Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Shack - Day 4: The Trinity

Probably the most significant theological objection to The Shack is how the Trinity reveals itself to Mack. For example, the reasoning behind God revealing himself as a ‘she’ is Mack’s broken relationship with his human father. Papa tells Mack: “Hasn’t it always been a problem for you to embrace me as your father? And after what you’ve been through, you couldn’t very well handle a father right now, could you?” (92; See also, page 91). This inability to honor and love the person of God the Father is further pronounced as the story thickens, when Papa objects that many see Jesus as a figure of love and forgiveness while considering God as stern and inapproachable. Papa wondered how strange that man had made this distinction since Jesus came to show humanity – in his own love and compassion, and sacrifice – the very nature of God the Father (See John 14:7-9). The dialogue is insightful because in fact the Bible doesn’t allow for a dichotomy to exist among the God of the Old and New Testament. On both ends God is revealed as Holy, Righteous, Merciful, Gracious, Compassionate, and as Judge.

Although Young resists the idea of submission and hierarchy to describe the relationship among the Trinity, the Bible does teach that the Son and the Spirit submit in their unique roles (not in their attributes as God) to the Father. There is no Scripture, that I am aware of, that shows the Father submitting to the wishes or orders of the Son or the Spirit. This is simply the way the Bible reveals the Persons of the Trinity and we should adhere to God’s self revelation of his tripartite role (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:3; James 3:9, “Lord and Father”). Theologian Millard Erickson writes, “. . . the Son did not become less than the Father during his earthly incarnation, but he did subordinate himself functionally to the Father’s will. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is now subordinated to the ministry of the Son (see John 14-16) as well as to the will of the Father, but this does not imply that he is less than they are” (Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 338).

The Trinity is a doctrine of inference, but one that can be well established by the evidence of Scripture. Each Person of the Godhead is distinct from the other, yet each is very God, or of the same eternal essence and attributes. God is Spirit, as well as a Person (John 4:24: See 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:15-16). Furthermore, although the Bible at times does associate God’s actions with motherly characteristics to emphasize his tenderness and compassion, akin mostly to motherly behavior (e.g., Isaiah 66:12-13), Jesus gave us the example of how to refer to God when he prayed, “Our Father in heaven. . .” (Matthew 6:9ff.).

The Son is eternal (see Isaiah 9:6) and is the only Person of the Trinity that has a human body. Even in Old Testament times, a Christophany is believed by some to be the manifestation of Christ in human form before his incarnation in history. The Holy Spirit has never appeared with a human body, always takes a supportive role to the Son, and works in the heart of people to convict them of their need for God (John 16:8-11; See metaphor of the garden, page 132).

The Shack absolutely gets it wrong when, for example, it says: “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human” (98). First, taken alone, Young here comes close to the heresy of modalism, or the teaching that the one Person of God takes a different manifestation or role at certain times in history (See Sabellius). Modalists teach that the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are identical-they are successive revelations of the same person.” (Erickson, 334). Again, the only Person of the Triune God to take on human flesh and to limit himself was the Second, the Son (See John 1:14).

To his credit, Young does get it right when he goes on to speak about Jesus as “fully God,” yet also “fully human” (98). He also gets it right when he asserts about Jesus that “although he is fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything. He has only lived out of his relationship with me, living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being” (98). Jesus continually reiterated that he couldn’t do anything unless the Father directed him (See John 5:20). As our Second Adam he lived a perfect life, not out of His deity, but out of his humanity in complete submission to the Father’s will (See Hebrews 4:15). This is why he could die on our behalf as a perfect substitute.

Sarayu gets it partially right when talking about the reason for the death of Christ. She tells Mack: “For love. He chose the way of the cross where mercy triumphs over justice because of love. Would you instead prefer he’d chosen justice for everyone?” (165). It is true that if God had only applied his justice to humanity, without giving us his Son, we would be without hope. In his great love, however, he sent his Son as our sin payment. Both God’s justice and God’s mercy kissed at the point of Calvary’s Cross. The cross demonstrates both God’s justice – without the shedding of blood there can’t be remission of sin – and God’s mercy, the Son of God, the Holy One dying for unholy men and women.

Although The Shack reveals the Persons of the Trinity in an unbiblical ‘form’, it does a good job of presenting the fellowship, the love, and the purposes of each Person in a lively (remember fictional/imagined) manner (e.g., 120). On the other hand, Young gets the discussion on authority and submission wrong not only with the Trinity but also in other human relationships. Authority and submission is not about persons being ‘better’ than others, but are important in both the economy of the Trinity, in terms of their distinctive roles to which they submit to, and are also needed in human relationships as well. Although we could refer to God always as ‘Father,’ other names for God such as ‘Creator,” and ‘Holy One,’ should also be used when addressing him. However, the description of God as ‘mother’ is simply not a way in which the Bible has chosen to reveal his nature and role. The book’s depiction of God in ‘motherly’ form, nonetheless, could be used as an entry point to begin shedding light on the true revelation of God and his attributes.(To be continued on Friday.)
Shalam Shalum (stay healthy, at peace and prosperous) in 2009

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