Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Shack - Day 3: A Theodicy

“I’m not who you think I am, Mackenzie” (Papa, 95). The more I think through the book, and re-read it, the more I’m convinced that it is apparent that one of the main goals of the author in writing The Shack was to present a theodicy. A theodicy is an explanation or defense of God’s goodness in light of the reality of evil, pain and suffering. The book is a response for the reason God allows evil to go on in general, and in the life of Mack, in particular. Why had God allowed (caused) The Great Sadness in Mack’s life?

The questions surrounding a theodicy are many, but well known to most people. How can evil exist if God is good? If God is all-powerful then why does he allow senseless suffering to happen? If God is all-powerful, then why doesn’t he just control man’s actions and limit the pain? Why do I have to suffer? For Mack, his question was, “Why did my Missy have to die the way she did?” The book is full of arguments that ‘defend’ God in light of unexplainable senseless evil and pain (See for example, pages: 90, 91, 94, 95, 99, 124, 125, 126, 132, 133, 146, 165, 166, 178, and 188).

On one occasion Mack asks Sarayu (the personification of the Holy Spirit), “What am I supposed to think? I just don’t understand how God could love Missy and let her go through that horror. She was innocent. She didn’t do anything to deserve that” (165). This in fact is a legitimate objection. Some of the writers in the Book of Psalms wrestle with how to deal with what we know about God’s goodness and power in light of his hesitancy to intervene against the evil that surrounds us (e.g., Psalm 10, 73; see also Habakkuk 1). To Mack’s next accusation about God not stopping Missy’s death, Sarayu says: “No, he didn’t. He doesn’t stop a lot of things that cause him pain. Your world is severely broken. You demanded your independence, and now you are angry with the one who love you enough to give it to you. Nothing is as it should be, as Papa desires it to be, and as it will be one day” (165).

The explanations the author provides for suffering constitute the better theological sections of the book. They affirm the reality of evil, a God who allows man to live out the actions which often come from the evil in his own heart, a God who suffers with his creation, who redeems the pain of those willing to give up their independence, and a God who one day will categorically do away with evil.

The Scriptures affirm both God’s goodness and his will to allow evil to continue, at least for now. Furthermore, although God hasn’t chosen to disclose the reasons behind most of our suffering he will often use pain to bring about the good. In another conversation with Mack Papa tells him: “Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me” (188).

This reminds me of the very subject of evil that Jesus’ disciples brought up concerning a particular man born blind. Had the blind man sinned to deserve his fate, or did his parents cause his suffering? Jesus responded, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). Of course, space here doesn’t allow us to ponder more deeply the theology of suffering which is much broader than this statement given by Jesus.

It is important to recognize that the sections on the reasons for suffering are probably one of the best points of entry in The Shack. People quickly identify with Mack’s tragedy because everyone’s life is sprinkled with moments of evil and suffering. Sooner or later, tragedy or great suffering of some kind or some unexplained pain will come to each of our lives. This is the great given of life.

How can we use the book at this juncture? For example, a simple question to a seeker, or reader of the book who wishes to discuss it, could be: What do you think of how Papa explains the reasons for why God allows suffering? This is an open-ended question that will invite opinions and give you an opportunity to discuss what the Bible teaches. It would also be helpful to share your own sufferings in life, some of the doubts or unexplained questions you have, and how you have chosen (and been able) to continue believing in God and his goodness.

Tomorrow we will look at the Trinity and the matter of hierarchy in the Godhead.
Shalam Shalum (stay healthy, at peace and prosperous) in 2009


Roman Dawes said...

Although the answer to the problem of evil isn't in the Bible, it is right under our noses.

I read both Sam Harris books and Richard Dawkins's "The God Delusion" last year. Is the Ehrman book worth the read even though its theme, that the Bible doesn't explain why we suffer, is something we already know?


Roger P. Felipe said...

I'm taking my time to read through Ehrman's book rigtht now. I would consider the time I have for reading and the interest in the subject matter before me as factors for intensive reading. The book will be discussed among some circles and its conclusions will fill the air. We can't get to everything, but again Ehrman is read by the public and it might be to our best interest to be aware of his beliefs and conclusions.