April 27, 2017

Letting Go of a Wrathful God.


I recently saw the movie “The Shack” and was blown away.

Having read the book several years ago, I did not expect the movie to come close to it in terms of impact. However, I walked out of the theater feeling that the film was faithful to the text and just as good.

The movie follows the spiritual journey of a man named Mac after he suffers a horrible family tragedy. Although he was a man of faith, he goes through a phase of wondering why the event happened and subsequently loses his faith. This is the story of how he tries to reclaim it.

What makes this movie unique is the unusual depiction of the Holy Trinity that Mac eventually meets. God is portrayed as an African-American woman named Papa; Jesus is a Middle-Eastern man, matching our mind’s general image, and an Asian woman acts as the Holy Spirit. So although the movie depicts the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as per traditional Christianity, the diversity makes the story remarkable. And so universal!

This diversity and universality makes “The Shack” appealing to different kinds of people, no matter their religious background. Whether Christian or atheist, the movie is unifying, just like the Trinity is depicted as a diverse yet united force that answers some of Mac’s questions.

As I watched, I thought about my own religious journey and how it tied into the movie with the diverse Trinity, Mac’s anger at God and loss of faith, and a loving, un-wrathful God who wants us all to be good people without much emphasis on church and the “rules.”  

The church I went to as a child emphasized diversity. It was a Unitarian Universalist church, which encompasses people of all different religious backgrounds: theists, agnostics, and atheists. There is also much welcoming of diversity in race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. With no official creed or dogma, the church gives everyone the freedom to choose their own path to truth and meaning. Unitarian Universalists tend to emphasize reason and rational discussion, with the focus on being a good person.

The Unitarian Universalist in me loved the diversity and relatability of the Trinity in the movie, even though Unitarian Universalism does not focus on the Trinity or Christian doctrine.  

As I got older, I stopped going to church altogether as life became more hectic. As a teenager, I considered myself more of an agnostic and was not sure if I believed in God at all. If God exists, why do these terrible things happen like murder, hunger, and natural disasters? All the typical questions we ask at some time or another, especially when we’re full of teenage angst. I wrote lots of poems and short stories that reflected my extreme doubt in a higher power.

As I watched Mac struggle with God, questioning why things turned out the way they did, I could relate. The part of me that questioned as a teenager, and sometimes questions now, loved this accurate portrayal of how difficult life can be and how it can destroy even the most faithful of people.

Now in my early twenties, I’m at the stage of my life where I’m finding my faith again, though in a less typical way as my Unitarian Universalist self. I identify as a spiritual person who sees God as an energy in everyone and everything, believing that God and us are all One.

I don’t think God is at all wrathful, but rather loves everyone unconditionally.

The spiritualist in me certainly appreciated the movie’s underlying message of a loving God who is always present through our suffering. Papa laughs, seemingly confused when Mac asks her about her wrath. And Jesus laughs when Mac asks about the importance of church and the “rules,” reminding Mac that one could not exactly call him a Christian. Jesus talks about integrating goodness in daily life. I appreciated the spiritual undertones in an otherwise largely traditional portrayal.

I’m not sure what traditionalists might think of this divergence from how God is usually portrayed as a white man with a beard. There’s sure to be controversy. However, I think some would probably feel like it doesn’t matter. They might say that God made everyone and is all-powerful enough to change His form to relate to any of us based on our own personal needs.

So even though I can’t speak with certainty for anyone, I feel like we can all relate to this movie. It does not matter what we believe in, or what we don’t believe in. We all have pain and are trying to understand our lives on a deeper level. I think we can all appreciate the lessons Mac learns and the transformations he goes through.

Just like the Trinity is unified, this movie helps us to realize just how alike we really are. While watching, I found myself wondering about the lives of other people in the theater and the problems and tragedies they have faced.

My level of empathy and my ability to forgive increased just by watching this movie. Even though I cried on and off throughout the whole film, they were tears of healing.

I cannot recommend “The Shack” highly enough. 

Author: Molly Johnson

Image: YouTube 

Apprentice Editor: Anthea van den Bergh/ Editor: Travis May

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