But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands; the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan. ~Psalm 10:14
A member of my congregation loaned me her copy of "The Shack." I will admit: I resisted this book. Any purposey- Jabezy-left-behindy mass marketed paperback that suddenly Every Christian Must Read seriously worries me. And when I found out what it was about... a man whose daughter was abducted and murdered by a serial killer, who gets together with God in a shack in the woods to learn all about forgiveness, my initial thought was No. Thanks.
The book was a pleasant surprise. It is not great literature, and there are too many conversations in which God 'Splains it All to the main character for my taste. But... there is a lovely heart to the book, and that heart is that, no, God does not do appalling things to teach us lessons (nor does God take our children as "little angels"). But God does the following: God loves us. God gives us freedom to choose. God works so that some good can come out of even our most appalling choices, all the while still leaving us in freedom to choose relationship or not.
There are things about the book that feel like wishful thinking (though possibly helpful, perhaps in the same vein as a seminary professor who told us that, since God is not limited by time, we can pray for healing and help for things that are already past, people already dead, tragedies already occurred).
There were moments in the book that absolutely gave me chills, they were so beautifully narrated. And the main character, the father, is really well-fleshed out. He is not a pliant cipher, ready at every moment to "buy in" to God's explanations or God's urging him towards forgiveness.
The lenghty passage on forgiveness near the end is a difficult moment in the book, only because who cannot appreciate the difficulty of trying to be an agent of forgiveness in the situation the book describes? Who wants to forgive someone who brutalized and terrorized and killed a child, any child, much less one's own child? Not me. Not Mack. But the case for forgiveness is well made-- as well as great clarity about what forgiveness is NOT: it is not necessarily openness to a relationship with the offender, it is not necessarily letting go of anger, it is not forgetting.
I think for me the most moving piece of the book is one I found echoed in this morning's psalm: that sense of relief when we finally believe that God does see us. God sees our devastation, our desparation. God sees us. That is such deep consolation to me, when I do let it in. That was something I walked around with, on a little piece of paper in my pocket, when my marriage was unraveling and I had to put a good face on for the rest of the world. God could see me. God sees.