July 7, 2017 by J.A. Hardgrave
This Is Why The Shack Movie Is So Controversial
Why The Controversy?
Never in my life have I seen a Christian movie that has gotten so many opposite responses in the body of Christ.
To some, the Shack is a beautiful movie that may have some poor acting and probably went too far a couple times, but overall they felt the movie was a perfect expression of who God is.
To others…The Shack is a universalistic, hell-denying, sin-promoting, Christ-denying, Trinity-denying, Bible-denying, demonic, heretical, evil, terrible, no-good, rotten movie that was spawned in the pit of hell by the devil himself and is completely and utterly deceiving the body of Christ.
That’s probably about as opposite responses as you can get, right?
So what is causing all this controversy?
My wife and I are notorious for waiting until movies come out on Redbox before watching them, so I drove over to our local Mcdonalds which has a Redbox to pick up a copy of The Shack movie.
I want to share with you why I believe this movie is causing so much controversy among God’s people by going over some of the more controversial statements, characters, and scenes.
Right out of the gate I started to see that this movie was becoming very theological.
No, seriously. Like VERY theological. I did not expect that.
By the time the movie was almost finished I realized that the following theological studies had been brought up directly or indirectly.
1) New Covenant Vs Old Covenant perspectives of God.
2) Hell (Eternal Conscious Torment).
3) Penal Substitutionary Atonement (The belief that God the Father poured out His wrath on Jesus on the cross to satisfy His justice).
4) God’s wrath, punishment for sin, and judgment
5) The Trinity
6) Moments of potential Universalistic slants (The idea that everyone goes to Heaven when they die).
Well, Congratulations, The Shack. You have officially hit on all of the most controversial and divisive subjects in the body of Christ right now! Lol. Yay!
God As Papa?
Mack’s wife and her kids call God “Papa”, and talk to Him like an “Old Friend.”
Hmm. A few Scriptures come to mind.
“So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as His own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”
So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’…”
Right out of the gate we see Mack’s perception of God as a loving Father was crippled through the abuse brought on by his earthly father who was a church elder. Mack was upset with Christians and upset with God.
This reveals how important it is for us who are fathers to make sure we are reflecting the love of our Heavenly Father because our family is looking to us to set that example that will shape how they relate to God as Father.
The Story of the Indian Princess
They didn’t just do what I think they did, did they?
Oh man, they just got into Atonement Theory through a story about an Indian Princess!
This should be fun.
Atonement theory is the study of how human beings are reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrificial suffering and death.
It’s perfectly sufficient to say “Jesus died for our sins”. But Atonement Theory takes a magnifying glass to what was actually happening when Jesus hung there on the cross.
Was God pouring out His wrath on His Son in order to satisfy His retributive justice so that He could forgive mankind?
That belief would be referred to as Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory.
Yeah, the name is a bit clumsy I know.
Or was the cross a place where Christ defeated the powers of sin and darkness that held mankind in their grip, a place where we see a God so full of love He would rather die than punish His enemies?
The belief that Christ was victorious over sin on the cross and it had nothing to do with the Father pouring out His wrath on Jesus is known as Christus Victor. This view teaches that Christ was dying AS God was forgiving us of our sins, rather than Christ dying SO that God could forgive us of our sins.
Mack’s daughter compares the story of the Indian princess who jumps from a giant waterfall to her death in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy to save her people with the story of Jesus dying on the cross to die for the sins of the world.
She begins to question why a loving God would make Jesus die on a cross, and even ask her dad Mack if God would ask her to die.
Here is the dialogue between Mack and his daughter Missy at the camp-out.
Missy: Is the Great Spirit another name for Papa?
Mack: He is a spirit.
Missy: And He is great. Right? Then how come he’s so mean?
Mack: Why’d you say that?
Missy: The Great Spirit made the princess jump off the cliff and made Jesus die on the cross. Don’t you think that’s mean?
Mack: I’ll tell you what. When we get home, your Mom will have a good answer for you.
Missy: Daddy, will I ever have to jump off a cliff?
Mack: No, honey. You will never have to jump off a cliff.
Missy: Would God ask me to?
Mack: No. He won’t ask you that, either.
Missy: Okay. 1
Clearly, both Mack and his family are all wrestling with what actually happened at the cross.
Is God A Black Woman?
One of the very first things I heard about when the Shack book came out was that God was portrayed as a black woman. I simply remembered that this is a fictional book and the author can use whatever creative ways to reveal God he chooses.
But if we really think about it, there is a crystal-clear Scriptural precedent for God revealing Himself in various ways to people throughout the Bible for a specific purpose, and the movie was super clear as to why Father God revealed Himself in this way to Mack.
Look at what the Apostle Paul said.
1 Cor. 9:19-23
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law;to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak, I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might, by all means, save some. Now, this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.”
Mack was weak. After enduring several beatings that lasted through the night from his abusive father and losing his daughter to a male serial killer, it’s easy to see how Mack could harbor resentment towards men altogether.
Even the friendship with his close friend played by Tim McGraw appears to be in shambles prior to Mack returning to the Shack. Mack quickly assumes Tim McGraw’s character wrote the note from Papa just to hurt him deeper.
It’s possible that Mack was questioning the integrity of all his male relationships. It’s possible that every time his wife and kids called God “Papa”, it only amplified his anger towards men even further as he contrasted a loving Father with what he had experienced in his encounters with two men that had torn his world into pieces.
Mack ends up telling the lady portraying God the Father “I always pictured you with a white beard.”
Papa answers and says “After what you’ve been through, I didn’t think you could handle a father right now.”
This loving lady was someone from Mack’s childhood that brought him comfort in a difficult season. What’s important is not the color of her skin, it was the fact that she was a female and God understood Mack’s weakness of not being able to have any sort of friendship with a male figure. He strategically appeared as someone he was already comfortable with who was female. This just so happened to be a black lady who made apple pies for him as a child and comforted him during his times of trouble and abuse.
This is a glorious picture of God stooping down to our level to reach humanity, ultimately seen through God becoming a man and suffering in life and on the cross to show us what He was actually like.
The King of the universe stepped down from His heavenly throne to enter our world and be betrayed, rejected, tempted, laughed at, beaten, lied about, misunderstood, and ultimately crucified, all so He would be able to relate to us when we go through the same things.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us, therefore, come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Jesus can help us through any pain, trial, or temptation we face because He literally knows what that’s like since He faced it Himself so He could help us when we go through it. That’s perfect love right there.
In John 21 Jesus appeared as a fisherman to his disciples. Why? Because Jesus wanted the disciples to know Jesus based upon his love and character, not just his fleshly appearance. John the beloved recognized Jesus first because John knew His heart even when He was in the form of a fisherman, which is exactly what Jesus wanted to prepare them for when He would be present by His Spirit, but not in the flesh.
In Exodus 3 God appeared to Moses as a burning bush. A BUSH! God wanted to show Moses how powerful He was that He could make a bush burn but yet not actually burn the bush. Moses needed to see the power of God to prepare him for his conflicts with Pharaoh and taking the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity.
If God appeared as a fisherman and a bush, it shouldn’t be that far of a stretch for us to believe God would appear as a person Mack was comfortable with to bring the truth about God as Father.
Mack ends up going to a piece of land that is full of flowers and color, birds chirping, and a beautiful house where the characters depicted as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are there waiting for Mack.
Mack had been introduced to the Holy Spirit, and He was going to ask to find out which one was Jesus and they all answered: “I Am!”
This is obviously showing the belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all equally God.
Jesus Is Not A Christian? Say What?
If Jesus is not a Christian, seeing as He is Christ, I don’t who would be, but I think there is more to this scene if we look closer.
Mack says to Jesus “you know, you don’t really fit all the religious stuff I was taught.”
Jesus responds with “Religion. Religion’s way too much work. I don’t want slaves. I want a family to share life with.”
Mack then says “What about working to be a good Christian?”
Jesus responds with “Think about it Mack, I’m not exactly what you call a Christian, now am I?”
Mack was interpreting what it meant to be a Christian through his hypocritical father who was a church-elder in public, but in secret was an alcoholic and abusive man. I believe Mack is saying “Out of all the messed up junk I have seen in Christianity, religious striving, hypocrisy, legalistic submission to his father (Remember the scene where Mack was beaten into the night for turning in his father to church leadership and forced to shout “Obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord “Col. 3:20 over and over), You look nothing like what I have experienced so far Jesus.”
Jesus responds with “Think about it Mack, I’m not exactly what you call a Christian, now am I?
I believe Jesus is saying “I’m not what MACK CALLS a Christian.” Here stood this approachable, trustworthy, fun, loving, honoring Jesus that Mack had never encountered before which was opposite from what Mack had experienced Christians to be.
Was The Father With Jesus On The Cross?
Again, this will be determined by our understanding of the atonement.
Mack tells Papa that He left His Son Jesus on the cross, even quoting the statement from Jesus on the cross:
“My God My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Matt. 27:46
Papa then answers by showing her hands that have nail scars in them and saying “I never left Him, I never left you, I never left Missy.”
The penal substitutionary atonement view of the cross states that God the Father was punishing Jesus from Heaven in order to forgive us of our sins and satisfy his retributive justice.
The question is, does Scripture say that the Father ever left Jesus?
2nd Cor. 5:19 “…God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them…
John 10:30 “I and my Father are One.”
John 10:38 “…The Father is in Me, and I in Him.”
John 14:9 “He that has seen Me has seen the Father.”
John 15:23 “He that hates me hates My Father also.”
John 16:32 “Behold, the hour has come, that you will be scattered, every man to his own, and will leave me alone: yet I am not alone because the Father is with Me.”
Punishment And Wrath
Mack: Don’t you get mad at ’em?
Papa: Well, sure. But what parent doesn’t?
Mack: And that’s when your whole wrath thing comes in, right?
Papa: My what?
Mack: Your wrath.
Papa: You lost me there.
Mack: Come on. Everybody knows you punish the people who disappoint you.
Papa: Hmm. Nope. I don’t need to punish people. Sin is its own punishment.
Does the Scripture agree with this?
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
We see that God’s wrath is not always related to hell or eternity, God’s wrath in the context of Romans 1 is giving people over to their own sin to experience the emptiness of it to allow us to see how much we need Him.
I don’t believe this statement automatically throws out hell after we die, but shows how sin is, in fact, its own punishment, something the Bible seems to agree with since in Romans 1 it says two times that was a demonstration of God’s wrath.
Do I feel the author could have done a better job at explaining that there are also consequences if we choose to reject Christ after we die? Sure. Of course. I think this particular scene is expounding upon a principle we need to consider that experiencing the emptiness of sin is incredibly severe even without additional punishment from God. Man was designed to know God in a relationship, and nothing is as empty as sin.
The Wisdom Judgement Scene
Mack ends up in a dark chamber with a lady called Wisdom. This scene was not the clearest for me because a lot of principles were at work but ultimately, Wisdom tells Mack to sit on a throne and judge people who had hurt him.
She shows him a vision of the father of the man who killed his daughter and then asks him if that man is worthy of judgment.
Then she shows him a vision of his own father as a child getting beaten by his father the same way Mack was beaten.
Mack sees that his father was just doing what his own father did to him as a child, a generational cycle of abuse and addiction that Mack, unfortunately, got caught up in.
I feel the ultimate goal of this scene was to show that it is easy to judge others without recognizing we all have problems and make mistakes and all need love and forgiveness. It reminds me of the story of the woman caught in adultery. The religious leaders were blind to their own sin and were seeking to stone the woman. Jesus says “you without sin cast the first stone”.
They all leave and realize that everyone standing there except Jesus was in need of forgiveness and love. Then Jesus delivered the good news. “Neither do I condemn you, your sins are forgiven, now go and sin no more”.
Mack is then asked to make a decision between his two children spending eternity in Heaven, or Hell based upon their bad behavior that Wisdom identifies. The truth is, based upon bad behavior, they both deserved to be punished, including Mack, and he was slowly seeing that.
Mack ends up choosing to go to hell himself so his kids don’t have to and Wisdom shows that both of his kids are worthy of love and forgiveness despite their wrong-doing.
One line that could be taken as a universalistic statement is when Wisdom says “I am only asking you to do something you believe God does (send people to an eternity in hell).
There are 3 main views of hell.
Eternal Conscious Torment: The belief that people are eternally and consciously tormented in hell forever.
Universalism: The belief that everyone goes to Heaven and nobody goes to hell.
Annihilationism: The belief that people are immediately destroyed as soon as they die, or are punished for a brief period of time and then destroyed.
It’s unclear what the exact author’s view of hell is, but regardless, I think there are some great principles to consider overall.
How Did Mack’s Dad End Up In Heaven?
One of the final scenes shows Mack and Papa looking out into a field with several people who appear as colors and light, which are said to be “Papa’s children from every tribe, tongue, and nation.”
One light-figure starts to walk towards Mack and it’s his dad.
They hug and forgive each other.
The question is how did Mack’s dad end up in Heaven?
This scene can be interpreted a lot of ways because the author leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
Mack’s dad was poisoned to death by his son Mack as a child. Did Mack’s dad cry out to God at his last moments after being poisoned and believed on Jesus?
Did Mack’s dad go to heaven because the author is trying to say that Mack’s father was off the hook for beating Mack because he was beaten by his own father and was simply repeating the behavior he had been subjected to?
Big-picture-wise, I think we can walk away knowing that God can save the worst of sinners, and to not be so quick to judge others because you never know what they have been through.
After watching the Shack I now know why it’s so controversial.
The Shack reveals a loving Father who is looking to love, forgive, and bless people, not an angry, evil, tyrannical deity that is just looking for anybody He can punish as Mack and many people think.
Regardless of your view on the atonement, hell, wrath, and punishment, if we look at the big picture, this movie is full of incredible New Covenant realities that show God as He is, a loving Father who wants to bring healing and restoration in our lives.
God is the Father in the parable of the prodigal son. He hates when his kids run away but know sometimes they have to feel the emptiness of sin in a distant land to know how much they need a relationship with Him. He is the One waiting in the field for the prodigals to come home and sit at His table where a grand celebration awaits them.
Tell me what you thought of The Shack and also this blog!
Also, if you were impacted, help me pass this blog on to someone you think would also be impacted!
1 Read entire script at http://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/movie_script.php?movie=the-shack