General information about The Shack
The Shack is a Christian-themed novel by Canadian writer William Paul Young (often referred to as Wm. Paul Young or Paul Young). The book portrays theological topics and explores themes such as redemption and forgiveness through Mack, the protagonist, who spends the weekend with God in an abandoned shack, the crime scene of his youngest daughter’s murder.
Wm. Paul Young never actually intended The Shack to be published publicly; he originally printed 15 copies of his book for his friends and family at an Office Depot. When he did make the decision to broaden his reading audience, Young was rejected by Christian and secular publishers alike, until two former pastors formed Windblown Media and self-published the book in 2007.
One year after its publication, The Shack sold 1 million copies and made the USA Today Bestseller list. It was also No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller list from 2008-2010. The book even received “The Diamond Award” by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association after it reached sales of over 10 million copies.
Since then, The Shack has sold over 20 million copies and has been published in 41 languages. The novel was adapted into a film in 2017.
What audience was The Shack originally targetted for?
Wm. Paul Young originally wrote The Shack as a Christmas present for his 6 children as an expression of his journey of atonement, healing, and transformation through his relationship with God. He once quoted, “I didn’t want my kids growing up with the God that I did—white, distant, unreachable, unknowable, the darkness behind Jesus that needs to be appeased.”
Young chose the title The Shack as “a metaphor for the house you build out of your pain.” This makes sense when you consider the plot of the book.
The plot of The Shack
Mackenzie Allen Philip or “Mack” is living under what he calls “The Great Sadness”. Four years previously, his youngest daughter Missy was abducted by a serial killer at a camping site during a family holiday.
Though the killer left his signature ladybug pin at the scene of the crime, Missy’s body was never found. However, when the authorities found a blood-stained dress in an abandoned shack in the heart of the Oregon wilderness, Mack identified the dress as belonging to his daughter.
One day, to Mack’s surprise, he receives a letter in the mail from God, inviting him to spend the weekend with Him in the same shack where Missy had been brutally murdered.
Full of skepticism, and yet curious, Mack makes a trip up to the shack expecting to confront his deepest, darkest pain. Instead, he encounters God and leaves the shack at the end of that weekend filled with peace, forgiveness, and hope for a better future for himself and his family.
The core theme of this book is one which all Christians grapple with: Where is God when we experience pain, loss, and suffering? Why do we struggle to feel His presence in this world that is dictated by evil? A second important theme is forgiveness and redemption.
The book does challenge the reader from the offset. The topic of child murder is not an easy one to stomach, however William Paul Young continues to keep his readers on their toes with his portrayal of God as an African-American woman named Elousia but who is referred to as Papa, the Holy Spirit as a wiry-built Asian woman named Sarayu, and Jesus as a Middle Eastern labourer.
Wm. Paul Young also meets theological topics head-on through pages of dialogue between Mack and the Triune, which are not only relevant to Mack, but affects both Christians and non-believers, such as free will, the Church, and forgiveness.
Reader’s reactions to The Shack
Readers of The Shack appear to be rather polarized in their opinion of the book. Some are touched and uplifted by the message of God’s love, while others are convinced that the book is theologically misrepresented and borders on heresy.
Though it may be true that certain topics do raise question marks, what stands out for me is Young’s message that God is inherently good, He loves us and is always with us. He is our Father, our Papa.
Yes, the world is full of evil, pain, and suffering. I am no stranger to that, and neither are you, precious reader. However, if we can believe in the goodness of God in a broken world, then we can trust Him no matter what comes upon us.
What else has William Paul Young written?
Would l recommend The Shack?
I read this book ten years ago, when l first gave my life to Christ. A friend of mine, who was strong in her Christian faith, gave it to me to help me understand God’s love, mercy, and grace. It was on her heart for me to know that God seeks a relationship with me and that l can trust Him as my Father.
My friend was absolutely right (Thank you, Goose!). Until l read The Shack, l hadn’t experienced what it was like to have a parent-child relationship of love, security, and absolute trust. Reading The Shack opened my eyes to the revelation that God loves me, l am His child and that He is my Father. Since reading this book, l call God Papa.
l didn’t get caught up in the theological correctness or lack thereof that has been discussed amongst readers and critics alike when l read The Shack: l approached the storyline from an emotional level. After reading the last page, not only had l found that emotional connection l was looking for, but the book’s message of God’s love had embedded itself deep in my heart that l feel to this day.
If you are looking for a reason to trust God, if you are seeking a relationship with Him, then l highly recommend this book. It will touch you and enlighten you, and you will receive such a wonderful revelation of the goodness, grace, and love of our Father.
Ok, you’ve convinced me to read The Shack. Now, where can l buy it?
Book cover photo credit: Goodreads