The Shack

Is it wrong to hit on the Holy Spirit?

W ould you trade your child for a personal face-to-face with The Almighty? While this is not the central question of The Shack, it is in essence, the plot. Lent just started, so we’re in for another slew of myopic Christian films.  Fun.   The Shack, while better -at times much better- than most, still combined a troubling “other religions? What other religions?” world view with a narrow theological viewpoint and some awful acting; OTOH, an extended tea party with God (Octavia Spencer), Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush) and the Holy Spirit (Sumire Matsubara) is a peachy keen idea no matter your religious views.

Whoa, the Holy Spirit is HOT!

I’m getting ahead of myself. Mackenzie Phillips –are you kidding me? “Mackenzie Phillips,” really? You really, truly and unironically  named a character “Mackenzie Phillips?” What, was “Valerie Bertinelli” too ethnic for your purposes? How about “Bonnie Franklin?” There’s a fine name. Oh, wait, too feminine? How about “Pat Harrington, Jr.?” He played “Schneider.” Anyway, young Mackenzie Phillips murders his abusive father; the film never actually addresses the fact that the kid put strychnine in his father’s whiskey bottles. That’s Murder One, folks, even if dad is abusive. Just gonna let that one go? Ok, moving on. Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington – coming so, so close to an American accent here) takes his own kids camping one day and while saving his son from drowning, his youngest daughter is abducted, and then presumably raped and killed. So far, this is the best movie ever!

A year later, a broken Mack gets an invitation from God to revisit The Shack where his child was killed. He accepts and discovers God has a pretty nice summer rental, especially poignant as it’s currently winter. And here, Mack gets to visit and question the Holy Trinity. Honestly, I think The Shack deserves points alone for making God a black woman and depicting Jesus as non-European. The ensuing theological discussion is deeper than most and presented without cynicism or condescension. Have you heard the good news? That’s the good news.

The problem I have with most Godsquad films comes down to the key ask and answer: why does a benevolent Almighty allow bad things to happen? And no matter how convoluted the doublespeak or frilly the language, the answer is always: what you perceive as “good” and “bad” is flawed by your personal limitations. You just can’t see the big picture. The Shack compared the experience to peeking through a knothole (as opposed to seeing from the other side of the fence) and then doubled down, insisting that condemning a murder/rapist was akin to making a Sophie’s Choice of your children. This is a terrible analogy, folks.

Now back to the point – I haven’t the tools to judge the big picture? Really? I can’t judge that concentration camps or genocide is bad in the bigger picture? Don’t be silly. Of course I can judge this. Even a man peeking at the world through a knothole can tell the difference between a ripple and a tidal wave. Let’s go straight to the most obvious case right in front of us: I say the election –and especially the improbable election of Donald Trump- is proof by itself that God either doesn’t exist or is completely indifferent to human suffering. Trump ran on a platform of hate. He was elected by hate. His still young presidency has been about exactly two things: hate and massaging his enormous, yet fragile, ego. He generates hate with every move he makes. Let me pause there; every President generates hate; it comes with the territory. But the hatred generated by Obama was primarily limited to the people who would end up supporting Trump. Trump is like an anti-George Bailey; he generates and enables hate globally on a daily basis. Every racist move, every selfish tweet, every deliberate denial of fact, every outrageous lie – and no one has ever lied like this man – generates pain in waves that scour the globe.

And if you voted for Trump, you voted for hate. Oh, please, stop with the “elitist” or “emails” or “economy” talk. I must have read dozens of articles about “overlooked” voters and honest Trump support. I know you suffered for years with the indignity of having a mere 2/3rds of government on your side. Truly, yours is an unknown, unseen pain. (Psst … a small recommendation – if you actually wish to “drain” a “swamp,” you might want to select more than one swamp denizen to isolate and remove.) Now I’m sure you have a veritable cornucopia of alternative facts to help dilute or delude the bigotry and hate, but all that’s coming through at this moment is schadenfreude and an unwillingness to hold Trump to even the very least of presidential standards. Every legitimate reason for supporting this man eroded in his first month in office where he committed every infraction he accused his opponents of. As the legitimate vacated, the support has not and all you have left is the hate.

What say you, The Shack, is there an unseen greater good to the election of this miserable, deceitful, narcissistic, hateful human being to the most powerful job on the planet? Let’s say there is. Let us suppose I’m wrong and you’re right. Suppose I really cannot know God’s bigger plan. I mean, clearly my vision is incredibly limited because I only see a future of pain and anger wherever this man and his party of spineless toadies encroach. But suppose I’m wrong. Well then, what’s the point of any of this? If I cannot correctly determine that my President is a true force of evil, who’s to say that my perception isn’t wrong on a micro level as well? What stops me from lying incessantly, making racist accusations, grabbing women by the pussy, confronting every problem by projecting or dismissing it and then accusing somebody else of anything that comes to mind? Who is to say that isn’t all for the unseen good as well?

I’m also disturbed by the nature of God’s power as presented. If God knows everything I’m going to do before I do it, do TheShack2I really have free will at all?

I won’t back away from all of this, but I do applaud The Shack more than its kin for presenting questions that made me truly think about faith and spiritual self-examination. I concede there’s plenty I don’t know about theology. There’s plenty I don’t know about everything. But am I really wrong here?

In my perception — as a nation and a species, our greatest problem is not lack of faith, but lack of humility. There are over 300 Million folks in our country and 8 Billion on the planet at current count. I know these are frustrating facts; people want to be special, not one of many. But look at where this got us. Faith as presented by The Shack seems personal. Is faith going to help us as a people? What I take from this film is one doubter got a weekend with God in (what looked like) The Hamptons; where’s my special deity weekend? There is not a crisis of faith in this country or this world; there is, unfortunately, no shortage of folks who believe all sorts of things without needing proof. (The past election results say there are at least 62 million of you.)  We do, however, have a severe crisis in empathy; I wish films like this would address the “do unto others” portion of religious teachings ahead of blind subservience. In my limited vision, faith only counts when coupled with making the planet a better place to live.

♪O Come, ye unfaithful
Sent you invitation
O come ye
On heavenly vacation
Come to the Hamptons
Got me there a cabin
O come, you faith detractor
Pretend it’s just “Fear Factor”
Yes you, Avatar actor
Meet your Lord♫

Rated PG-13, 132 Minutes
D: Stuart Hazeldine
W: John Fusco and Andrew Lanham & Destin Daniel Cretton
Genre: A weekend with God ‘n’ pals
Type of person most likely to enjoy this film: The choir being preached to
Type of person least likely to enjoy this film: The justifiably skeptic

♪ Parody inspired by “O Come, All Ye Faithful”

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One Response to “The Shack” Subscribe

  1. Jane Austen March 15, 2017 at 4:51 am #

    The interesting thing about the question, “Why does a benevolent God allow suffering,” is that films like this only ask the question from an individual’s viewpoint. This character suffered a tragic, personal loss; Job’s life was shredded while his neighbors flourished. You’re asking the question on a national / global level. Why does God permit evil people to rise to power, or social systems based on racism to flourish? I suppose a film or book would lack personal angst if the agonized character wanted to ask God about genocide, human trafficking, or famine…but boy, is that a bitter truth about the human race. A solitary death is a tragedy, 300 dead from famine is news.

    Either way, apparently the answer from the universe is, “because, lol.”

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