The Shack: Beauty Amidst Pain

Author: Rachel Mannix

Picture: Damaris

The Shack: Beauty Amidst Pain

William Paul Young, the author of The Shack, has hailed the film version as one of the best book to film adaptations he has seen. Given that the nature of these two art forms are so different, it is quite a feat for the crafter of the prose to give such high praise of its visual counterpart.

This does not mean that everyone who loved the book will feel the same. I found the screenplay a little basic and obvious at times, which I imagine is not true of the original work, and something some viewers may find off-putting. This is probably also due to the ‘Americanism’ of the dialogue. However, this is my only criticism of the film.

What is done so successfully and beautifully is bringing to life the other-worldly paradise in which Mackenzie Phillips (Sam Worthington) has an experience of God. After a devastating incident shakes his whole family, Mack receives an unmarked, unaddressed letter inviting him to return to the place inextricably linked with his grief.

At the shack, he expects to meet the one who wronged him but instead is greeted, by name, by a middle-eastern carpenter (Avraham Aviv Alush) who leads him to an idyllic lakeside dwelling. Here he meets Papa (Octavia Spencer) and Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara).

“The Place We Get Stuck”

The author explains that the shack is a metaphor for “the house you build out of your own pain”. It is the place we get stuck on our journey with the Lord and Mack’s week with the three persons of the Trinity is a passage of revisiting past hurt and re-learning who he understood God to be.

Each phase of the film offers an insight into the steps of healing the heart and exploring themes of forgiveness, judgement, unconditional love and flourishing. The journey is fluidly woven together through clever allusions to scripture and biblical imagery.

These key concepts of the Christian faith are portrayed through the lens of the infinite goodness of God.

It can be easy to say ‘God is good’ and not really grasp the depth and power of that statement. The Shack firmly establishes the tender, gentle kindness and  relentless love God has for His children, which, sadly, seems lost on so many today.

Relationship Above Religion

The Shack shows clearly that God desires to be in relationship with His creation. It is at the forefront of Mack’s conversations with the Trinity.  Paul Young has been criticised for rejecting religious institutions, but I believe this misses the entire point.

There is undoubtedly a place for the Church and there is no dismissal of organised religion per se. However, the focus here is that, without relationship, there is no church, only doctrines.

It is an encouragement to go back to prayer and to let God know you intimately so that He can heal you and bring you to the fullness of joy by knowing Him. Only then can we go out and build community with others, which is what it means to be an authentic, relational Church.

Encountering God

The personification of the Trinity in The Shack moved me deeply. It left me with an even greater desire to seek God in every moment and reflect on my relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit separately and simultaneously.

The beauty of the message also means I can confidently promote the film amongst non-Christian friends and lead into conversations about encountering God.

I would recommend a box of tissues and to embrace the highly embarrassing and inevitable weeping. Don’t worry, though: the whole room will be crying with you.

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