Movie Review: The Shack (2017)

After being criticized on Facebook for disparaging the movie The Shack based on reviews without having seen it myself, I went and saw the movie this morning.  Most of my criticisms stand, although I did see a positive side as well.

The Positives

First, the positives.  The movie is definitely a “feel good” story.  It does a very good job of walking through the process of forgiveness.  The main character, Mack, learns to forgive the perpetrator of a horrific crime.  He learns to forgive himself for allowing the incident to happen.  And he learns to ask forgiveness from others.  The movie could be beneficial for a person who struggles with forgiveness of others, or with being forgiven by others.

For the most part, the movie portrayed Jesus Christ fairly well.  The Jesus character is portrayed as a middle-eastern man, which is much better than how Jesus is often portrayed in films as a blonde-haired, blue eyed Caucasian.  Jesus is shown as both fully human and as Creator of the Universe.  Jesus is also correctly portrayed as the Son of God, although this aspect is not well explained or emphasized.

The movie also does a good job of expressing the absolute love of God.  All three Persons of the Trinity are portrayed as omnibenevolent.   It shows how the love of God is unconditional and extended to everyone.  For a person who struggles with whether God truly loves them, this film might help them to begin to grasp God’s unfathomable love for each of us.

The Negatives

The positive aspects of the film are unfortunately greatly diminished by some extremely bad theology.

God the human woman

God the Father is portrayed as a black woman by the name of Papa, and the Holy Spirit is portrayed as a young Asian woman by the name of Sarayu.  Papa is the name Mack’s wife uses to refer to God.  The name Sarayu comes from the Sanskrit language, and means “air, wind, that which is streaming.”  In the Bible, neither God the Father nor the Holy Spirit take on human form; and neither are of them referred to a female.  Describing God as female is taken from any number of false religions, including the Canaanite goddess Asherah, the Roman Venus, the Greek Aphrodite, numerous Hindu goddesses, and modern Paganism.  Describing God as a human woman is to make Him into a false god, which is blasphemy.

God submits to human choices and wishes

Papa explains to Mack that the reason He appears to him as a woman is because Mack wasn’t ready for Him to appear as a man.  Later in the film, Papa changes to an older man, because Mack needed a father at this point in his journey.  The notion that God changes to meet our needs is unbiblical.  God is unchanging (Malachi 3:6).  The perfect, sovereign, holy God does not alter Himself to meet our needs.  He does not submit to us; rather, we are called to submit to Him.

God doesn’t judge sin

In The Shack, God never judges sin.  At one point, Papa tells Mack, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.”  This contradicts one of the central themes of the Bible.  God judged Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.  He judged Cain in Genesis 4, and the entire world in Genesis 7.  Throughout the history of Israel, God judged many individuals and many nations, including Israel.  In Revelation, God judges all who do not have their names written in the Book of Life, and casts them into Hell with Satan and the demons.  Most importantly, God judged sin and placed it on Jesus Christ.  It is through the blood of Jesus that we are forgiven for sin.  To claim that God never judges sin is to deny the very foundation of the Gospel.

Universalism

Another major problem with The Shack is universal salvation.  Everyone gets saved.  Papa states that all people are her children.  This is unbiblical.  John 1:12 states that people become the children of God when they receive Him; 1 John 3:10 calls some people “children of the devil;” and Romans 9:8 declares that not all are children of God.  Because Papa doesn’t judge, she also doesn’t require repentance.  The biblical God does require repentance (Ezekiel 14:6, Matthew 9:13, Luke 13:5, Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19).  In the world of The Shack, everyone goes to Heaven.  There is no Hell.  Again, this is unbiblical and undermines the Gospel.

Love vs. justice

The Shack portrays Jesus, Papa, and Sarayu as being completely loving and accepting, to the exclusion of other attributes such as being holy, sovereign, and just.   God is limited by His love, and therefore cannot administer justice.  This is a false dichotomy.  It’s not a matter of either God is loving, or He is just.  He is perfectly both.  The Bible describes God as being unlimited by His love (Psalm 103:11), and perfect in His justice (Deuteronomy 32:4).  God’s love does not limit His justice.

Good vs. evil

One of the major themes of the film is the question of why God allows evil, suffering, and death.  Despite the centrality of this theme, the question remains largely unanswered.  Papa skirts the issue by explaining that evil is the result of human free will.  What is missing is the biblical explanation, that sin, pain, suffering, and death can be traced back to Adam’s sin in the Garden.  God created a perfect world, but sin brought the curse of evil.  Also missing is the role of Satan and the demons.  Because The Shack rejects God judging sin, it also rejects the role of original sin as the cause of evil and death.  Romans 5:12 tells us that “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”  This is completely missing in the film’s treatment of the issue of evil, leaving the question mostly unanswered.

 Other issues

  • In the movie, Papa has nail scars on her wrists, indicating that she was also crucified. This is not in the Bible.
  • Jesus tells Mack that he is “the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.” In the Bible, Jesus is the ONLY way to God (John 14:6), not just the BEST way.
  • The film uses the image of a garden with a tree in the center – an obvious allusion to Eden. But, instead of being perfection, the garden is in seeming disarray, representing Mack’s life.  And the tree symbolizes redemption, not the Fall.
  • At one point, the biblical God is equated with the Native American Great Spirit. Biblically, these are two entirely different entities, with the Great Spirit being a false god.

 Conclusions

My reaction to the film is influenced by my own personal faith journey.  I grew up believing in a god very much like Papa in The Shack.  The god I followed was completely loving, to the exclusion of justice.  My god would never send anyone to Hell, because my god loved everyone, and made us the way we are.  I believed that while Jesus Christ was probably the best way to god, all religions pointed to god.

What I didn’t understand was that my god wasn’t real.  I had created god in my own image.  My god was mostly there to make me happy.

When I met Jesus Christ as a college freshman, my life changed eternally.  I began to understand that God’s love and God’s justice are simply two sides of the same coin – that God’s holiness, sovereignty, and perfect love demand God’s perfect justice.  God’s love and justice can be summed up in one verse:  “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  Both God’s perfect love and His perfect justice were satisfied on the cross at Calvary.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

While I thought The Shack taught good lessons on human forgiveness, because of the theological train wreck that permeates the film, I cannot recommend it.  It points to a false god as our hope for peace and forgiveness.  For someone who struggles with forgiveness and whether God truly loves them, the film might give them some insight, but with a dangerous risk.  Embracing the false god of The Shack is a false hope.  Only the true God can offer eternal life through the blood of Jesus Christ.  A god like Papa can make a person feel good about themselves and others, but cannot save us from our sins.   And that is damnable heresy.

 

 

Theological Positions I Don’t Understand, Part 2

Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace

This is the second in a series about Christian doctrines that make no sense to me.

There are several theological doctrines that are widely held by Christians that I just plain do not understand.  I have dug into the Scriptures and read commentaries both pro and con, and cannot find cogent explanations for these doctrines.  If these doctrines are correct, I would like to understand why, so that I can correct my thinking in these areas.

The doctrines I’d like to consider in this blog entry are Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace.

I know that several of my readers hold to these doctrines.  The reason I am posting this is because I do not understand these beliefs.  My intent in this series is not to offend anyone, but rather, I’m hoping someone can give me a well-reasoned, cogent explanation.  I’m seeking to understand the truth, not to attack anyone’s theology.

John Calvin

John Calvin

Unconditional election is the Calvinist doctrine that before God created the world, he elected to save some people according to his own purposes, apart from any conditions related to those persons.  This basically means that God’s act of saving is not based on what man chooses or wills, but man is chosen by God solely by God’s grace, thus unconditional election.

Irresistible Grace is the doctrine which teaches that the saving grace of God is efficaciously applied to those whom he has determined to save (the elect) and, in God’s timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to faith in Christ.  Since man is so corrupt that he cannot decide and cannot be persuaded to follow after God, God must powerfully intervene.

These two doctrines together are commonly referred to a predestination, which is basically the belief that God predestines or predetermines who will be saved, and there is nothing we as fallen depraved human beings can do about it.  If God has elected a person, they will be saved; if He has not elected a person, they will not be saved.  Human beings have no choice in the matter.

There are literally thousands of Bible passages dealing with the topic.  Some verses emphasize the sovereignty of God; others emphasize mankind’s choice.  It seems that most arguments against unconditional election and irresistible grace ignore the passages that discuss God’s sovereignty and predestining, while most arguments for unconditional election and irresistible grace ignore passages that discuss man’s choice to respond or not respond to God’s calling.

The biggest problem I have regarding unconditional election and irresistible grace is the flip-side of the doctrines:  what happens to the unelected?  If God has predetermined who will be saved, then He has also predetermined who will be unsaved.  If human beings have no choice in the matter whatsoever, then God has created billions of people for the sole purpose of sending them to Hell for all eternity.  God has not and will not reach out to them to save them; they cannot respond to the Cross of Christ; they were damned before the creation of the world.  The Westminster Confession, after stating the doctrine of election, adds:

“The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the inscrutable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.”

This doctrine, called unconditional reprobation, is problematic if God is omnibenevolent or completely loving.  How could a loving God create people to whom He will never offer a chance at redemption?  How could God, before the creation of the world, select vast numbers of human beings, and allow them to come into existence specifically for the purpose of sending them to Hell?  Since God is love, why would He not want to offer salvation to everyone?  How can it “pleaseth” a loving God to “witholdeth mercy?”  This makes no sense to me!

It seems to me that unconditional reprobation is logically necessary if unconditional election and irresistible grace are true; yet, unconditional reprobation is inconsistent with the loving character and nature of the God of the Bible.  I’ve read numerous detailed attempts to explain how unconditional reprobation does not mean God is arbitrary and how God is still loving, but I have yet to find one that makes sense to me.  Most of the arguments I’ve read simply involve trying to redefine terms so that they mean something other than what they mean, which does nothing but make my head spin.  The problem is still the same, even if the terms are redefined.  How can a loving God pick and choose some that He wills to go to Heaven, and others He wills to send to Hell?

If unconditional reprobation, unconditional election, and irresistible grace are true, then John 3:16 should read, “For God so loved the elect that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever He elected shall believe in Him and not perish but have everlasting life.”  The fact that God so loved the world implies that God’s salvation through grace is available to everyone; the fact that whoever believes in Him should not perish implies a choice of the will.

BibleThe Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign; it also clearly teaches that man has a will, and is responsible for his choices.  It’s not an issue of God’s sovereignty or man’s will – it’s a matter of understanding how both exist at the same time.  It appears to me that the Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace focus too much on God’s sovereignty, at the expense of God’s love; Armenians focus too much on the opposite.  There must be a reality that fully includes both God’s sovereignty and His love.

If someone can explain to me how irresistible grace, unconditional election, and unconditional reprobation do not contradict God’s absolute love, I’d appreciate a comment clearing up my understanding.  Otherwise, this doctrine will have to stay filed under “Christian Doctrines I Don’t Understand.”