Saturday, March 4, 2017

Is The God of "The Shack," the God of the Bible?

Last night I went to see "The Shack." As a creative work, the film is poignant, powerful and provocative.  It asks the hard questions and invites, even forces, the viewer to think, and this is good. The setting, and in particular the garden, is stunningly beautiful and symbolic. The story is compelling, heartbreaking, and even encouraging. "The Shack" engages the audience in a way that I've never seen. This too is good because, from the lady drinking her stinky wine next to me, to the teenage girl in the "Momma Tried," skullcap, this LionsGate production drew in an audience that looked quite different from the usual PureFlix crowd. The movie provides many opportunities to engage with our culture and to have discussions, and YES, there are discussions which must be had.

I will confess that when I read the book a few years ago, I was not aware that the author,  Wm. Paul Young, is a universalist who believes that all people will be redeemed, or saved. I quickly recognized some theological mistakes, but I also respected the good aspects of the story. There are many moments in the movie that would lead one to believe he is a Christian, and a heartfelt defense put forth by his friend and famous Baptist blogger Wade Burleson attests to the fact. However, his personal theology is viewed by many as being heretical and some of these themes do surface in both the book and the movie.

First, I would like to say that there are many things Mr. Young gets right. The movie focuses on the relational aspects of God and His desire to have a personal relationship with us. This is very good. He affirms the Trinitarian nature of God and the roles of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in creation. He upholds the doctrine that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. He affirms the desire of God for all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. He attests that people will be saved from every tongue and tribe and nation. He shows that children who die before reaching the age of accountability go to heaven. He rightly explains that the sin of Adam has had a profound negative impact on all of humanity. He clearly teaches that God is not the author of evil and He teaches that Jesus Christ died for us out of necessity. He gives a nod to human volition, or choice, when it comes to our relationship with God. He rightly portrays Jesus as desiring friends, not slaves. He powerfully illustrates the principle of forgiveness. He shows the restoring redemptive work of God in families and highlights the importance of loving family relationships.

But there were also some very serious problems with his theology. Using a woman to portray God the Father, or Papa, part of the time was questionable, but I could have looked past that. Sadly, masked by the lovely performance of Octavia Spencer, was some serious false teaching and down right lies about the nature and character of God. Here are some examples:

1. As God, or "Papa," she makes the statement that she has never found a person she was not fond of. Proverbs 6:16-19 says that there are 6 things the Lord hates, 7 that are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies and one who sows discord among brothers.  That does not sound like fondness to me. God hates evil. 1 Timothy 2:4 expresses the fact that He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth---this is because then they will not do evil any more and will not hurt others any more. God is not fond of evildoers. He is willing to forgive, IF they repent.

2. Papa says "I don't need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It's not my purpose to punish it. It's my joy to cure it." This is a great example of the type of half truth Satan likes to tell, twisting a true statement together with an outright lie. This statement has more twists and turns than a roller coaster. On the one had, it is true that sin can eat us up and destroy us from the inside. But on the other hand, it is also true that God loves justice and He does judge evil. To say that a just God does not need to punish sin is an outright lie. God is a defender and He destroys the wicked. The story emphasizes redemption. A redeemer is a seeker and restorer of justice. A redeemer sets things right. Part of the job of a redeemer is to buy back or restore what has been lost. But a redeemer is also an avenger of blood. Universalists believe that when the bible says "Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, that means everyone will be saved. The truth is that when Jesus comes back, those who did not acknowledge Him as savior during this life will bow down alright, BUT Isaiah 65:12 tells us they will bow down to the slaughter. God consistently punishes sin throughout Scripture. Sodom and Gomorrah were punished because of sin. Genesis 15:16 prophesied the destruction of the Canaanites because of their sin. Even His own people, Israel, were punished because of sin. God's judgement of sin is such a pervasive theme in Scripture that it is simply impossible for a Bible-Believing Christian to deny that God punishes sin.  

3. Papa acts like she has no idea what Mack is talking about when he asks about God's Wrath and claims that she is not like that. 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 show how God's wrath comes upon people because of sin. They are displeasing to God and hostile to all men, by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! While it is good to know that those of us who seek forgiveness will not face God's wrath, God also loves justice and He will absolutely bring judgement on those who persist in doing evil as he has done throughout the entirety of Scripture. Going along with the role of a redeemer as an avenger of blood and bringer of justice. Revelation 6:10, 16 and 17 describe Jesus as an avenger of blood and describe the coming wrath of the Lamb. Revelation 14:10 and 19 specifically record God's wrath and anger being poured out. A redeemer sets wrongs right. A redeemer would seek justice for a family member who had been killed or wronged. Revelation 19:1-3 record God avenging the blood of his servants. For those who do not accept God's forgiveness, retribution is coming.

4. Mack's dad, who was evil and abusive, is shown to be a religious fake who was not a believer and never repented of his sin, yet he is shown to be in heaven. Mack's father becomes furious when his son revealed his true nature to a pastor and unleashed his wrath upon his son. No one enters heaven without repentance, forgiveness and being born again through faith in Jesus.

While the god of the Shack is relational, loving and creative, like the God of the Bible, unlike the God of the Bible that god is one dimensional. That lowercase g god is entirely lacking in justice or a true sense of right and wrong. That god does not punish sin. Papa is fond of everyone, including the most evil people on earth. She isn't concerned with rule following and does not even know what wrath is. That weak one dimensional god is not the Capital G, God of the Bible, the Great I AM.

The movie does make an admirable effort to portray one aspect of God's personality, His goodness and compassion. Over and over, Scripture tells us as it does in Psalm 103:8: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast, merciful lovingkindness. He is the God who forgives iniquity, the God who does not stay angry forever, the God who loves us and provided a way for us to have a relationship with Him.

However, Psalm 33:5 tells us The Lord loves righteousness and justice, the earth is full of his unfailing love. The love of right and justice is an aspect of God's personality that must not be overlooked. The god of The Shack is not interested in justice. The GOD of the Bible IS. Psalm 37:28 assures us: The Lord loves justice and will not abandon his faithful ones, they are kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked will be cut off.

There is a powerful moment in the movie when Mack has to choose to forgive his daughter's murderer and trust Papa to do the right thing. When I read the book, I assumed that justice was implied if the man never repented. Now that I know the background of the author, this does not seem to be the case. Could you really place your faith in a God who did not care about justice? I can fully place my faith in a God who hates evil and will ultimately destroy it. I am grateful that God is patient and offers all people the chance to be saved, born again, redeemed and forgiven. I trust Him to deliver justice to those who refuse as only He has the right to do.

I believe that the author of The Shack is to be commended, not for his theology, but for the courage and conviction he has shown in attempting to answer some of life's most difficult questions in a well-crafted, compelling and artistic way. While he does make some serious mistakes, as we all do, if we discuss them in a healthy, Biblical and brotherly way, then we can all learn and grow. The ultimate take-away from the movie is this: God is loving and forgiving and wants to have a relationship with us. But unlike the god of The Shack, the God of the Bible also loves fairness and justice and He will punish evil. A relationship with God is available to all people, but only if we repent of our sins, accept Jesus as our Lord, ask for forgiveness and welcome the Holy Spirit's redemptive, renewing, restoring, healing work in our lives. This is the decision that Mack had to make in the movie and this is the decision each person must make in this life. What is your choice?

You have a strong arm. Your hand is mighty. Righteousness and Justice are the foundation of your throne. Faithful love and truth go before you.  -Psalm 89:13-14

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