I saw The Shack with my wife. We were expecting a spiritual journey movie like Field of Dreams or Peaceful Warrior. We got something far more overtly Christian than that.
The Shack stars Sam Worthington as Mack, a father who’s young daughter, Missy, is kidnapped and murdered. The tragedy ruins the lives of him and his family as they are consumed by depression.
Mack receives a note inviting him to spend the weekend at the eponymous shack where his daughter was murdered. The note is signed “Papa,” which is his family’s nickname for God.
Mack goes, half expecting the murderer to be there, but instead he finds that the note was actually delivered to him by God. Waiting at the shack are Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu (The Holy Spirit).
Mack’s weekend at the shack reawakens his faith in God and when he returns to his family he is ready to begin the healing process and move on after the death of his youngest daughter.
The movie’s casting is phenomenal. Worthington is already known for playing a broken and somewhat lost character in Avatar so he’s a perfect fit. I was looking forward to seeing more of his work.
Papa is played by two actors, one woman for God’s maternal side and one man for God’s paternal side. These are Octavia Spencer and Graham Greene respectively. Sarayu is played Sumire Matsubara and Jesus is played by Aviv Alush, an actual Israeli actor! They all feel perfect in their roles and the contributed vastly to the movie’s success.
The movie deals with one of the central problems in Christian theology known as “the Problem of Evil” also known as theodicy. If God knows everything (omniscient), can do anything (omnipotent), and always does the right thing (omnibenevolent), then why do bad things happen to good people?
The easiest way to explain this away is by God not having one of attributes that composes theodicy. You can have an imperfect world if God does not know everything, doesn’t have the power to fix everything, and/or God doesn’t want to.
Most people land on “God doesn’t want to” as their answer. The argument then boils down to, “Why doesn’t God want to have a perfect world where everyone is kind, honest, and graceful?”
The first way the movie addresses the Problem of Evil is when Missy asks Mack if God is “mean.”
Mack says he doesn’t really know. He asks Papa and She tells him something along the lines of, “I am never mean and I don’t know why you’d ask that.”
Well… if we take the Old Testament as truth, God is a vindictive and jealous bully who cares more about His worshipers doing what He says rather than what is right.
The Shack takes the stance that our view of morality is incomplete and we can’t know how God is making moral choices, but we have to be sure that He is. In other words, it doesn’t answer the question and just says, “Have faith.”
This explicitly comes up when Mack asks the Trinity why there are wars. “Why not stop them? Was this what You intended?”
God answers, “I never wanted to see My children fight with each other.”
Except… Genesis 11:4-9.
“(4)And they said, Go to, let us build a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. (5)And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. (6)And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. (7)Go to, let us go down, and there confound the language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. (8)So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. (9)Therefore it is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”
God got jealous that humans were building a tower up to Heaven, so he introduced languages and conflict so that humans would never work together like that again. We would be divided and fight amongst ourselves.
It’s not explicitly stated that war was the intention of this act of God, but most religious scholars agree upon that interpretation.
So The Shack does a pretty horrible job of reconciling the Old Testament and the New. Can’t say I blame the author for failing in this endeavor. The Old Testament ruins a lot of what we want religion to be if you consider all of it equally valid.
The movie tackles a few other issues, but it mostly focuses on how to overcome the guilt and grief that comes with one’s child dying before one’s self. Missy’s murderer is purposely left faceless so that he could be anyone or anything. It’s possible to empathize with Mack and his position no matter how someone may have lost their own child (disease, accident, etc.).
I liked the movie. It’s a good exploration of grief, guilt, and complex theological issues. None of the answers are new, but they are presented in a new and entertaining way. The acting is great as well!
The Shack is probably a good movie for you to see in theaters if you think you’ll experience some immediate catharsis from watching a man get into arguments with God. If not, save your money for another movie or rent this one when it comes out on DVD.