The Shack, written by William P. Young and adapted to film in 2017 by Lionsgate media, tells the story of a man named Mackenzie who loses his daughter to a brutal murderer. In his grief, he is later summoned to the shack in which his daughter died by the Holy Trinity manifesting themselves as a black woman, a mid-eastern man, and an Asian woman. The film attempts to provide a Christian understanding of how human suffering and evil can exist when an all-powerful beneficent God exists. However, it ultimately fails to provide either a Biblical or comprehensive solution to the problem it addresses.
The film follows the tradition of religious experiences wherein God is encountered and reasoned with. One thinks of Abraham negotiating with God on the outskirts of Sodom, or Job questioning God in the book named after him. Yet this is where the similarities end. The conclusion that the author reaches in The Shack is radically different than that which is proposed by a straightforward reading of the Old or New Testaments.
The Shack‘s theory works like this: God, being infinitely powerful and wise, has the ability to bring all evils to a good end. God does this not by the exercise of his justice, but by treatment. God is conceived of as purely remedial. He loves everyone equally and condemns no one. It is His love which heals a person. Therefore, even the worst of moral actors may ultimately be won – indeed will ultimately be won by accepting God’s unconditional love.
In proposing this solution, The Shack assumes that moral evil is symptom of a larger problem that must be treated. Pain is the true problem. Pain causes isolation from God, and can lead one to do terrible and evil things. The process perpetuates itself over and over so that hurt people hurt still more people. The solution to this is to release pain and learn to trust that God will work all pain and suffering together for good in the end.
In proposing this, The Shack shows a very superficial understanding of what moral evil is. It is suggested that the evil we perform is ultimately a result of evil that happens to us. Nevertheless, the worst of humanity needs only submit to treatment and be cured. In one scene the film proposes that the terrorist and child abuser does not perform his actions because of his misplaced beliefs or perverted pleasure, but because he is damaged. This tends to reduce the heinousness of evil to something manageable and scientific, but in the end it cannot explain the whole of human experience.
This understanding of evil results in flattening the human experience. Negative emotions such as moral outrage or a settled opposition to evil become unhelpful or unnecessary. In the movie, Mackenzie comes to catharsis not by any assurance of vindication but by an assurance of God’s providence to work all things to a good end for everyone, including his daughter’s killer. Thus, any sustained moral outrage over evil acts must ultimately make way to acceptance. One fails to see how any true grit can exist when watching The Shack, or how discontent with society can actually be a good thing. Where does the picture of a lone individual standing against a corrupt system and calling it to account fit in the world proposed by The Shack? What use have we of prophets, reformers or activists if discontent and opposition to evil can only be a set back?
This unbiblical worldview also tends to diminish human responsibility. Men and women are primarily seen as victims. This, however, challenges the notion that people are capable moral agents with the responsibility to avoid evil behavior. Instead, evil that happens to us tends to mitigate our guilt so that our offense is not as heinous. Instead, our evil actions are not heinous enough to deserve any form of divine punishment.
In a similar fashion, the movie denies divine justice in the equation of human suffering and the existence of evil. It is suggested that God does not possess any wrath or ill will towards wrongdoers, since to them God cannot simultaneously be just and loving. “God is love” has been adapted to “God is all love,” meaning He only loves. The God in The Shack, is in fact much simpler than what the ancients conceived of as being God.
To be sure, the film does hint that the love of God came at a great cost on the cross, but even this event is vacated of any meaning. How could God have suffered on the cross when there was no occasion for Christ to have taken up the cross? On the cross, Christ is said to have borne our sins, taken our punishment and died our death. But none of this is necessary without the prerequisite real moral guilt of mankind and the subsequent wrath of an almighty God. Christ’s greatest victory, becomes hollow.
For all these reasons (and more), The Shack provides only a sub-Christian explanation of the existence of evil and suffering with an all-powerful and beneficent God. That is not to say the picture is not compelling or entirely without merit, but it does fall short of providing either a Biblical or comprehensive solution to the problem it seeks to address.