For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form. Colossians 2:9
And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Hebrews 9:22
The movie “The Shack,” is based on the popular book, which has sold over 20 million copies. I am going to address some significant points but not the whole movie.
My overall impression is that the movie has a much softer impact than the book. By “softer,” I don’t mean weaker, but it is less overt than the book in presenting some of Young’s edgy concepts. This is partly because the movie has a strong emotional element, attractive characters, and dreamy visual beauty, and partly because some of the heresies are not included (I realize a movie must leave out a lot when it’s based on a book). More on the left-out heresies later.
At the beginning we see some of Mack’s abusive childhood when his father beat his mother and beat him. Mack goes to a neighbor for comfort who is none other than the actress Octavia Spencer, and who shows up later as “Papa” (God the
Father). This is something that the book does not present, and it adds more of an imaginary element to the story since viewers likely will assume Mack sees his neighbor as God because she represented someone who cared for him when he was young. Or some may possibly believe that the neighbor was God appearing as a neighbor to Mack when he was hurting as a child.
Skipping over some of the plot and going to the part where Mack arrives at the shack where his daughter was murdered, which is now a beautiful cottage, we discover what is also in the book: God is an African-American woman (Octavia Spencer), Jesus is a Middle Eastern looking man, and the Holy Spirit, named Sarayu (meaning “wind”) is a beautiful Asian woman who has a glow emanating from her at times.
The film is laden with emotionally driven scenes due to the tragic murder of Mack’s daughter, Missy, and Mack’s past abuse. As in the book, the movie highlights how pain can break people and blind them to the good things in their life. But this theme, although understandable, should not obscure some serious errors about the nature of God, the Trinity, eternal life, and judgment.
At one point, Mack asks Papa (God the Father as Octavia Spencer) why he/she abandons people and Mack refers to Jesus on the cross who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (A quote from Psalm 22:1). There are many views of what happened on the cross and whether there was a rift in the Trinitarian unity, but the answer is not that God was also crucified. However, Papa shows Mack scars on his/her wrist from the cross to assure Mack he/she was there on the cross with Jesus. Some may see this as symbolic of God not forsaking Jesus but it portrays a deeply erroneous view. (In the book, Papa tells Mack that the whole Trinity is incarnated, which is glaringly false. This is not said in the movie).
When Mack asks about God’s wrath, Papa seems clueless and responds that there is no need to punish sin because sin is its own punishment, a line from the book. This is very problematic because, along with other statements made by the Trinity characters, it implies that there is no judgment on sin, and that God does not have wrath on sin. This latter idea is reinforced when Papa makes statements that there is no one he/she is not fond of, and says of Missy’s murderer that “he, too, is my son and I want to redeem him.” But Scripture is clear that we are adopted as sons and daughters of God only through faith in Christ, so how can the murderer be a son? (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5)
This idea of judgment is explored further when Mack is in a cave with Wisdom (the book calls her Sophia, the Greek for “wisdom,” but the film does not use this name). Wisdom tells Mack to choose which of his remaining two children will go to heaven; the other one will go to hell. Mack refuses to make the choice, and Wisdom uses this to show Mack how he should not judge.
Wisdom also shows him how his father, the abuser, was abused, and how it all goes back to the beginning. This may illustrate man’s sinful nature, but what is conveyed in this scene is that no one is seemingly at fault and/or no one can judge these actions. Wisdom says to Mack, “Now you know Papa’s heart.” Does this mean God does not want to judge or does not judge? If so, that is contrary to the nature of God, whose righteousness demands judgment on sin; and is the reason Jesus died on the cross, to give man full redemption through faith by taking on God’s wrath on sin.
God’s wrath on sin is not contrary to his love. Rather, it is in harmony with love because without it, God would accept sin and there would be no real love or justice. The issue of judgment in this scene is not cleared up at all, but rather is obscured and confused. There are plenty of passages in the Bible about judgment.
The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 13: 41, 42
….as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. 2 Thessalonians 1: 7b-9
Papa changes appearances, taking on the guise of a Native American man, and tells Mack he must forgive Missy’s murderer. After some resistance, Mack says he forgives him. Papa tells him this will take time and later we see Mack repeating “I forgive him” over and over. But no basis is given to forgive other than that it will help Mack heal. It is all about healing for Mack (this is said at the beginning and at different points in the movie). This would have been a great opportunity for Papa to explain to Mack that because we are forgiven when trusting in Christ, we should also forgive. The biblical teaching of forgiveness is made shallow in this movie, and is gutted of its tremendous significance when considering God’s forgiveness of sins through one’s faith in Christ. Moreover, the cost of that forgiveness is ignored.
Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins. Acts 10:43
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32
How God the Father appears and behaves remains an issue. In reality, God the Father does not appear as a human, and since the incarnation of Christ, we have Jesus as “the exact representation” of God. Jesus is the most glorious and perfect image of the Father. To have another image representing God the Father is a debasement of Jesus Christ.
And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. Hebrews 1:3a
Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?'” John 14:9
God the Father as a woman is contrary to how God reveals himself in Scripture. Despite the fact God is described with attributes we may call “feminine,” nowhere is God referred to as Mother or with a female pronoun. To feminize God in order to made God more “approachable” for Mack is to present a false view of God and is, at the very least, misleading. We don’t need to change who God is in order to reach wounded people or non-Christians.
Several unbiblical statements in the book are not in the film, including Sarayu’s admission to Mack that she is “fond of uncertainty.” I found this to be one of the most troubling statements in the book and I address it in my article on the book, so I will not go into it here.
A very serious heresy in the book that is not in the movie is Papa’s statement to Mack that he/she “is the ground of all being,” and related statements. This is a quote from Paul Tillich, who as a panentheist or possibly a non-theist, held the view that God is not a Being, but is Being itself.
This is not only unbiblical, it is anti-Christian and is an attack on the nature of God. Since I go into it in my article on the book, please read about this in my article.
Although these heresies are left out of the film, the other serious issues already explained still exist as the beast behind the outward beauty of the movie.
I think the movie will appeal to people due to its emotional draw and visually pleasing scenes and characters. It will soften the heresies in the book for those who liked the book, and probably lead others who have not read the book to read it. The attractiveness of the film makes is difficult for anyone disagreeing with it to critique such a film, because it tends to make the critic look as though he is dismissing the suffering of people or putting down the lovely kindhearted depictions of the Trinity.
But this is the nature of deception: it does not present itself raw and ugly, but exactly as the book and movie appear: tender, caring, and loving. This is all the more reason to present objections patiently and gently, and to remember that for the non-Christian consumer of “The Shack,” the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). To see God’s love, it is only necessary to go to God’s word and to share God’s love from there.
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace. Ephesians 1:7