This week The Shack is (still) #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller list and, after three weeks, still in the top five at the movie box office. With unforgettable images Young draws a picture of God’s compassion for a bruised reed of a man who has lost his little girl in a crime of unspeakable violence and murder.
The God of all comfort prepares Mack’s favorite food in the kitchen. Skips rocks across the lake with him. Wears old flannel shirts. Young’s story takes us inside Mack’s grief and shows how God’s tender, creative soul-care heals and restores.
Throughout almost thirty years of rheumatoid arthritis, the wanderings of a prodigal, and the inevitable conflicts and rejections of the pastorate, Jesus has lavished me with his tenderness and mercy. Yet in times of deepest sorrow I find the portrait of God that CS Lewis has drawn in Aslan, the lion-King in his fictional world of The Chronicles of Narnia, even more comforting than Papa in The Shack.
But we are continually reminded…”Aslan is not a tame lion.” He is wildly unpredictable. His fury destroys the White Witch’s minions. His claws rip Eustace’s selfish dragon-skin clean off. His fearful growls in the dark spur Bree to gallop faster and carry Shasta to safety. His humiliating, horrific sacrifice for Edmund’s selfish indulgence-turned-nightmare takes our breath away.
Lewis invites us to think about the wildness of God in a way that enlarges our understanding of his compassion. When I or someone I care about is unjustly wronged or even oppressed, or when the Church is maligned or marginalized, I want a strong, fearful God to fight for us. Fight for his Church.
I’m not as eager for God to fight for my heart and my redemption when it involves hurting me. Yet I am learning (again) that ultimately the most compassionate thing God can do for me is to expose the countours of my weakness, selfishness or indifference so that, through his indwelling power, I might change and grow.
In Mere Christianity Lewis writes, “God is the only comfort. He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most need to hide from. He is our only possible ally and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again.”
One day we will stand before him. If we are united with Christ by faith, he will see the righteousness of Jesus, and we will be overwhelmed by that goodness. Instead of condemning, he welcomes us. Invites us to share his throne and his reign—an act of compassion and nobility that staggers our dim imaginations.
Compared to Aslan, Papa’s therapeutic breakfast-making sovereign looks pretty one-dimensional. All mercy and compassion all the time. By contrast, the wrath of Aslan against oppressors and injustice makes his mercy shine more brightly—like the diamond displayed on the jewelers black velvet.
His bloody sacrifice for sinners like me infuses his compassion with a transcendence hard to wrap words or images around. A soaring magnificence sadly missing from Papa’s folksy humor and hugs.
In his poetic book, The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God, John Piper describes the compassion of God to his little girl: “”Beware Jemimah, God is kind in ways that will not fit your mind.”
And that is the greatest deficit of the Papa of The Shack—his/her kindness fits too easily into our minds conditioned by today’s New Agey, marshmallowy, overwrought compassion. Tender feeling-with but without holiness or righteousness or accountability or sacrifice or hard-earned wisdom from a man like Job who lost far more than Mack.
God comes to Job like Papa comes to Mack in his pain and suffering and gives the most important gift—the gift of his I-AM-enough presence. The fulfillment of our deepest longing when we are in the deepest pit. When we need an Answerer far more than an answer.
But interestingly, he comes without comfort food or Neil Diamond music. He comes to Job and says, “Brace yourself like a man and I will question you.” Words I can imagine coming from the mouth of Aslan, but not Papa.
The prophet Isaiah tells us that Jesus is so tender that “a bruised reed he will not break.” Still, when we are hurting, we need God to be fully God.
How do you respond to the portrait of God drawn in The Shack? Please respond in the comments below…