Shackless

04/23/2008

There’s a book making its way through the Christian community right now. Maybe you’ve read it, maybe you’d like to, or maybe you haven’t yet heard about it. The book is called “The Shack,” and it’s an allegory about a man who suffers a great heartbreak in life, who then meets with God in the shack.

I’m not sure what to think about this book. I mean, I’ve read allegories before. I love “Hinds Feet on High Places.” I have quoted it, and I have bought it for others, but upon finishing “The Shack,” I decided that although it contained many quotable ideas, I would not quote it in my writing because I didn’t want to promote it. The book had me a bit disturbed.

And then in talking with a friend about it just the other night, the thought came to me that I was going to write about it. “What? Did that idea come from God?” I didn’t know for sure, but almost immediately I looked at my friend and told her what I was thinking, and then I started to argue with such an idea. I didn’t even want to quote the book, and now I was thinking I may write about it? “No, I don’t want to!” I said. And about the time I told my friend that I had no interest in writing about it, the title, “Shackless,” came to me. I was getting sucked in deeper by the minute…my friend laughed and said, “Not if but when you write about this…” Oh boy…it had begun.

So here we are…if you’d like to take this journey with me, I’m going to write about “The Shack,” but I’m not sure how, what, or why yet. It’s one of those times of wondering, “God, is that You?” And if it is truly Him, I don’t want to miss what He might have to say to my heart as my fingers type away in response to His prompting.

I’ll start by asking, “Lord, what disturbed me about ‘The Shack’? I know that it seemed to tickle my ears, I know that it explained everything in a way that made me feel good, so what’s the problem with that? Why does it seem just a bit off…?”

It reminded me of this Scripture:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 2 Timothy 4:1-4 (NIV)

I wouldn’t say “The Shack” is turning ears away from the truth…but is it sound doctrine? Maybe that’s the problem. It is so close to the truth that even Christians are drawn to it, but it’s not exactly the truth. It’s the author’s take on the truth in many parts. Is there a danger in that, or can it just be classified as “entertainment,” and not be to be taken too seriously? Perhaps. Maybe there’s no concrete right or wrong about this book, maybe I’m just writing this as “food for thought.” Or maybe this is a bit of “careful instruction” that will help us all stay on the path God has for us.

Years ago, long before I spent a lot of time in the Word, I read a book. It was just what my “itching ears” wanted to hear. I recommended the book to others, and they got excited about it too! But, I had one friend who came through the crowds and said, “No, this is not good.” I argued against her arguments, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with what I had read. It told me about God, about Heaven, about what to expect…and I liked what I read. It was exactly how I would have wanted God to work things out if I were to design this world and heaven myself. After many e-mail discussions about that book, I finally saw the light, and I knew my friend was right, and I thanked her for staying after me about it. That book was not Biblically based. It drew me away from “sound doctrine” and into something that sounded good. I asked God to help me forget what I had read, and to this day, when my mind starts to “go there,” it is like God blocks me from dwelling on what I had read.

So now I ask, “Lord, is this book the same…only just a little bit closer to the Truth? Is it just a little bit more deceptive because of its close proximity to You? Help me to know.”

What is the point of “The Shack”? It seems after reading it that the main objective is to let us know that Jesus is our Friend, that God loves us, and that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives. All good, all true…so what’s the problem? The problem seems to be that if we are not in the Word on a regular basis we might be fooled, we might not be able to decipher the truth from the fiction this book contains. This is a work of fiction, granted, but as I read it I seemed to be constantly on guard…why? Because I was keenly aware that I wanted to know immediately if what I was reading was truly the way God has designed things, or merely the imaginations of the author, or a combination of both. It seemed important to separate man’s thoughts and God’s plan, but sometimes it was so close in this story it was like splitting hairs.

2 Timothy 3:8, talks about people who work their way into people’s homes and win the confidence of the vulnerable, causing some to never understand the truth because their minds are depraved and their faith is counterfeit. (Words taken from the New Living Translation Bible)

I’ve heard it said when bank tellers are trained to identify counterfeit bills, they are not told to handle lots of counterfeit money so they know what it feels like, they are told to handle lots and lots of real bills so that when a piece of counterfeit money reaches their hands, it doesn’t feel right. That’s the way I felt reading this book…it just didn’t feel right in my hands compared to God’s Holy Word.

Yes, I know, it’s a work of fiction, but let’s continue…

The title of this message “Shackless” came quickly, and then the reason for it seemed to follow just as quickly—I realized I didn’t have a shack to go to when my child died. (I know, I’m giving away part of the story.) Some may say, “Well, that’s what’s bugging you then. You would have liked to have had a shack to go to, to have gotten a note from God saying, ‘Meet me at the shack.’” Maybe some will say that if I could have only gotten alone with God for a weekend, if only I could have had God explain all these very same things to me in my “great sadness,” I would have been more satisfied with God’s design for my life. An interesting argument…but here’s my personal thoughts about that:

None of us are “Shackless.” So even though the title of this message seems to indicate that we have less than we need, I believe just the opposite is true, we have everything we need because we don’t need a shack to go to! We have something so much better! We all have a personal note from God, and we all can meet with Him to discuss His design for our life and whatever we are going through. We have God’s Word, and we have God’s Holy Presence in which to dwell. Hebrews 10:19-20 says, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us.” (NLT)

Heaven’s Most Holy Place is not a “Shack,” it’s a glorious place inside of each one of us where God’s peace and comfort abound. It’s our place of refuge during any “great sadness” or whatever else life deals us each day. But, it might take longer than a weekend—perhaps weeks, months, or even years of returning again and again to this place to develop a deeply intimate relationship with our God. It is a process of growing and learning Who God is, and it cannot be rushed.

As I grieved the loss of our son six years ago, I had to get alone with God and find this glorious place for myself. As the pain would build to such an intensity that I thought I might lose my mind, I would get alone and enter into a messy, tear-filled, desperate time of prayer until I found the comfort of God that I so needed. It could not be found outside in the world, it could only be found inside the Most Holy Place. When I went back out into the world after these times alone with God, in the beginning it seemed I was leaving this place behind. I knew it would only be a matter of time until the pain in my heart would become unbearable again. In the beginning stages, it could be two hours or less until the emptiness and missing would consume me. But as time passed, and my relationship with God grew, I began to understand that God was with me wherever I went. I didn’t have to “go” anywhere to find His comfort—He was always as close as my obedience to turn my thoughts to Him, instead of to the “great sadness” I felt. This is the “new life-giving” way of living out our lives as believers in Jesus Christ.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be
afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me. Psalm 23:4 (NLT)

Our Lord constantly walks through the dark valleys with us, comforting us along the way. It is a long journey, so it concerns me that many may want to hand this book to others as a way to find the “God” they are looking for to take away the pain. I understand that temptation. I know many questions could be answered in a satisfactory way in this allegory, but will they be answered in the best way possible? Will those answers be God’s sound doctrine, or just something close to it—something that could pass through “hands” that are not quite so accustomed to the real thing, thus encouraging some to accept counterfeit promises? Without a deep and intimate relationship with our Father in Heaven, this world will quickly bring us down. It’s too dark, and it’s too powerful to battle it with anything less than sound doctrine.

In a quick-fix society, we have to realize there is no quick fix to most things in life. Love is patient, love is kind… After six short weeks of grieving, I can remember wanting to be finished. Six and a half years later I can see clearly that although a person can heal from major surgery in six weeks, a broken heart can take six years or more. When healing from surgery, it’s important to do just what the doctor orders. In life, we must do what God orders! Our enemy, Satan, will do whatever he can to keep this from happening! Sometimes our enemy will blatantly lie to us, and sometimes he’ll tell us something close to the truth so that we will be distracted by it.

I don’t want to label this book in that way…I don’t want to…I don’t even want to be writing this…but I am…so I’ll continue…

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope
for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)

When we’re hurting, we’ll go looking for a way to go on in life, just as the father in this book did. We’ll want the things we cannot yet see. This father was being shown those things at the shack, and that’s probably why many will be drawn to this book. It’s a page-turner, seemingly revealing the mysteries of “God.” The author paints the pictures, and it seems so good, but we have to know it falls short. How can it not? Even with God’s written Word, our minds can’t possibly comprehend such a picture. Our hearts have to hope in what we cannot yet see, and the only way to do that is to know the One Who gives us that hope. The best way to get to know God and His true character is by spending time with God and His Truth. If our Bibles gather dust while we’re reading works of fiction trying to tell us something that’s close to the truth—thinking “if only” we could have the same opportunity to meet with God—It may be a distraction used by the enemy to keep us away from a closer relationship with our Lord. It may make our personal journey of faith take just that much longer.

Because life is hard, we’re very vulnerable to what our “itching ears” want to hear. Sometimes we’ll grab at straws…just needing to know. In my deepest grief I needed something to ease the pain and the missing, so did the father in the book. But how we respond to the pain in our lives is critical to our spiritual well-being. It’s critical to our healing process. It’s critical to whether we ever find our real rest in God’s plan, or just learn to live in the uneasiness of what life may hold for us from here on out.

In “The Shack,” the father has an encounter with his daughter who has died. He gets to see her one more time…who wouldn’t want that? Just recently I heard of a grieving father who during a business training class was asked, “If you could spend the evening with anyone, who would it be?” He, of course said, his deceased children. It’s a given, hands down…yes, most of us would answer we’d like to see our loved ones once again—just a glimpse, just a word, just a touch…but it’s not to be. Not here, not on this earth, not until Heaven is also our resting place. So, how do we go on when we are not given the opportunity of just such a reunion before we leave here? Do we read about it in a fictional book and wonder “Why can’t I have this?” Or do we dive deeper into the Word of God, finding our heart’s satisfaction in an enduring faith that is given to us by God? But will faith be enough to sustain us? And if so, where does such a faith come from? Can we drum it up? Can we fake it so well that it seems like its true?

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.
So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much
faith as God has given you.
Romans 12:6 (NLT)

Whatever we have is given to us from God, even our faith. Most of us long for a deeper faith, a more confident assurance of God’s promises being true in our lives. When Phil died, I didn’t know if God’s promises were true for me. I didn’t know if God could really heal my shattered heart—and the reason I didn’t know was because I was still in the process of getting to know God. I had not seen it played out in my own life yet. I have now, and as Bible teacher Beth Moore has said, “This thing works!”

As we get to know our Father in Heaven, becoming more familiar with His character, we are more able to see God working in the processes of our life with Him, even the most painful. It’s not easy, it takes time, but if we are willing to give God a chance, we will begin to see little bits of His light in the darkness. We will begin to feel the lifting of the heavy weight that presses down on our heart when it is hard to simply breathe. Getting to know God is vital. That is why the enemy will use “bright shiny objects” to distract us. Satan’s plan is to keep us from being in the Word, and to keep us from praying...Satan knows that if we spend time with our Father, it’s only a matter of time before the enemy’s power over our life is greatly diminished.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil.
He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8 (NLT)

This father’s weekend in “The Shack” basically boiled down to a time of prayer. Why do I say that? Because, when the book is taken as a whole instead of all the individual pieces of this father’s experience, it’s simply about a time spent with the Father, getting to know the Savior, and learning of the Holy Spirit’s love—this grieving dad came away with a clearer understanding of God’s love for him and learning to love God back, thus trusting Him. The conversations while fishing and eating—and all the smells, the sights and the sounds—were all just time this dad spent figuring out Who God is in the midst of his pain…which is exactly the reason for prayer. We don’t pray to get things; we pray to get to know God. (My Utmost for His Highest-March 20th) Before this “shack experience,” this dad didn’t want anything but to have his daughter back on this earth. By spending the weekend with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, he found his satisfaction in Who God is instead of what God could give him. Prayer will do that for all of us. How exciting is that!!

But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
2 Corinthians 11:14 (NLT)

And maybe that’s the distraction of this book. We don’t need “The Shack,” but after reading it, maybe we’ll think we do. Maybe it’s a very deceptive way of making God seem out of our reach, thinking this experience is only found in fiction, in a fantasy world, but that’s a lie. Spending time with God is not out of our reach, it’s as close as God living in our hearts. For many, when we are hurting deeply, finding this place can be difficult. Prayer can be difficult. It’s easy is to think that the doors of Heaven have been shut up tight and God’s not hearing our prayers. We can start to think if God was really there, wouldn’t He have answered our prayers in a better way—ways that didn’t hurt so much? We can begin to think that God is not for us, but against us…and we can begin to turn away from times spent with Him. We question His love for us…

Just last night, I went to a Good Friday service and had an interesting experience. There were stations positioned around the church, and at each station there were different questions up on the walls. We were to read the question, and take a seat, writing out our answer. The station that struck me the most was the one where there were candles in the center, and then chairs positioned around the candles so when seated we would have our backs to the Light. The question at this station was, “When was a time in your life when you turned away from God?” It was interesting to take that position, turned away from the Light and thinking about it…there are many times in our life when we do that with God. There are times when just the busyness of life turns us away, or times when our addictions turn us away, or when hopelessness turns us away. But can we see what God is doing in our lives when we’re in that position, or are we turned to the world for our answers and missing the point? If we will force ourselves to turn back and face the Light, yes force, because there are times when we really don’t want anything to do with a God, we will find that God’s presence and His comfort is there waiting for us. It takes some work on our part; it’s hard to shut out the lies of the enemy, but it’s a choice we must make. God will not force us.

“We have to take the first step as though there where no God.”
Oswald Chambers

As I read “The Shack,” I thought about the book, “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn. Alcorn uses God’s Word, referencing all the places where God explains what our final Home in Heaven will be like. He used sound doctrine to explain what awaits us, and it is an exciting read! There’s more in the Bible about Heaven than we may think. In a world where it’s easy to veer off just a little bit with Hollywood’s portrayal of our Lord, or even the “documentaries” on the History channel about Who Jesus is, it’s important to heed God’s warning about these sources of information.

But you, friends, are well-warned. Be on guard lest you lose
your footing and get swept off your feet by these lawless
and loose-talking teachers. Grow in grace and understanding
of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 3:17-18 (The Message)

Will we heed God’s warning against the deceptions that will come in the last days? We need to! It’s a vicious world out there! We need Truth, Truth, and more Truth, so that when anything counterfeit comes into our lives, we can know when it just doesn’t feel right. It took my friend months and months to convince me that a book I had read was not exactly God’s Word. I was not yet aware of the counterfeits being offered.

There’s nothing wrong with an entertaining read, as long as we are not fooled into thinking that only a privileged few are allowed such special times with the Savior. Our Father is waiting for all of us to visit with Him, so that He can speak to our own unique set of circumstances in life. God is longing to share His Truth with all who are willing to sit a spell and listen.

I hope you will be patient with me as I keep on talking like a fool.
Please bear with me. I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God
himself…But I fear that somehow you will be led away from your
pure and simple devotion to Christ, just as Eve was deceived by
the serpent. 2 Corinthians 11:1-3 (NLT)

Until we meet again,

Diane