Monday, March 02, 2009

"The Shack" - A Review in Dialogue Format - Part I

Since my friend, Ryan Beltramini, was the person responsible for making me aware of the book, "The Shack," I have asked him to joining me in sharing with the readers of The White Rhino Report the lessons we learned in reading this amazing story. Ryan is currently finishing up his MBA studies at Harvard Business School. A graduate of the United States Military Academy, Ryan was awarded the Bronze Star for his leadership and service in Afghanistan.

Al Chase:

"Ryan, it is clear to me that this was a significant book to you, and it was important for you to be able to share it with me. I recall you mentioning it to me at least three times, which prompted me to bump it to the top of my long list of worthwhile books I plan to read. Can you share with me why you wanted me to read this book?"

Ryan Beltramini:

"It is a great story.

Christ’s story – and our story – is told in a manner different than anything I had ever seen. It provided a new way of thinking about God and His creation. I thought it would provide you some insights as well. I always welcome new thoughts to push and/or challenge how I think about God. As is noted: 'Paradigms power perception and perceptions power emotions Just because you believe something firmly doesn’t make it true. Be willing to re-examine what you believe.' New paradigms, whether I agree completely, partially, or not at all with them, are cathartic for me. It is dangerous to be too comfortable with what we believe in the sense that we might start to forget why we believe. In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape knows this and warns Wormwood not to let his 'patients' think too much for fear that God might find them: 'Even if a particular thought can be twisted so as to end in our favor, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences.' In an effort to always continuously strengthen my faith, I embrace new perspectives or ways of understanding and telling Christ’s story. This unique story helped me in this ongoing quest.

It struck a chord with me on several levels, especially regarding the question that I so often struggle with: why do so many bad things happen unnecessarily? While in some respects the book touched on several themes from Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, its description of God in a close personal relationship helped me to further clarify some thoughts around why God lets bad things happen. Just as Barack Obama noted in his inauguration speech that 'we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,' I also reject as false the choice between a God that is all powerful and one that is all good. In times that are arguably the most difficult in nearly a century, it is helpful to re-visit why we can confidently reject such a belief system. As God notes in this story, 'All evil flows from independence, and independence is your choice. If I were simply to revoke all the choices of independence, the world as you know it would cease to exist and love would have no meaning You demand your independence, but then complain that I actually love you enough to give it to you.' For Him to nullify each decision that would result in a bad outcome would be to nullify His offering us our freedom, and hence His love for us. Thinking that God lets bad things happen to us is not the right frame of reference through which to view things. He does not cause the bad things, and while He does not need bad things to make good things happen, he rarely wastes an opportunity: a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Further, who is to say how many times He has intervened to stop bad things from happening to us which we will never even know about. We will never know why he stops certain things and not others, especially those that affect us directly and hurt the most. This, my friend, is where faith takes over: 'Faith does not grow in the house of certainty.' It was Oswald Chambers who said, 'Faith never knows where it is being led, but it knows and loves the One who is leading.'

Al Chase:

"How did reading this book change your view of God?"

Ryan Beltramini:

"A few things come to mind, although I know there are many more.

First, on a personal level, I have always wondered – as U2 alludes to in its oft-misunderstood 'Wake Up Dead Man' – whether there truly is an order in all of this disorder. A math major in college, I often default to analytics. But on the surface, this bouncing ball we live on seems anything but a well-laid plan. How could I overlook the possibility that we are living in God’s own personal fractal: 'He called our garden a mess – isn’t that perfect? … this garden is your soul. This mess is you. To you it seems like a mess, but to me, I see a perfect pattern emerging and growing and alive – a living fractal.' I love the notion that only from on high could we possible see how beautiful this place really is. Okay, maybe it is not just the mathematical reference, maybe I take solace in the suggestion that I am not as confused as I sometimes feel like. Either way, The Shack provided a newer, broader paradigm to think about how God’s plan might be laid out. As a math major who never considered a fractal, I am in awe when I think about how many other components could make up this glorious puzzle.

Second, on a more general level, I had considered how God might think about failing to live up to responsibilities or expectations, never really reaching a satisfactory viewpoint. After reading this, I started to consider that maybe God does not like thinking in these terms: 'Responsibilities and expectations are the basis of guilt and shame and judgment, and they provide the essential framework that promotes performance as the basis for identity and value To the degree that you resort to expectations and responsibilities, to that degree you neither know me nor trust me.' These ideas were some of the most thought-provoking in the book for me. God wants all of us, not just as a body of people, but He wants all of each of us. How would this look as an expectation? It would probably look something like His expecting that in every action, at every moment, we ask, 'What Would Jesus Do?' What a recipe for disaster. Before we ever even get to our actions, which would undoubtedly fall short of what His expectations might be, we would never even be capable of asking this question all the time.

Thankfully, that is not what he expects. In fact, he does not expect. Why would He when He already knows. He does not bestow responsibility based on his expectations. (Perhaps this is why the word 'responsibility' is not mentioned in Scripture.) He seeks a relationship, one that involves dying daily, surrendering our independence, fully knowing that establishing our relationship is a process, not an event. Thankfully, He has all the time in the world."

This conversation about "The Shack" will be continued in an upcoming posting.

Stay tuned.

And read the book!


Al (and Ryan)


Craig Balben said...

A Christian colleague gave me this book. After reading the conversation you've begun here, Al, I will not delay in reading it. I only wish I had read it earlier so I could participate in the discussion at this time.

Jared said...

Great review! I read this book last year and really enjoyed it. The author doesn't shy away from some of the toughest questions, most notably the problem of pain: "how can a good, loving God allow tragedies to happen," etc. I would caution readers to use a skeptical eye and always compare books like this with Scripture. Sometimes such popular books are derived from a skewed theological framework... there are a few ideas proposed in this book that I believe are at odds with Scripture. Regardless, it's an interesting read and discussion-starter.

Anonymous said...

Google brought me to this discussion and I wondered whether you continued it at a later date? I learned similar things from the book and I'd like to read more of this conversation!