The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going On Here than You Ever Dared to Dreamby C. Baxter Kruger
Millions have found their spiritual hunger satisfied by William P. Young's #1 New York Times bestseller, The Shackthe story of a man lifted from the depths of despair through his life-altering encounter with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Now C. Baxter Kruger's THE SHACK REVISITED guides readers into a deeper understanding/b>/b>… See more details below
Millions have found their spiritual hunger satisfied by William P. Young's #1 New York Times bestseller, The Shackthe story of a man lifted from the depths of despair through his life-altering encounter with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Now C. Baxter Kruger's THE SHACK REVISITED guides readers into a deeper understanding of these three persons to help readers have a more profound connection with the core message of The Shackthat God is love.
An early fan of The Shack and a close friend to its author, Kruger shows why the novel has been enthusiastically embraced by so many Christians worldwide. In the words of William P. Young from the foreword to THE SHACK REVISITED, "Baxter Kruger will stun readers with his unique cross of intellectual brilliance and creative genius as he takes them deeper into the wonder, worship, and possibility that is the world of The Shack."
Among the theological books available to the broader market The Shack Revisited asserts itself like a battleship in a marina full of fiberglass boats. In this book, Baxter Kruger has done more than merely put forward a theological framework for Paul Young's bestseller; he has gathered threads from the entire width of the Christian tradition, and from the depth of two thousand years of history to weave together a clear and compelling restatement of Christian belief, which, for me at least, makes me proud to be called "Christian." I cannot imagine how anyone could possibly refute the logic or the weight of scholarship in this book. Yet it is eminently readable and enthralling. The last chapter on the Holy Spirit is, perhaps, the most remarkable thing I have ever read on the subject. A "must read" for any serious thinker or church leader.Rev. David Kowalick, Ordained minister in the Uniting Church in Australia
Dr. Kruger's, book, The Shack Revisited encourages a thoughtful and surprising perspective on God based on the ancient orthodoxy of the New Testament and the early Church. Dr. Kruger recalls his first reading The Shack and being gripped by its gut-wrenching drama, then concludes, 'The Shack is not about the disapproving god of our fallen imaginations; it is about the shocking fondness of the triune God for sinners.' Baxter's exposition of the Trinity, who seeks to engage us in a relationship that heals and sanctifies, is incredibly challenging and hopeful.Dan Price, Ph. D. Pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Eureka, California
There is only one faith that matters, not what we believe about God, but what God believes about us! There is only one authentic theology, not our ideas about God, but the revelation that mankind is God's idea... The Shack Revisited is a remarkable study, and it bears witness of the many hours and indeed years of deep thought, research and logical, anointed reasoning that matured in Baxter's understanding of the infinite riches of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit's eternal intent to unite all things in themselves, which has happened in Jesus Christ, as it was eternally planned... I love the shocking, stubborn, and sober insight that makes both Paul Young's The Shack, and Baxter Kruger's The Shack Revisited most relevant theology! Divine logic is what theology was always meant to be... May this epic study usher in an unstoppable global reformation of re-thinking and remembering our authentic genesis when Deity declared their eternal intent: 'Let us make man in our image and in our likeness!Francois du Toit, author of The Mirror Bible
Baxter Kruger brings his typical down-to-earth charm to this masterful job of laying out in clear, layman's terms the rock-solid historical Christian theology behind Paul Young's best-selling novel. Fans of The Shack are going to love The Shack Revisited."Dr. Joseph Tkach, President of Grace Communion International
Throughout the history of the church, the Living God, in His grace, has raised up men and women who are given special grace to understand who He is for us and for the world. One such person for our time is C. Baxter Kruger. Very few people can so winsomely articulate God's Self-revelation as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the way Baxter can. I think it is because very few people have been gripped by the Trinity the way Baxter has been! What a fortunate human being he is! Whenever I read his work I am moved to tears; tears of joy as Baxter helps me realize that I too have been included in the inner-life of the Trinity. Everything Baxter writes pulsates with the extravagant, healing, life-giving love of the Trinity. Oh how grateful I am for this blessed theologian ... and brother.Darrell Johnson, Preaching Pastor for First Baptist Church, Vancouver, Canada, and author of Discipleship on the Edge: An Expository Journey through the Book of Revelation, and Experiencing the Trinity
The Shack Revisited is the best book you will find to help you understand the theology behind The Shack. This book will change the way you see your God, yourself and the world around you. I can't recommend it highly enough to do it justice. Read it and watch your paradigm transform into one of pure grace.Steve McVey, author of Grace Walk
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The Shack RevisitedThere Is More Going On Here than You Ever Dared to Dream
By C. Baxter Kruger
FaithWordsCopyright © 2012 C. Baxter Kruger
All right reserved.
THE CADILLAC STAND
In mid-October of 2007, Wendy Marchant of Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, rang me on the phone. Her first words were, “Baxter, I am not getting off the phone until you promise me that you will read a book called The Shack.” My first thought was Wendy, come on, not you. From time to time people send me manuscripts of “the best book that has ever been written.” And then two or three days later an e-mail follows wanting to know what I thought of the book. But Wendy is no stranger; in fact, she is a dear friend, a sister who loves me and prays for me and my family all the time. So with my mind shuffling between not again… but this is Wendy, I asked her what the book was about.
“Baxter, I am not going to tell you; it would ruin it. Just trust me on this one.”
“Okay, Wendy, here’s what I will do. Deer season is just around the corner, so I will get this book and put it on the top of my deer-stand reading pile.” And I did.
A month later, on the opening day of gun season, I headed for my deer stand, The Shack dutifully placed in my backpack. Now understand, I am not much of a deer hunter. I have only killed three deer in my entire life. But I love being in the woods. So some years ago my friend Jeff and I built what we affectionately call “the Cadillac stand,” complete with tin roof, carpet, and two seriously comfortable chairs. For me it’s more an outdoor study and a private sanctuary with fantastic views. In the Cadillac I read, write, pray, and sometimes hunt. So I walked up the stairs, got everything situated, sat down, and opened The Shack.
The opening words from Willie’s introduction got my attention: “Who wouldn’t be skeptical when a man claims to have spent an entire weekend with God, in a shack no less?” So, I thought to myself, this is a book about a man meeting God in the woods, in a shack. That’s good. I wonder if this shack is an old hunting camp? But which God? That’s the question, and please tell me this is not going to be the same old, same old. But then came the story of Mack’s “dad” tying him to a tree and beating him for two days, and then the phrase “the Great Sadness,” and then the Multnomah princess story—then Missy—and then I found myself crying my eyes out in the Cadillac.
With my soul ripped open, I wailed. When they found Missy’s dress in the shack, I stood up, blew my nose, dried my tears, and shook The Shack in my right hand. “William P. Young! I don’t know who you are, but I promise you this: if you deliver the same old distant, untouchable, legalistic god who scans the universe with his disapproving heart as the answer to this gut-wrenching trauma, I will take your book and walk two hundred yards, lean it against a tree, and personally eliminate this copy from the cosmos.”
But the brother delivered. Paul Young knows Jesus’ Abba. The Shack is not about the disapproving god of our fallen imaginations; it is about the shocking fondness of the triune God for sinners. It is about the freedom of the Father, Son, and Spirit to love and to embrace us in our terrible brokenness. It’s about the determined passion of the blessed Trinity to deliver us from ourselves, so that we can live loved—because we are. We belong to the Father, Son, and Spirit. We always have, and always will. We just can’t see it. And because we can’t see it, we live with the poisoning weight of Mack’s burden, which we unwittingly share with all around us, including creation.
There is no more beautiful picture of the truth of the triune God than the scene of Papa lifting Mackenzie Allen Phillips off his feet in the greatest hug in the universe. I was stunned, and thrilled, and thrilled again. Somewhere inside we all know it to be so, that this is what Jesus’ Abba is like, that this is the truth that sets us free, that this divine love is real. It just does not square with our heads, with our entrenched ideas, laden as they are with our proof texts and wounded hearts—with what Athanasius called “mythology.”
I read all afternoon, determined to finish before dark. But I didn’t make it. So I sat riveted in the Cadillac with a flashlight in my mouth until my son texted me that he was waiting at our base camp.
The Story Behind the Story
Never intended for publication, The Shack was written by William P. Young (known to his friends as Paul) as a story for his children. He had two aims: first, to give a gift that would express his love for his kids; and second, “to help them understand what had been going on in his inside world” (14), as his friend Willie put it. Paul’s goal was to get the story to Office Depot before Christmas to make fifteen copies for his children, his wife, and a few others. But even working three jobs, there wasn’t enough money. Eventually copies were made, and the story circulated through his family and friends. He was encouraged to have it published as a proper book, but found that it was rejected by every publisher he contacted as being “too out of the box” or “having too much Jesus.” For Paul, its actual publication as a real book, now one of the bestselling books in history, is lagniappe, as the Cajuns say—a little something extra. His dream was fulfilled when the first copies were made and his children had a story that would explain something of their father’s journey into the real world.
I heard Paul say that he reached the point in his life when he cried out, “Papa, I am never again going to ask you to bless something that I do, but if you have something that you are blessing that I could share in, I would love that. And I don’t care if it’s cleaning toilets or holding the door open or shining shoes.” And Papa replied, “Paul, I’ll tell you what, how about I bless this little story you are writing for your kids? You give it to yours, and I will give it to mine.” The rest, as they say, is history.
But is it? There is far more going on in an average person’s life than anyone would dare to dream. And that is certainly true of Paul Young. The Shack is not a novel written by an academic who finally learned to communicate with regular people. There is a story behind the story—several stories, in fact, but I will stick to Willie’s explanation: “to help them understand what had been going on in his inside world” (14). The inside world, the world of the invisibles, of pain and turmoil, of shame, broken hearts, and broken dreams, is the world that drives us all, and especially the larger-than-life tale in The Shack. The story behind the story is the gut-wrenching hell that Paul Young suffered in his own life. I have seen a picture of Paul when he was six years old. He looked like an old man—weary, miserable, spent, and terribly sad. His eyes screamed despair. The picture made me cry. But that is the beginning of this story we have all—or at least most of us—come to love.
By the time Paul was six years old, he had been emotionally abandoned, physically and verbally beaten, and sexually abused—repeatedly. To say the least, he was crippled inside from his early days in life. No child—no person—can withstand such trauma. It creates a lethal roux of shame, fear, insecurity, anxiety, and guilt. These invisibles coalesce into a damning, debilitating, and unshakable whisper: “I am not all right. I am not good, not worthy, not important, not lovable, not human,” which haunts every single moment of life. How does a child, or anyone, cope with an inner world of such anguish? No one can.
As a fish was not made to live on the moon, we were never designed to live in shame. But what do you do? Where do you go? Most of us bury it all in a garbage can in the back room of our souls, and move on. Or try to. But what we bury rules us. What we don’t know that we don’t know will destroy us. “I am not” becomes “I will be,” and we dream a dream of becoming. “If I can just get married and have children…” “If I can just get that job or promotion, that money, that car, that house, that power, that position, that new relationship…” And off we go. But such “things” are incompetent to address spiritual pain. They never work, though we will defend them till they kill us. So we medicate, go on autopilot, check out; or we stay busy, we get involved in a great cause, manage other people’s inner worlds, live through our children, or just stay drunk in one way or another. It’s too much to cope with head-on.
Paul Young turned to religion, partly because it was the environment he grew up in and therefore readily available, and partly because it presented a possible way to perform his way into becoming valuable. He was born in Alberta, Canada, but before his first birthday found himself on the mission field in the highlands of Netherlands New Guinea (West Papua). Around the age of six, as was required by the particular mission board, he was shipped off to boarding school. Before he turned ten, the family unexpectedly returned to Canada, and by the time he graduated from high school, Paul had attended thirteen different schools. His dad had made the change from missionary to pastor.
These facts don’t tell you about the pain of trying to adjust to different cultures, of life losses that were almost too staggering to bear, of walking down railroad tracks at night in the middle of winter screaming into the windstorm, of living with an underlying volume of shame so deep and loud that it constantly threatened any sense of sanity, of dreams not only destroyed but obliterated by personal failure, of hope so tenuous that only the trigger seemed to offer a solution.
Religion was the only world Paul knew, the cards he had been dealt. So he played them. He believed in the “religious” version of Christianity. He had to. With “I am not good” whispering in every breeze, he set out to prove that he was. He graduated at the top of his class in college, became a shining star; a people-pleasing, religious performer on his way to the top. But every moment involved the exhausting task of hypervigilance, constantly scanning each group, each discussion, each meeting and moment to manage people’s impressions of himself. For how could Paul, how can any of us, let people know of the dying inside?
With one hand pushing down on the lid of his garbage can, he smiled, taught the Bible, and became the “nice guy,” the counselor, while keeping everyone at a safe distance. But he found no relief from the raging turmoil in his inner world. He cried out to God for healing, rededicating himself and his life a hundred times, until his “rededicator” finally burned out. His life became a form of hiding, while he desperately searched for relief and help anywhere he could find it. But there is no healing in religion. Healing happens when you meet Jesus in your garbage can—or your shack—a place Paul, like most of us, tried hard to deny even existed.
He performed himself into ministry, into business, into marriage, into fatherhood, trying to the point of exhaustion to become an authentic human being while hiding the underlying shame and personal failures.
A single phone call rocked his world forever—two words, in fact: “I know.” Kim, Paul’s wife, had found out about the affair he was having with one of her friends. An affair is one way that shame works its poison in our lives. There are millions of others, of course, but one is that we turn to another person, a “magical other” who will be our all, our life, our salvation. I suspect Paul found out what the poet meant when he said, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” But that’s not the whole truth. Heaven has no ally like a woman who knows how to love. The dedication in Paul’s book reads, “To Kim, my Beloved, thank you for saving my life.”
While Mackenzie’s weekend at the shack represents eleven years of Paul’s actual life—eleven years of pain and emotional torture, depression, and mere flashes of hope—it was Kim’s heroic love wrapped in fury that held it all together. From a human perspective, without Kim and her heart, Paul Young would probably be dead, tucked away in some cold asylum, or an empty man still performing. There would have been no story to tell—at least, not one about meeting the blessed Trinity in the garbage can.
On the other side of hell, as real freedom and life began to dawn, it was Kim who insisted that Paul write something for the children to explain his journey and newfound liberation. She didn’t mean a book, and neither did Paul, but most folks are thrilled that it all turned out this way. On more than one occasion, I have heard him speak of Kim and their children with tears streaming down his face. The book was born in the crucible of life, of trauma and abuse; of empty religion, misery and betrayal; of mercy, love, and reconciliation. Luther said somewhere that God makes theologians by sending them to hell. In hell, of course, no one is interested in mere theology. In the emptiness of grief, in the pain, the trauma of suffering, we are not interested in pseudo-promises, intellectual masturbation, or “Skippy, the wonder-Christ,” as my friend Ken Blue puts it. What we learn in hell is that we want out. We learn desperation for life, for healing, for real salvation, for a Savior who saves here and now, who reconciles, who heals our brokenness and delivers us from our shame. We need something that works.
This is the story behind the story. The Shack could have easily been titled From Hell to Heaven, or From Overwhelming Shame to Being Loved into Life, or How Jesus Healed a Screwed-Up Man, or even With Gods Like Ours, No Wonder We Are So Sad and Broken. For the story is about hell and heaven, trauma, shame, and finding love—the real Jesus accepting a broken man; and it is about the Father, Son, and Spirit finding us in the far country of our terrible and powerless mythology—to share their life with us. For the truth behind the universe is that God is Father, Son, and Spirit; and the one unflinching purpose of the blessed Trinity is that we would come to taste and feel, to know and experience, the very trinitarian life itself.
What Paul and Kim have lived through and have discovered in the love of Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu is the “joy inexpressible and full of glory” that Peter talked about, and the abounding life that Jesus promised. They cannot go back to the same old do-more-try-harder religion with its properly attested Bible verses. Like C. S. Lewis, in the midst of misery they were “surprised by joy.”
Some have taken offense at the theology of The Shack. Paul’s response is not one of theological argument or biblical prooftexting, though he is very adept at both. His response is his own life and relationships. He would say, “I have a T-shirt from hell—several of them, in fact. Religion doesn’t work anywhere, and especially there, but the Father, Son, and Spirit came to find me in my hell. They accepted me, loved me, embraced me, and are healing me with their love.” I think Paul would also ask a simple question: “How’s your theology working for you?” And, knowing Paul, he would follow that with, “How does your wife or husband and your friends think your theology is working for you?” So, while The Shack is a story for his children, it is a bit more complicated than that. This story is a matter of life or death. Paul Young is serious. He wants his own children to see the disastrous incompetence of religion to heal our broken souls, and he wants them to know the astonishing liberation of Papa’s embrace.
The Father, Son, and Spirit, whom he calls Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu, are not myths like Santa Claus, the white, blue-eyed Jesus, and the tooth fairy. They are real. They meet us in our pain; in our anger, bitterness, and resentment; in our shame and guilt and powerlessness; in our miserable, broken relationships—and in our deadly religion—and there they love us into life and freedom. Hence the second dedication: to “all us stumblers who believe Love rules. Stand up and let it shine.”
The Story Within the Story
Like Paul Young, though for different reasons, Mackenzie Allen Phillips is a shattered man. A few years ago he began living a parent’s worst nightmare: his youngest daughter, Missy, was kidnapped, murdered, and thrown away. “It all happened during Labor Day weekend, the summer’s last hurrah before another year of school and autumn routines” (27). Mack took three of his kids on a camping trip; it was then that Missy was taken. Since then Mack has been trapped in “The Great Sadness,” as he calls it, a gross and unholy cesspool of his own helplessness, Missy’s absence, and the silence of God. He is surrounded by four great kids and his wife, Nan, who knows how to love, but Mack’s inner world is as gnarled as a box of loose coat hangers. He is trying, trying to live in his grief, but hell itself would be a relief for those who suffer the loss of a child. It is just wrong. Overwhelming.
You will never again hear your daughter’s laughter, see her smile, or hear her speak your name—except in nightmares. There will be no sleepovers, no first dates, no boyfriends, no proms, no field trips, no shared pain, no surprises. It’s all over, gone, like the last ray of light before dark. And then there is silence. The grief of it all, the despair and anger and guilt and powerlessness swirl together to cast a spell of numbness on your being. Your mind is dazed. Your capacity to notice, to connect, to feel—to feel alive, to feel others, to feel anything—slows like molasses in winter as the hurt dissolves the color of a rose, and the world becomes essentially joyless. And then the horrible quiet of absence begins eating away the memories (168).
The Great Sadness drains the life of your already-broken soul, stealing your very “sense of being alive” (76). Then there are the horrible dreams of powerlessness. Mack dreams of being stuck in mud, frantically trying to scream a warning to Missy, but no sound ever emerges from his screams (27, 118). He wakes in a sweat, emotionally tortured, full of guilt, stewing in regret, helpless and despairing. Then there is the question of God. Why did this happen? Where was God? Why did he allow Missy to be taken? Didn’t he care? Mack’s mind races, trying to find some way to make sense out of such appalling injustice. But anger, blame, resentment fester in the scars of his wound:
“You don’t believe that Father loves his children very well, do you? You don’t truly believe that God is good, do you?” [Sophia asked.]
“Is Missy his child?” Mack snapped.
“Of course!” she answered.
“Then, no!” he blurted, rising to his feet. “I don’t believe that God loves all of his children very well.” (158, my italics)
“Isn’t that your just complaint, Mackenzie? That God has failed you, that he failed Missy? That before the Creation, God knew that one day your Missy would be brutalized, and still he created? And then he allowed that twisted soul to snatch her from your loving arms when he had the power to stop him. Isn’t God to blame, Mackenzie?”…
“Yes! God is to blame!” (163, my italics)
Lost in the cosmos of his pain, Mack is left holding the bag of God’s incompetence. In such a place, “reality, looked at steadily, is unbearable.” Bewildered and angry, he has quietly become a broken, tired ghost of a man. The days, months, and years pass by, mired in his Great Sadness. Then, on an icy winter day, he slips and slides his way to his mailbox to discover a single note—from God:
It’s been a while. I’ve missed you.
I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together.
And so begins the tale of the healing of Mackenzie Allen Phillips. His liberation involves the thrilling love of the Father, Son, and Spirit in patient, tender care and astonishing respect for Mack. They meet him in his nightmare and nurture him through a revolution in his notions of God, the purpose of human existence, who he is and who others are, the meaning of Jesus’ death, and what it means to live life.
While Paul Young may never have intended the story for publication, that is not to say that the Holy Spirit didn’t have plans of his own. The wild popularity of The Shack tells us that something in this story strikes a very deep and common chord. And while Mack is a fictitious character, he is no foreigner to any of us. This is the story within the story. We are Mackenzie; he is us. We may not have lost a child so brutally as Mack, but not one of us left our own childhood without wounds, and I dare guess that most of us have had a bellyful of pain and bitter disappointment. Mack’s hurt is intense, and his pain raises questions that are deep, and they are our questions, too. He is caught between the proverbial rock of a terrible tragedy and the hard place of a God who is silent, if not cruel. And that hard place haunts us. Mack has nowhere to go in his pain. His religion is inept at best. He is alone, on his own, bearing the horror of Missy’s death as a man with no answers. So the story within the story is that The Shack is our story, too, the story of our pain and blindness, of the God who seems so absent, so uncaring and impotent when it really matters, and of our lives paused in shame. But it is also the story of our liberation—if we want it.
In that moment when Papa opened the door of the shack and embraced a broken, saddened Mackenzie Allen Phillips in utter love, was it not the case with you that an ancient hope sprang to life in your soul? Did you not cry? It’s a love story that we desperately want to believe, but we can’t. We know it’s true. But how could it be? One scene raises a universe of questions. Could God be this good? Could I be so wrong? Could it be this simple? Yes! Yes! Yes!
Mack found no real help in the very “religion” with which many of us have grown up. To be sure, he eventually found serious healing, but the price was the deconstruction of almost everything he had ever been told about God, about himself and others, about life—though not of what he had heard whispered to him in the Spirit. And here is the fascinating part for me as a theologian. What Mackenzie discovered was the sheer goodness and love of the Father, Son, and Spirit, the ancient truth that once changed the world. The Shack is the voice of the early Church calling us back from our craziness to our true home in the Father, Son, and Spirit.
The story within the story is that Paul Young—through the tragic life and healing of Mackenzie Allen Phillips—has found a way to steal behind the watchful dragons of our deism, legalism, and rationalism, and introduce us to the truth that sets us free. And the truth is a person (97), who shares life and all things in other-centered love with his Papa, in the wonderful freedom of the Holy Spirit. And a person who has crossed all worlds to find us in our pain. And a person who brought his Papa and the Holy Spirit with him. Somewhere inside we know it’s true. But we’re afraid. For when you pull on this thread, a lot of rug begins to unravel. Nevertheless, just when you fear that your world is vanishing, you discover that Someone is weaving a new carpet of unimaginable simplicity, freedom, and life.
In the midst of the story, when Mack is being loved through a fifteen-or-so-step process of healing, Sophia exhorts him with words that all lovers of life must heed: “Maybe your understanding of God is wrong” (166); and then Sarayu, “Be willing to reexamine what you believe” (199).
The Phone Call
A little over a week after I read The Shack in the Cadillac stand, my son and I were watching Eli Manning and the New York Giants on TV, when my cell phone rang. It was Sunday afternoon. As I looked at the number, my son asked who it was. “I don’t know this number. Where is the 503 area code?”
“Got no idea,” he said. “It’s not from around here.”
“I don’t either,” I muttered, and moved my finger to mute the call, when something told me to answer.
“Hello, this is Baxter.”
“Baxter, this is Paul Young.”
The name didn’t register, at all. I don’t know a Paul Young, I thought to myself as my mind reeled through people I have met in my travels.
“You may know me as William.”
“William Paul Young,” I whispered to myself, the name still not registering. Then it hit me, and I blurted out, “William P. Young?”
“I am,” he said in a way that I could tell he was enjoying himself.
“The William P. Young?”
“Well, I don’t know about the ‘the’ part, but I am William P. Young. My friends call me Paul.”
“Are you the dude who wrote like the best book that has been written in the last five hundred years?”
“I don’t know about that, but I wrote The Shack.”
“Dude! Why in the world are you calling me? The whole world wants to talk with you.”
“Well, I got an e-mail from your friend Tim Brassell. He said that I needed to get in touch with you because you have written the theology that goes with The Shack. So I called.”
It took me a full five minutes before I could believe what was happening. And then I told him about the Cadillac stand, and he laughed, and then I asked a thousand questions, and he answered most of them.
An hour and a half later we said good-bye, and I immediately phoned Tim and told him what had happened. I was already scheduled to do a conference for Tim and Bill Winn at Bill’s church in Virginia in April, so I was eager to get Tim and Bill to invite Paul, which they did.
Since that phone call and the April conference, Paul and I have become close friends, and I have had the privilege of teaching with him on The Shack in three countries. It is always amazing to hear his story, and equally amazing that so many millions of people relate so readily both to Mackenzie’s struggle and to Paul’s life.
Let me relate a story that gives some perspective on Paul, and a hint on the appeal of The Shack. Paul and I were touring across Australia in November 2008. We were with singer-songwriter Vanessa Kersting and just settling in for a flight from Melbourne to Brisbane. Vanessa and I were sitting together, and Paul was somewhere behind us, when over the intercom came the captain’s voice: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking. Today we have a very special guest on board.” Smiling, I turned to Vanessa and said, “Someone found out that Paul is on the plane.” She smiled, too, and then the captain said, “Today is Baxter Kruger’s fiftieth birthday.” With that the passengers erupted in cheers and applause. I was shocked, and a little embarrassed, and as I turned around, waving and thanking the people, I caught the gleaming eye of Paul Young, grinning from ear to ear like a little boy who had surprised his parents with a special gift. Such a gesture meant the world to me on my birthday, especially as I was halfway around the planet from my own family. But what struck me was that in spite of all the trauma that Paul had endured, he was getting to play.
What Willie said about Mack is true of Paul:
But I have to tell you that I’ve never been around another adult who lives life with such simplicity and joy. Somehow he has become a child again. Or maybe more accurately, he’s become the child he never was allowed to be; abiding in simple trust and wonder. (249–50)
I think this freedom sings throughout the story. And it’s the haunting tune we all long to hear—and to live to. For it is our song, too.
SOME FIRST THOUGHTS ON PAPA
Well, Mackenzie, don’t just stand there gawkin’ with your mouth open like your pants are full…. Come and talk to me while I get supper on.
In an old abandoned shack in the outback of the Oregon mountains, Mackenzie Allen Phillips is shocked by three unusual characters. It is supposed to be a showdown with God in “the place of his nightmares” (71), the very place where his Missy was murdered. But the three people he meets, a large African American woman with beaming eyes, a strong carpenter of Middle Eastern descent, and an Asian-looking woman who appears and disappears at will, are nothing like the God Mack imagined he would meet. In fact, the God he imagined is a no-show.
In all, Mack makes four trips to the shack. The first is the terrible night when the authorities find fragments of Missy’s red dress, and blood on the wooden floors. The second, several years later, is when Mack answers an invitation from Papa, his wife’s favorite name for God. Mack has mixed emotions, to be sure. He is a little intrigued, a little scared, and a lot angry. He borrows his friend’s Jeep and heads out, knowing that he is driving “into the center of his pain” (76).
After several hours of driving, Mack parks the Jeep a mile or so from the shack, but he can only take five steps before the knot in his gut makes him panic. “Please help me!” (77) he cries out, but there is no answer. At length he manages to follow the treacherous trail until he sees the shack. “The shack itself looked dead and empty, but as he stared it seemed for a moment to transform into an evil face, twisted in some demonic grimace, looking straight back at him and daring him to approach” (79). The fact that Mackenzie takes another step toward the shack is a lesson in courage, or anger. He has a lot to talk to God about.
Standing at the door, his mind flashes back to that terrible night, his emotions in turmoil. He calls out to God, but as before, there is no answer. Then again he calls and again there is no answer. Courageously facing his fear of what may be inside, Mack opens the door. And that’s just it: there is nothing inside. No God, no life; just emptiness, shadows, the barren nothingness of the god of our fears, and the bloodstains of his Missy. Mack’s god, our god, the god of our fallen imaginations, is not real—never has been, and never will be. But the trauma this god inflicts is real to us.
This is a brilliant move on Young’s part. Without a single theological word, he has ripped open the tragedy of Western theology—and made us feel it. At this moment in the book, and hopefully at this point in history, the sterility of that imaginary god is exposed for all to see. To be sure, Mack’s Great Sadness is rooted in the horrible loss of Missy, but it’s also rooted in the terrible absence of God. That is a lonely place.
Inside, alone and helpless, Mack explodes with pain. “Why? Why did you let this happen? Why did you bring me here? Of all the places to meet you—why here? Wasn’t it enough to kill my baby? Do you have to toy with me too?” (80). In a fit of rage he all but destroys the room, exhausting himself as he throws a chair and beats the floor with one of its broken legs. And then his pain, his anger, his wrath at God are funneled into three screaming words: “I hate you!” (80). It is the scream of honesty, the only real response when our pain and the cold, heartless impotence of this god collide in real-life tragedy. I hate you!
He slumps down in tears, engulfed in his Great Sadness. Once again, taking “aim at the indifferent God he imagined” (80), he shouts sarcastically:
So where are you? I thought you wanted to meet me here. Well, I’m here, God. And you? You’re nowhere to be found! You’ve never been around when I’ve needed you—not when I was a little boy, not when I lost Missy. Not now! Some “Papa” you are! (80–81)
I’m done, God… I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired of trying to find you in all of this. (82)
I hate you! The last word of the human race, trapped in the great darkness. But such awful desolation is not the end of the story. For the lover of our souls meets us in our pain. This, too, is a brilliant move, to my mind, and one of the great themes running throughout The Shack. Unlike the indifferent god of our imaginations, the Father, Son, and Spirit do in fact meet us in our pain, in our tragedy, and especially in our darkness and sin. It is not so much—as we will see—that the blessed Trinity is absent to the rest of our lives; it is that, in the trauma created by the collision of life and the false god of our imaginations, we begin to get new eyes.
Having screamed his final word, rejecting god, Mackenzie leaves the shack and heads back to the Jeep. It is then, after he has spoken his “peace” with god, that the world changes—his world and, hopefully, ours. Thirty or so yards toward the Jeep, the woods come alive with light. A bizarre life shines in the stillness of Mack’s disgust. A month of spring’s thaw unfolds in a few short moments. New hope emerges as the snow melts around him, and the flowers unveil their glory. Intrigued yet cautious, he makes the decision to go back to the shack. But it, too, has changed. No longer a dilapidated shack, it is now a finely built log cabin with a white picket fence, and smoke wending from the chimney. He thinks he can hear laughter (83). Mack has no idea what lies before him, but it is not to be missed that his first hint was laughter.
But how is a man supposed to believe such a miracle? Half convinced that he has lost his mind, Mackenzie doesn’t know what to think, or what to do. But it’s too late. Standing on the porch trying to decide if he should knock, Mack, like the prodigal son, never gets a chance to say a word. The door flies open. A large African American woman, whose face beams with life and love itself, runs to embrace him, lifting Mackenzie off the ground in joy while shouting his name as if she has known and loved him all his life.
Mack is stunned silent, clueless as to who this woman is, but finding his soul drinking in every ounce of the moment. Who doesn’t want to be embraced? Who doesn’t want to be called by name by someone smiling with delight? His defenses are up, to be sure, but his heart is helplessly melting. Shocked but delighted, bewildered yet moved to tears, he loves the way she shouts his name. “ ‘Mack, look at you!’ she fairly exploded. ‘Here you are, and so grown up. I have really been looking forward to seeing you face to face…. My, my, my, how I do love you!’ And with that she wrapped herself around him again” (85). You can see the wheels turning in Mack’s mind: Who is this woman? And why is she here? How does she know me, and why does she care? What on earth is going on?
But he hardly has time to process what is happening before an Asian-looking woman, whom he can barely see, invades his space, brushing his cheek. As best he can tell, she is dressed something like a gardener, but she is almost invisible, shimmering in light. “ ‘I collect tears,’ she said” (86). Then Mack notices a Middle Eastern man leaning against the doorjamb. He is rather ordinary-looking, but strong, and his smile somehow speaks volumes. “Mack knew instantly that he liked him” (87). Covered in sawdust, with a tool belt around his waist, he looks like he might be a carpenter.
Overwhelmed, Mack tries to steady himself, asking somewhat humorously, “Are there more of you?” (87).
“ ‘No, Mackenzie,’ chuckled the black woman. ‘We is all that you get, and believe me, we’re more than enough’ ” (87).
Less than thirty minutes ago Mack was fuming at god, screaming out, “I’m done! I hate you!” as his final verdict. Now he finds himself in the astonishing embrace of a black woman who obviously knows him and loves him. Mackenzie has no clue what to do or say. Even though he is still hurting, still stewing in anger at the god of his imagination, Mack stands surrounded by two beautiful women and a carpenter, the three of whom somehow know him and accept him—even like him—just as he is. He feels strangely at home. He feels noticed and known, cared for, even wanted and certainly welcomed. Then he catches the unmistakable whiff of his own mother’s perfume coming from the black woman. Still guarded—and who wouldn’t be—he feels tears welling up in his eyes.
And so Mackenzie Allen Phillips unexpectedly finds himself included in a fellowship of love. In a few short hours he will marvel at their relationship, at their other-centeredness, mutual respect and delight, and the way they accept him as he is. Little does he know that this gentle acceptance will transform him from the inside out.
In many ways the whole story of The Shack is crammed into this scene, as are some rather large theological issues. It’s a picture that stirs longed-for hope within us, and begs a thousand questions—from the character of God to the fact that Mack was included before he repented and believed, from the purpose of the Incarnation to the meaning of Jesus’ death, from what it means to be human to the real meaning of heaven and hell. And we will get to these in due course. But first, a simple question: What if this moment—this scene of Papa’s embrace—is what happens to us when we die? What if we wake up on the other side hearing Papa shout our name, surrounded by Sarayu collecting our tears, and Jesus, covered in sawdust from the coffin for our Great Sadness?
Let me go a little further. What if it’s already true now? What if we are already so known and loved and welcomed now?
Lesson One of the story is that we are Mackenzie. The astonishing embrace enfolding him is the truth about us. We are known, loved, and delighted in by the Father, Son, and Spirit, just as we are, whether we believe in God or not. The truth is we have already been embraced by Jesus’ Papa and by the Spirit. That is what the coming of Jesus was all about. The blessed Trinity has already met us in our shacks. In Jesus they have pitched their tents inside our garbage cans. We belong to the Father, Son, and Spirit. We always have, and always will; Jesus has seen to that personally. But like Mackenzie, we have wrong eyes; there is so much hurt, we cannot possibly know the truth or believe it—yet. But so it is.
THE DANCING GOD
I’m not who you think I am, Mackenzie.
One reviewer of The Shack wrote of meeting critics who were “deeply disturbed” by Young’s daring portrayal of the Trinity “as eccentric personalities with offbeat ways of communicating their message.” These critics accused him of “blasphemy,” labeling Young “a post-modernist for whom ‘truth’ meant nothing.” Then the reviewer wrote:
I can admit to a sense of shock when I realized in the course of reading that Young had chosen to portray God our Father as an absolutely enchanting, powerfully-mothering, African-American woman. But I will also admit that it wasn’t too long in my reading before I found myself wanting to sit at her kitchen table and to enjoy her cooking, her conversation, and her maternal affection. The beauty of the fellowship generated by her presence was what many of us have sought for a lifetime and so rarely experienced.
This is beautifully stated, and it gets to the heart of the question that Young’s Papa raises for all of us. Who doesn’t want to be so loved, so known, so accepted? Who doesn’t want to sit at Papa’s table and enjoy her cooking and delight? But on what basis could we be so bold as even to dream of such a thing? We are talking about God here, remember, the Ultimate One. Yet, as my friend Ken Courtney asks, “that’s what we want, isn’t it?” We will come back to our desire to be known and accepted in a moment. But first we must deal with another question.
Does this “absolutely enchanting, powerfully-mothering, African-American woman” say anything to us about the real God? Can we dare believe that Jesus’ Father is as good as this Papa? My answer is simply, “Of course.” The picture of the Father’s heart painted by Young is straight from Jesus himself. This heart, overflowing with love and delight, is not a fantasy of Paul Young. This is the ancient love that fired the universe. This is the untarnished truth. If anything, the enchanting love and sheer goodness of Papa’s heart, beautiful as they are, nevertheless pale in comparison to Jesus’ portrayal of his Father in his most famous parable.
The background of this parable is the critique of Jesus by the religious leaders called the Pharisees. They don’t like Jesus. His freedom to be with broken people is disturbing, if not embarrassing. He doesn’t play by their rules, and the broken people are “listening intently” to what he has to say. And, get this, the “broken people” are the dreaded tax-gatherers who were themselves Jewish but collected taxes for the Romans, often lining their own pockets through overtaxation. They were despised by the rest of the Jews. Of course, Jesus made one of them his disciple, and later went out of his way to find Zaccheus, a chief tax collector. When Jesus found him up in a tree, he said, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”
And then there were the “sinners,” the lawbreaking drunkards, the harlots, the conniving swindlers, those so shamed and beaten down they wouldn’t dare even look up at heaven. You have to appreciate the irony here. The ones who are lost are not the sinners who are listening to Jesus, but the religious people who have no problems, at least in their own minds.
So the Pharisees and the scribes are fuming at Jesus for allowing the likes of such folks to hang around. You can see their minds working: After all, he’s making a pitch at being at least a great prophet, if not the Son of God himself. If anything, he should be holier than us, yet there he is fraternizing with blasphemers and winebibbers. Go figure. So they level what they believe will be an exposing accusation at Jesus. You can almost see it on Saturday Night Live, the robed religious elite having their secret whispering sessions, finally coming up with just the right damning allegation to throw the light on this charlatan. And then they practice their grimace of insolence, so their critique will drip off their noses with poignant contempt.
What is their great criticism? “Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ ” That’s it: he receives sinners, and eats with them! There is obvious disdain in their accusation; they don’t even have the courtesy to speak his name, calling Jesus “this man” or “this fellow.” The problem is that to receive someone and share a meal with them in this culture is a sign of real solidarity. This is how you treat family. So Jesus is acting like he is family with the tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees are dumbfounded. “How can he do this? He is supposed to represent God. Jesus has lost his mind.”
Jesus must have been a little stunned, if not angry, at the extraordinary blindness of this religious lot. Their accusation is loaded with a question: “How do you, Jesus, a self-respecting rabbi with disciples, explain your bizarre relationships? These people deserve nothing but to be outcast, forever shunned by God and his people. And here you are eating with them, declaring to the world that they are family.”
They did not have baseball in those days, of course, but if they did, Jesus would have been a pitcher. For he loved throwing theological curveballs to the self-crowned religious elite. And he wasn’t shy about firing a blazing inside fastball to back them off the plate and get their attention.
He responds with three stories—and if you think Paul Young’s Papa is shocking, just wait till you hear what Jesus tells the Pharisees about his Father. The sinners, sitting at Jesus’ feet, could hardly wait for what was about to happen. But you’ve got to admire the Pharisees’ self-confidence. They have picked a fight with Jesus. It is carefully calculated, and in their minds there is no way that Jesus can escape without embarrassment.
So Jesus faces them with his own questions. Here is my loose paraphrase of Luke 15:
Which of you would not go after one of your own sheep, if you discovered that it was lost? And when you found it, which of you would not invite your friends and neighbors to celebrate its safe return? I didn’t think so. So hear me. I tell you, that’s the way it is in heaven. In fact, there will be more joy over one sinner who gets the truth about my Father, than over ninety-nine “righteous” persons who think they don’t need help.
Or what woman here, if she loses one of her ten coins, would not light a lamp and search carefully until she finds it? (Note the “search carefully” part.) And when she finds it, who among you would not call your friends and neighbors to rejoice with you? I didn’t think so. So hear me. I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who gets the truth about my Father.
Here’s another story. A father had two sons; he loved them both. One got it into his head that he wanted to see the world. The other kept his list of dos and don’ts. The father divided his wealth between them. The younger son blazed a trail to the far country, squandering his money on wine, loose women, and riotous living. He humiliated his father and embarrassed his family with his feral ways. The whole town knew; the whispers were everywhere.
When the money ran out, the boy began to starve. Reduced to pilfering food that he was feeding to pigs (an utter horror for a Jewish person), he remembered that the servants of his father ate quite well. So he decided to go home, and knowing that he had proved himself unworthy of his father’s love, he would pitch a plea for a job and some food as a servant.
So he headed home. But his father saw him when he was but a speck on the horizon. His heart filled with joy, the father ran out, embraced his son, and kissed him again and again—foul stench and all. Then he shouted to his servants, “Quick! Get my best robe and put it on him, and get the family ring and put it on his finger, and new sandals for his feet. And bring out the prized calf, and let’s have a party! For my son was lost and has come home.”
Then, I suspect, there was a long pause as Jesus let the shocking, almost unbelievable story sink in. Then he looked to the broken people with an assuring smile and a nod, and then he stared at the Pharisees.
This is what my Abba, my Papa, is like. This is why I am here, and this is why I receive sinners and share meals with them. They belong to my Father. He loves them forever. They are family. Just like the sheep belonged to the shepherd, and the coin belonged to the woman, and the two boys belonged to their father, you belong to my Father.
But the story is not over. You see, the older son, list in hand, was in the fields carrying out his duties. He heard the music and dancing, and called one of the servants for an explanation. “Your brother has come home. Your father’s commanded a feast!” When the older son heard of the father and his party, he stalked off fuming, fit to be tied. The father himself came out looking for him, doing his best to convince him to join the party. Then the son shouted, “Look here! I have never once disobeyed you, and you have never once given me a prized goat for a party for my friends. But when this whoremongering son of yours straggles in from the wine country, you embarrass yourself running down the streets, and receive him back! I even heard you kissed the swine-smelling derelict. That is not fair!”
Grieved and bewildered, the father looked his son in the eyes. “My child, you have always been here with me, and I have already given you everything that I have. How could we not rejoice over your brother? For he was dead and now has begun to live. He was lost to life in my house, but now has been found.”
We are not told what happened when Jesus finished telling these stories. But surely the broken people cheered, and then cried in their shocked hope. They had never heard of a father like this. They identified with the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the younger son. And Jesus was telling them that they were accepted and loved by his Father just like this Jewish patriarch loved his broken son. Like the shepherd, Jesus’ Abba has come after his lost sheep. Like the woman, Jesus’ Papa has scoured the house of his universe to find his lost coin. And like this Jewish father, Jesus’ Abba has embraced and kissed us in our shame, and commanded a feast in his joy. So what’s the real difference between an African American woman embracing a broken, angry white man, and a Jewish father embracing his wayward son? Both are stunning pictures of the truth.
Paul Young is not saying that God is a black woman, any more than Jesus is saying that God is a Jewish patriarch. But both are using a shocking story to help us know the real truth about Jesus’ Father, and the truth about who we are.
And what of the older brothers of the world, the Pharisees who create their own religious way to God, make lists, and keep them perfectly? I suspect that Jesus told these stories primarily for the Pharisees. That is why the older brother’s story comes last. Jesus knows his Papa is “especially fond” of them, too. They belong, just as the tax-gatherers and sinners do. In fact, the father in the story embraced this older son in his religious pride, entreating him in the power of the Spirit to join the party.
I wonder if the Pharisees got it. I wonder if they saw themselves in the older brother. Jesus is the Father’s arms embracing all of us, including them. He is the Father’s heart entreating the religious among us to put the ledger down and to learn from him about his Father’s heart. He is the “wealth” divided between them. Like Mackenzie, who has more in common with the Pharisees than he does with the wayward son, the Pharisees, too, are already loved and included.
LIGHT FROM LEWIS
Sarayu began humming the same evocative tune he’d heard earlier…. The melody stirred Mack deep inside, knocking again at the door.
As you have probably gathered by now, I suspect that the fingerprints of C. S. Lewis are all over The Shack. And nowhere more so than in the riveting scene when Papa runs across the porch and lifts Mackenzie off the ground with a hug as wide as the universe. Such a scene is born from a long and brutal journey, winding through great hurt into the discovery of the love of the Father, Son, and Spirit and the freedom to be. Both Young and Lewis write as grown men who have learned to play again; they write, as someone said to Lewis about his writing, “as though you enjoyed it.”
I have listened to Paul share his story for hours and hours in three different countries. He is always the same. His voice sounds like a blend of the voices of Kevin Costner and Tom Hanks, and he grins like Donald Sutherland, as if he knows something that you don’t, but are about to, and he will enjoy every minute of your awakening. What Paul knows is that Papa is good, and that you are accepted as you are, and he knows that you believe that you are not. For me, Paul’s voice, his grin, his eyes anticipating your surprise, all come together when Papa shouts, “Mackenzie Allen Phillips!” on the front porch.
Within us all there lies a broken dream, “our inconsolable secret,” as Lewis calls it, that is so precious to us we protect it with a thousand defenses. “The secret which hurts so much,” Lewis says, “that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence.” We know that we are made for glory, but we’ve only known hints of its joy. In the midst of life we long for more. Something is missing; creation is aflame with a glory we cannot touch, but we know it’s ours. We are moved by ancient music, but cannot find the great dance. So “we pine,” as Lewis says. But such pining is too much to bear. So we bury our longing, and protect our dream’s sleep.
Back in my college days at Ole Miss, I once bumped into Miss Mississippi. I had met her several times, so we greeted one another. It was around Homecoming, so as we talked I asked her who she had a date with for the big weekend. She paused for a moment, and then said, “Baxter, I don’t have a date. In fact, no one ever asks me out.”
I was shocked. “How in the world do you not have a date? I would have thought your phone never stops ringing.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “No one calls me.”
Every now and then I think about how odd it was that the reigning Miss Mississippi hardly ever had a date. One day it dawned on me. There is a huge risk in picking up the phone and asking someone like her for an evening out. Rarely does a “No” feel good, even a polite one; but somehow it seems to hurt more if the “No” comes from someone of standing. Perhaps it’s better not to run the risk, and just settle for something else.
What if the grand promises of the New Testament, of abounding life, of the river of living water, of love, of a kingdom of righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit, turn out to be a sham, a terrible trick of the gods? What if we find a closed door at the end of our longing? What if we hear that dreaded and shattering “No”? What if at last we miss the great dance altogether? Better not to listen for the music. Better to put the phone down. Better to bury the dream.
In this world it is best to keep such romanticism at bay. “Grow up,” we say to ourselves, “put such silliness aside, and just get on with it.” Perhaps it’s better to compromise with our hearts and live a half-life than to risk the prospect of such a bitter disappointment. But then we hear a rumor in the wind, a line from a song; we see a smile, or a sunset; or we read the scene of Papa shouting Mackenzie’s name, or hear the “haunting tune” of Sarayu (132, 234), and our insides tremble with hope. Our dream is awakened.
Such is the burden of being alive. How could we dare run the risk? There is no pain more bitter than the death of a deep dream, and no dread as terrible as its awakening without hope. But what if Papa is real? What if Jesus is passionate that we know his Father with him? What if the Holy Spirit is determined that we live in the freedom of Papa’s embrace?
Lewis was a rare academic who harnessed his great mind in the service of his heart’s pain, until he was at last “surprised by joy.” As such, his writings sing the song of the longing heart. He knows about our dream, and he knows the truth. He was aware of “almost committing an indecency” in bringing up our inconsolable secret. But how can a man who has met Jesus’ Papa be silent?
As a boy in Ireland, Lewis was smitten by an encounter too beautiful for words. It was only a fleeting moment, but it was real, and “in a certain sense,” he says, “everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison.” Thankfully, he could never let it go, and his whole life became a long quest to discover what that encounter, and others like it in his youth, were all about. He came to call them “stabs of joy.” A “stab” because it hurt, and “joy” because even the pain of the stab was better than anything else in life. But what was it that Lewis encountered? What were the “stabs of joy”? What is our inconsolable secret? What exactly is our dream all about? It has to do with Papa’s smile, and Lewis has written beautifully about it.
In his famous sermon, now an essay published separately as The Weight of Glory, one of the finest sermons ever penned, you can find three profound insights into our inconsolable dream. The first we might call the desire to be baptized. I don’t mean baptism in the sense of water or the church sacrament; I mean baptism in the sense of being immersed in something to the point of being utterly filled with it. Lewis is writing about beauty, the simple pleasure of seeing something beautiful, and about how in seeing it we want more. And this wanting more is surely part of what awakens in our hearts as we read about Papa’s embrace.
We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves—that, though we cannot, yet these projections can enjoy in themselves that beauty, grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that “beauty born of murmuring sound” will pass into a human face; but it won’t.
I think I have read this paragraph a hundred times over the years. It never ceases to amaze me. There is so much here. Notice the words “to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” And I wonder if Lewis is right when he suggests that our fairy tales are really about this deep dream, that they are the projections of our longing hearts. The longing is not so much about beauty as it is about being filled, baptized. But filled with what?
In Mere Christianity, Lewis notes the biblical distinction between bios and zoe. Although both words are translated as “life” in our English Bibles, they mean two different things. Lewis says that human beings in their natural condition, from their mother’s womb, have bios—biological life—but not zoe, or spiritual life. The difference between the two, Lewis says, is like the difference between a photograph and a real place, a statue and a real man. We could say it is the difference between broken, sad, and angry Mackenzie, and Mackenzie embraced and delighted in by Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu.
“This world is a great sculptor’s shop,” writes Lewis. “We are the statues and there is a rumor going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.” The filling we long for is a filling with real spiritual life, not bios but zoe. But what is this spiritual life? What is zoe?
The second aspect of longing Lewis writes about in The Weight of Glory has to do with reunion. It is a longing “to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off,” and “to be acknowledged, to meet with some response.” Here Lewis shifts from the abstract to the personal and relational, from discussions of filling and fullness and life to being noticed, heard, and known—to fellowship.
But there is yet a third dimension. For it is not merely fellowship for which we long, but fellowship of a certain kind. In the essay Lewis talks about glory in terms of fame. Not the fame of Hollywood—“not fame,” Lewis says, “conferred by our fellow creatures”—but fame of a much more profound nature: “fame with God, approval or (I might say) ‘appreciation’ by God.” He elaborates:
Nothing is so obvious in a child—not in a conceited child, but in a good child—as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised.
To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.
Lewis moves from longing as the desire to be filled (baptized) to the desire to be reunited, reconnected, and known (fellowship), and now to the desire to be a thrill to the heart of God. It is when you combine these three that you come very close not only to the soul of the universe, but also to naming our own inconsolable secret. When Papa embraces Mackenzie, our inner world leaps with hope that it could be so for us. What we want is to see Papa smile at us. We want to be a delight to the Father’s heart, and to be so filled with his pleasure that our whole being dances in it. And that brings us within a hairsbreadth of the blessed Trinity and the great dance of the triune God, not to mention the stunning dream of the blessed Trinity for the human race.
Lewis was shocked at this. He said it never crossed his mind that what he longed for was God. “No slightest hint was vouchsafed me that there ever had been or ever would be any connection between God and Joy.” But gradually it began to dawn on him that behind the whole universe was Something vast and deep and ancient and beautiful, and very alive.
And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing—not even a person—but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.
Behind Lewis’s longing and ours is “the first dance,” the original dance, the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit. This fellowship is not boring, joyless, sad, or empty, and certainly not religious. This is a living fellowship of passion and delight and love, of creativity and music and joy, of glory and oneness and life—zoe.
The secret longing of our souls is to be taken into this circle and given a place in it, to pass into it, to bathe in it and be filled with this life, to be noticed and known and embraced, to share in the very delight and pleasure that the Father has for his beloved Son, to share in their joy together in the Spirit, and to live in its freedom. As Lewis says, “The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us.”
Such a thought is almost unbelievable, but I think it is tucked away within us, and wrapped up in a box labeled “Too Risky.” Such a longing is too much to bear. What could be more painful than to hope for such a dream and then miss it? And who among us actually believes that we could possibly be “a real ingredient in the divine happiness”? Why would God smile at us? So we bury our dream, and move on with life. Then we read of Papa’s shout, full of such passion and love and delight, and the dream is awakened.
It hurts to hope that it could be so. But what if it is already true?
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Nobody knows what horrors I have saved the world from ’cuz people can’t see what never happened.
Only the Lord knows how a boy from south Mississippi could be a die-hard Minnesota Vikings fan, but I was. And my mom and dad gave me the unheard-of present of going to New Orleans to see my beloved Vikings play in person against the Saints, known in those days as the “aints” (blessedly, times have changed).
The three hours it took to drive to New Orleans seemed to me an eternal day. But we finally got there, and my dad parked the car. We took a trolley to the old Tulane Stadium. It was a magnificent afternoon, and the game was everything I had dreamed it would be, including a decisive Viking victory.
After the game we were walking down the exit ramp when I looked over the rail and saw three buses lined up, and I recognized the huge men boarding the buses as the Viking players themselves. Without thinking, I ran down the ramp and somehow made my way to the players. I actually shook hands with Carl Eller and was inches away from Alan Page and Wally Hilgenberg. And Coach Bud Grant himself stood not five feet from me. As he leaned over to sign an autograph his hat fell off, and I got to pick it up and give it back to him. Needless to say, I was in heaven.
Excerpted from The Shack Revisited by C. Baxter Kruger Copyright © 2012 by C. Baxter Kruger. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
C. BAXTER KRUGER, Ph.D. is a Trinitarian scholar and the Director of Perichoresis Ministries, a ministry dedicated to the recovery of the gospel of the Triune God. He has degrees in political science, psychology and his Doctor of Philosophy from Kings College, Aberdeen, Scotland. He is the author of seven books published by his ministry and teaches around the world.
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I was really looking forward to reading this book as I had read "The Shack" five times and enjoyed it every time, the first time taking me less than 24 hours to complete the book, I love it! Also my husband and I bought a case of the books between the two of us and gave them away to friends and relatives to read. My husband is a pastor and he and I both found the book a refreshing change for the explanation of ones relationship with God. That should explain why I was so anxious to read this book. I was extremely disappointed with C. Baxter Kruger's take on Paul Young's book. He made what Paul had simplified for people into a difficult quagmire of words that people can not even pronounce. He said it would not be a book on theology but in my opinion that is exactly what it has turned out to be. It is like reading the fifth chapter of Genesis, it just goes on and on. I was excited with Paul Young's explanation of the trilogy, because for the first time it made since to people who had a difficult time understanding it. Then I read C. Baxter Kruger's book and it put it right back into the dump of despair for anyone who was confused to begin with, except I think it might have added a little to that already confused state. I don't believe that I need to belabor the point much longer, needless to add I would not recommend that you waste your hard earned dollars on this book unless you need something to help you sleep at night or are reeeallllly into theology, a lot of repeating of Paul Young's book, which I'm sure you've already read and could just read again and someone else's interpretation of the Bible.
It puts alot of things in prospective.an awsome read
I have read The Shack several times. Kruger is a perfect follow-on to Young. He is an outstanding theologian and fluid writer. Kruger is non fiction. He writes of deep theology, and I know you will agree with the forward by Paul Young who states, "If you want to understand better the perspectives and theology that frame The Shack, this book is for you. I love this book, and know you will too. Mark H. Harris Rochester MN <><
I loved The Shack.Have read it 3-4 times, took it as a class in one church and taught it as a class in another. The Shack gave me more insight into the nature of the Trinity than anything else I've read, learned, or experienced. So when I saw the prepublication reviews on Kruger's book, I knew I had to have it. It's different from The Shack, which is a novel. Kruger's book is nonfiction and takes a look at the concepts that Young presents in The Shack from the point of view of a theologian. It's deep, but not difficult. A little slower read, because you want to stop and let his points sink in. Young himself has said that this is the best book written about The Shack. I have read several books about it, and learned something from all of them, but this is by far the best. You will need to read The Shack before delving into this book, or you will not know what he's talking about.
Not at al what expected, I thought it was a cont. Of the shack, very disappointed.
I found this book, “The Shack Revisited” to be extremely interesting, especially after reading the first book “The Shack.” The Second Edition, “The Shack Revisited,” authored by C. Baxter Kruger, along with two or more Theologians giving their interpretations and/or concepts of the first book “The Shack” authored by Wm. Paul Young. C. Baxter Kruger, with the help and views of C. S. Lewis and other theologians’ (both present and deceased) views of the Trinity were added to their concepts or interpretations of the book “The Shack Revisited;” which goes into depth of the explanation of the Triune God of the original fiction story of the book “The Shack.” Their in-depth opinions and different interpretations of the story of P. Young’s book of the man's experiences of the Triune God; how God (the three Persons within the Triune God) worked within his life in their different ways or working The Trinity’s different personal responsibilities without interfering with the decision making of this man’s self-will, which God give to each human being. Being a student of theology, in my undergraduate studies, I found myself in total agreement with C. Baxter Kruger’s and C. S. Lewis’ interpretations of the Trinity to be very accurate and stand in total agreement with their comments. There are so many theories of the Trinity: One is the egg theory: one egg, but the egg consists of three parts, the shell, the white and the yoke; all can be used in different ways. Another theory is the example of a male: he is born as a child (a son), then he becomes a man who has children (now he is a father) and then his children have their children making the same man, “a grandfather.” Yet through each stage of this man’s life, he is the same person, but his roles throughout these different these stages have different responsibilities. Hopefully these two examples will give you a better understanding of the Trinity, although the Triune God is so much more detailed in a deeper immortal concept than these two examples. I definitely believe we will never totally understand this concept of the Trinity as a mortal or earthly person. For the original person, who may not understand the Triune God or Trinity, you may find this book to be overwhelming. Therefore, I would encourage you to read this book a couple of times with an open mind in order to begin to acquire the difficult concepts of the Triune God or Trinity of Their Personal individual parts and responsibilities to draw you closer to the this Mighty God, Who is full of love, mercy, grace and is fair in His Judgment. This may help you understand the self-will God gave to you. God is always there to lead and guide you, but He cannot make your decisions. You will make many decisions in life which are full of pros, cons and mistakes; but stand assured God’s love and forgiveness will always cover the numerous mistakes we make from day to day. This is the reason why we need a daily personal relationship this awesome God.
I read this book after having read and reread The Shack, which by the way I plan to read yet again. ANYHOW! I really enjoyed revisiting it. It allow me to disect and digest each incident as it happened which was really a great opportunity for me because I often speed read, now more by habit than when I first learned the skill. Revisiting it kind of slowed the pace and made the read more enjoyable. I would absolutely recommend it to family and friends. Pastor, Mary Jackson
This is awesome.BK brings reality to our moment by moment relationship with Jesus by helping us understanding the relationship of the Father Son and Holy Spirit to each other. His words open heaven so that we can understand more clearly how Much we are loved ,cherished,embraced by a personal God. Enjoy!
I honestly do not know what all the fuss is about this book. I finally decided to read it and see for myself. I have to say that I am really disappointed. I expected a much more gripping story than what I thought it was going to be. To be honesty, I think that this book is a collection of rambling, taking thought and notions of the bible and then just spouting all of out in confusing ways that I think just winds up sounding confusing. I have to say that I am not really a religious person, so I might not be as "into" this kind of thing as another person might be, butt I found the entire thing a tremendous letdown. One book that I just finished reading for the second time is Earth Angel by Jeff Fuell. It is in the same vein as this kind of book, but it has a much more gripping book with a more exciting story. The main character in the book actually meets both God and the devil and gets their take on what a lot of things mean.. The author surprised me a good deal because, in his opinion, a lot of what we might think we know is completely wrong. He even makes the devil a likable guy, which is something that I never thought I would say. Anyway, I am rambling now. Forget about this rambling mess and read Jeff Fuell's book. If you like this sort of thing the I guaranteed you that you will not be disappointed.
One of the best books I have ever read
The Shack moved me like no other book I've read. I highly recommend Krugers' commentary.