Soon after the introduction of the characters, the narrator provides Mack’s problem, “The Great Sadness.” Mack’s troubling depression resulted from the abduction and murder of his young daughter, Missy, while on a family vacation. While Mack runs into the water to save his older daughter and son from drowning, Missy disappears from the campsite and is presumed dead. She was later found murdered in an abandoned shack. Mack endures “The Great Sadness” for a number of years until receiving a note, written by Papa (Nan’s favorite name for God). The note said, “Mackenzie, It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. -Papa.” This makes Mack paranoid, angry, but curious. Mack chooses to travel through the mountains to meet the author of the note, acknowledging the possibility that God may actually be the author and admitting that the author could also be the serial killer who murdered his daughter.
Mack travels to the shack and gets angry by the memories of his daughter’s murder. As he looked around the shack, calling out to God, Mack screams at God “I hate you”, and why Missy’s life was taken. As he considers shooting himself, Mack remembers his family, decides against suicide, and falls to sleep. Moments later, Mack awakes, tears up the note, turns away from God, and determines to go home without answers. Heading down the trail, he feels a breeze overtake him. He turns to see the landscape changing into a warm climate complete with flowers sounds and a renewed shack. From this point, the dialog begins between Mack and God.
Some of this story is good and even helpful if we can read past the human personifications for God. Young teaches that evil exists only in relation to what is good. He affirms the nature of what is good and challenges us that God is inherently good and that we can only trust God if we believe Him to be good. He tackles the idea that we tend to place our own images on to God as if He had the same qualities we do. Young also attempts to demonstrate the loving relationships within the Trinity. One of the few things Young gets right is on page 101. He gives a pretty accurate statement about the Trinity. “We are not three gods, and we are not talking about one god with three attitudes, like a man who is a husband, father and worker. I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely the one.” This definition of the Trinity becomes diluted through the remaining descriptions of the Trinity.
There are many theological flaws in the book and I will briefly touch on what I think to be the three most important. Young teaches that the Trinity exists entirely without hierarchy and that any kind of hierarchy is the result of sin. The Trinity, he says, “are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or ‘great chain￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼
of being’… Hierarchy would make no sense among us.” The Bible is clear that there is hierarchy even within the Trinity (Phil 2:5-11). The Spirit and the Son have submitted themselves to the Father and the role of the Spirit is to lead people to the Son who brings glory to the Father. Never does the Father submit to the Spirit or to the Son.
Young presents The Father with nail scared hands (page 95). Again on page 99 there is some confusion about the father being incarnate. “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God we became fully human”. Only Christ was incarnate. The bible clearly states the Father is Spirit (John 4). This confusion of roles within the Trinity continues also as some kind of modalism. The Father shows up or is manifested as an African woman for most of the story and as a white man at the end. We see in scripture that the roles of Trinity are clear and do not change. Nor does God manifest himself to us as the Son one time, the Father next, nor even the Spirit a different time. But each person of the trinity has His own role.
Young’s view of Salvation doesn’t come from the Bible. Mack questions whether Jesus’ statement insinuates that all roads lead to God. Jesus’ responds, “Not at all. Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you” (page 182). First of all there are two roads to Heaven — one wide path that leads to judgment, eternal separation from God and darkness — one narrow which leads to light and eternal communion with God. Second, God never lost us. He is not traveling every road searching for us. He knows exactly where we are. The doctrine of salvation gets more mixed up by the statement that God has no need to punish sin (page120). Scripture is devalued when Papa encourages Mack to look in the Bible not for principles, but for “a way of coming to be with us [Trinity].”
The theology of this book breaks apart Christianity by creating a man-centered universe.
Everything in this book points to getting Mack needs and comforts met, rather than Mack transforming and being regenerated to and for God. It is disturbing to hear that so many Christians read this book and say they have drawn closer to God.
What’s the big deal? You may ask. Look at it in light of wrong theology then wrong thinking, wrong thinking then wrong actions, wrong actions then there is no pleasing God.