Understanding The Shack
a parable by William Paul Young
Commentary and review from Dwight Bain
Here's an analysis of "The Shack" as well as some brief reviews from USA Today and The New York Times, where the book has rocketed onto their best seller list with almost one million in print in just over a year. (Unheard of for a self-published title). Also below is the testimony of Paul Young, the author, which explains much of his orientation in writing a book like this one; which was almost an autobiography of his own healing journey from sexual abuse and adultery. The author spoke in the Orlando areas a few months back and I was able to hear and understand his heart and motivation to write this book. Knowing the author will always give you a better understanding of the intended message, and often will help you to understand why so many people are connecting to this little paperback book about getting past their secrets, shame and pain to really feeling free in a relationship with God as their "Papa".
by William Paul Young, 2007
Paul wrote this parable book at the urging of his wife for a Christmas gift for their 6 children, 12/05. Then copies from Kinko's were passed around between friends and family in 2006, and when not a single publisher, (Christian publishers thought it was too mystical, mainstream publishers though it too religious), would print the book, he shared it with two local pastors in Oregon, who created a publishing company specifically for this book. "Windblown Media", began in 2007 and pulled together $300 to market the book. It began selling by the tens of thousands via their website, www.theshackbook.com with almost a million copies in print in just over 18 months, shattering all records for a self-published title. The "Shack” had its debut at No. 1 on the New York Times trade paperback fiction best-seller list It is No. 1 on Borders Group’s trade paperback fiction list, and at Barnes & Noble it has been No. 1 on the trade paperback list since May 2008. It is currently at #8 overall on Amazon.com in ranking of book sales out of the more than 2 million titles they carry on-line.
The title of the book is a metaphor for “the house you build out of your own pain”. The goal is to go to the shack to be healed from the secret shame or hurts from your past by seeing God in a new way. Young views his journey of emotional and spiritual healing vicariously through the main character of 'Mack'. In hearing the author’s testimony about his motivation to write the book, he describes that it actually took him over 11 years to find the emotional and spiritual healing that the character Mack experienced in the shack with God in just a few days.
Early in the story Mack's youngest daughter is kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer. Four years later he is called to visit the shack where his daughter was murdered by a note from God. He spends a weekend there with God in the flesh, envisioned by the author as a large African-American woman, who calls herself “Papa”; Jesus, appears as a plain Jewish workman; and the Holy Spirit is portrayed as Sarayu, a translucent Asian woman who floats like the wind. (Sarayu is from a Hindu word meaning the gentle wind that catches you by surprise to refresh you).
The book is a parable story written for his children, not theology, so it can’t be taken literally, but rather is designed to be understood on a more personal level. This way you can go to your own ‘shack’ to find the answers that only God could give you. Although Paul describes that he wrote it only to help his kids not carry the terrible emotional and spiritual baggage that he has shouldered all his life as a Preachers Kid and Missionary Kid, (Who grew up among a stone age tribal group of near cannibals, known as "The Dani", in New Guinea, near West Papua). He was first sexually molested at age 4 and then throughout childhood by the tribe and then by older boys, although he never told his parents at that time. He still has a broken relationship with his biological father, who is alive and a pastor in Canada still. Paul speaks openly of how painful it still is to carry that broken father relationship of abandonment which he believes may never be healed.
Part of the popularity of this book is likely from the controversy of how many people hate it, most likely because they are focused on the lack of systematic theology, which is intentional by the author; instead of focusing on his experience of healing from the past secrets and shame. Paul is a Bible college and Seminary graduate who worked on church as well as ministry staffs along with dozens of other jobs he has held through the decades to provide for his family of six kids. Despite the popularity of the book, he, his wife Kim and their young adult kids still live in a rented house in Oregon.
On a personal note, I enjoyed the book and thought it would help people with a wounded past most of all, while likely just offending people who haven't ever experienced horrible trauma or those who were deeply wounded, yet spend all their time desperately trying to cover it up with massive amounts of religious activity or just trying to act perfect. Oh yes, Papa is a large black woman, because in his childhood it was the large black women would rescue him, love him and be his safest place; while his own parents were so busy building a ministry that they left Paul to the mercy of a brutal culture. I've listened to his testimony via television interviews, on CD and read it in print and find this man to be sound in his faith and not driven by anything or trying to upset anyone’s belief system, rather trying to help them see God’s grace, healing and forgiveness in a new way. Basically he was a simple man who wrote a story as a Christmas gift to help his own children be at peace in their understanding of how much God loves them.
This book’s popularity has been supernatural because it is going into some amazing places around our world and challenging people about actively working through their own ‘shack’ of issues to experience a new level of peace with God. I hope this analysis is useful to equip you in understanding how to find a deeper walk with Christ than you’ve ever known and then to share that freedom with even more wounded people. That way you can help others to experience greater emotional and spiritual healing; and the remarkable freedom of spending time with God alone in the “Shack” and then coming out as a new person by God’s grace. -db