Monday, October 20, 2008

Another Perspective on The Shack

I've read lots of reviews and comments on William Young's The Shack, both positive and negative. From my usual sources the reviews are mostly negative. However, Gerald Hiestand at "Straight Up" has a perspective that I have not heard anywhere else - the "anti-power" motif. See -Straight Up » William Young’s The Shack
Young’s decision to portray God in mostly feminine categories has relevance to a wider “anti-power” motif woven throughout the book. Young, in casting God in female terms, attempts to distance God from a sense of tyranny and dominance—a sense more often associated with males than females. Young’s agenda is not unique. Those toward the theological left (and our postmodern milieu in general) tend to be suspicious of power, viewing it as oppressive and brutalizing. The emergence of egalitarianism within the church and home, and the movement toward decentralized church leadership structures are symptomatic of this shift. Hierarchy, we are often told, leads to oppression. At one point in the book, Mac asks God which of the three members of the Trinity is in charge of the others. The three are aghast at the thought. “What you are seeing here,” the Holy Spirit informs him, “is a relationship without any overlay of power…Authority, as you usually think of it, is merely the excuse the strong uses to make others conform to what they want.” Power, Young argues at various points, is inherently corrupting and oppressive.

The net result is a God who rejects—indeed is repulsed by—the use of power. (In one scene God picks up a gun between two fingers, holding it at arms lengths as though it were a dead mouse). Young’s God never coerces, never forces; He believes the best in everyone, is enduringly patient, and invincibly good-natured. For Young, love cannot be love if it is not freely offered and freely received. Power equals dominance, and if God dominates us he cannot love us, nor can we freely love him.

There are two fundamental difficulties I have with Young’s “anti-power” motif. First, Young’s portrayal of God is out of step with much of the way God is portrayed in Scripture. It’s difficult to square Young’s pacifistic Trinitarian portrayal with the God of Genesis 6, the Christ of Revelation 19, and the Holy Spirit of Acts 5. And it’s at this point that Young’s theodicy falls short. The Scripture doesn’t allow us to distance God from violence and coercion. The deeper question of theodicy is not simply how a good God can allow death and destruction, but how a good God can cause death and destruction. Young’s book assumes the happiness of humanity is the highest good. The Bible does not affirm this. Simply put, God is not “for” everyone to the same degree, or in the same way. (Aquinas called this the “principle of predilection—the idea that “no created being would be better than another unless it were loved more by God.”) Those committed to the biblical narrative must wrestle with the (unsettling) reality of a God who does not love everyone equally, and who has personally brought about the death of women and children. On this question, Young’s book is silent.

Secondly, Young’s conflation of power and abuse is not accurate. The former does not automatically equate to the latter. The answer to the abuse of power is not the elimination of power, but rather the proper use of power. God is unquestionably a God of power. Young would agree with this, I’m sure, but Young seems to chafe against any idea that God would actually use his power to bring about his ends. But God does, and often. Further, the love of God is only as meaningful as the power that animates it. A God neutered of power is a God who lacks the capacity to love. Or again, the warmth of God’s imminence is only as meaningful as the height of his transcendence. Young’s portrayal of God, unlike the Biblical God of the whirlwind, lacks any sense of transcendence.