to the privileging of the rational and text in enlightenment thought (65ff) but this is not a major concern in the book.
The bulk of our discussion focused on the interaction between Mack and God. There was appreciation for Young's portrayal of God as an robust black woman. It was noted that Young quite specifically indicates that this portrayal is not intended to be any more accurate than the traditional depictions of God as male (93). Young makes this move simply to highlight that such traditional depictions are not accurate, any more than is God as a black woman. As such the choice was seen as provocative but entirely uncontroversial.
Particularly poignant was God's statement that we are created to be loved, therefore for us to live as though we were not loved is a limitation (97). Later God tells Mack that humans are defined not by their limitations, but by how God sees us (100). We are not what we seem to be, but what we are created to be. God sees us not as we are, but as we are created to be, which his what we truly are. This is an incredible statement of our value, not in our own eyes, because we almost inevitably fail to realize our value, and even more so when we consider our own estimation of our worth to be significant. No evaluation of our own worth can ever compare to God's emphatic statement on the cross in which he indicates our value to be His own life. Thanks be to God for the salvation only God can bring!
We also talked about the statement that Jesus never drew upon his divinity to do anything while on earth (99). This statement was more controversial and there are several ways to understand it. Young seems to be saying that Jesus acted as an authentic human being in every way, and that we have trouble understanding that because we consistently live as humans in our own right rather than as created beings in an authentic consummation of our relation with God. This is undoubtedly the case, but this comment is implicated in Trinitarian theology, which is beyond our confident comprehensive understanding. Young's conception of Trinitarian theology is one of the areas in which he has drawn a lot of heat. This should not be a surprise, as the Trinity is a complex theology which no one has ever comprehended and elucidated satisfactorily. This issue will undoubtedly arise again in future discussions.
Tuesday, 21 July 2009
Zac Klassen is spearheading a book club that gathers Monday evenings to discuss books of substance. The first evening was an introduction to the sorts of issues raised in The Shack. How should one speak of God, particularly in relation to the bad things that happen? As a means of entry into these issues Zac brought a column by David Bentley Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, written for the Wall Street Journal in response to the tsunami of 2004. Hart is a delightful writer who makes no bones about his Christian commitments and he does not mince words on issues that he sees as pivotal. This column is definitely worth reading.