As you can see from the sidebar, I'm promoting the book, "The Shack". There's been some controversy over this book (Check out Thunderstruck.org for other reviews.) One of those controversies is the fact that the book references God as a black woman, Jesus as a Jewish Laborer and the Holy Spirit as an ethereal Asian woman whose name in Sanskrit means "wind". There are those that have gotten all "het up" about the characterizations that I think they've missed the point.
Those characterizations are plot or literary devices.
You know? Plot devices? Like John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress"? C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia"? Literary devices. Characterizations designed to portray or convey a meaning, not necessarily an actual representation.
And if you've read the book it works.
(If you haven't... you can stop reading as I'm going to explain some things but will stop short of giving away the whole story. But I'd prefer you to read on as I wrote it and think it's a pretty decent analysis!)
The main character, Mack, must face his preconceptions of God, Jesus, The Spirit, love, hate, and forgiveness. To give him a jolt out of his "Great Sadness", the writer knocks the legs out of his preconceptions by describing God, who goes by the name "Papa", as a black woman. The image is very reminiscent of the Oracle in the Matrix movies even utilizing pop culture references like having God reply, "let me know how that works for you" when Mack makes a statement about how he should act or respond to the tragedy that brought on his "Great Sadness".
And what's wrong with that? What better way to shake one's preconceptions of God the Father by portraying Him as a black woman? Theologically correct? No. Literarily interesting? Yes. Our idea of God the Father is biblical. And it carries a bunch of baggage as well. We tend to super-impose the characteristics of our earthly fathers on our heavenly Father. Which for some people is a good thing, for many it's not. But, as the reader, it does get your attention in the same way it gets Mack's attention in the book.
And what about Jesus as a Jewish laborer? Dresses like one. Smells like one. Has dirt under his fingernails like one. We, in evangelical Christianity, tend to like our Jesus as the long-haired, fair-skinned, hippy-type peaceful saviour. Not that there's anything wrong with that but we also tend to forget that before His three year ministry claiming the good news of heaven, he was a carpenter. A blue-collar worker. His fingernails were probably dirty. He probably has a few nicks and cuts from the wood. His thumb was probably a little mashed from getting smacked by the mallet a few times. He probably didn't bathe but once in a while so he probably smelled of b.o., wood, sap and pitch. Not exactly the clean-cut 3-year Jesus we like to picture.
And Mack has a hard time reconciling this laborer who likes to build stuff with the man who hung on a cross. And I'd bet, so would we. Because it busts the image we have of what Jesus looked like. (Read the book...please...there is a wonderful scene where the Laborer Jesus and the 3-year Jesus are reconcile and the reader's eyes are opened through what Mack sees!) It shakes our conception of a man who walked around, was all holy, raising the dead, changing water to wine, healing the sick and preaching the good news. We see him in our mind's eye as we see him in the pictures from Sunday School or in the back of our bibles...clean, dressed in white, hair and beard immaculately combed.
And the one that plays upon the word "spirit" in the bible. The Holy Spirit. We think of spirits as ghosts, hence the Holy Ghost moniker as well. But to portray the HS as an ethereal Asian who's name is Sanskrit for wind...we just can't have that heathen name attached to the Third Person of the Trinity now can we! That's sacreligious! That's...that's...
That's a literary device as well. How do you picture the Holy Spirit? As a spirit! Right? And yet, the Holy Spirit is God as well. There's a couple of scenes in the book where Papa and Sarayu remind Mack that they, too, were there on the cross. They, too, died for man's sins. They, too, experienced all Jesus experienced. And that gives Mack pause. And it should give us pause as well to remember God is 3-in-1. And to shake things up more, Mack notices that when Sarayu, the spirit, hugs him, he can feel her! And it's not some cold draft like you hear and read about. It's warm.
The Shack. Literary devices. Preconceptions shattered. All to help the reader travel the same road, experience the same experiences the main character in the book does. Is it the bible? No. Is it good theology? I'll let the theologians argue that. What I do know is that the literary devices work. It made me look at God in a different way. It made me look at love and forgiveness and sacrifice in a whole new light. It made me cry and laugh and appreciate the gift of written word given to us by our creator.
So read the book; not with an open mind for that just makes it easier for your brains to run out. Read the book with a broad mind. Expand your conceptions of God and love, forgiveness and sacrifice. And if you can't, let me know how that works for you.