By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
Throughout the Shack, we read about how Mack deals with “the Great Sadness.”
In the story, this is a horrible form of depression that he struggles with and against. In another article, I will share some thoughts about the subject of “depression.”
But right now, I want to deal with the root of Mack’s struggle.
It does not arise primarily from chemical imbalances in his brain, or from his childhood; it does not arise from his sins, or even from Missy’s death.
It comes from his belief that Papa is not truly good; that God is unjust, and even potentially wicked.
Now, that isn’t to say that these other factors mentioned above may not contribute to the Great Sadness; but in the Shack, we are told time after time that Mack struggles with the basic question of the goodness of God.
At one point, Mack is speaking with Sophia (who is a personification of the wisdom of God, like in Proverbs). She informs him that he will be sitting in judgment of God. At this point, we read and are told:
“Why not? Surely there are many people in your world you think deserve judgment. There must be at least a few who are to blame for so much of the pain and suffering. What about the greedy who feed off the poor of the world? What about the ones who sacrifice their young children to war? What about the men who beat their wives, Mackenzie? What about the fathers who beat their sons for no reason but to assuage their own suffering? Don’t they deserve judgment, Mackenzie?” Mack could sense the depths of his unresolved anger rising like a flood of fury. He sank back into the chair, trying to maintain his balance against an onslaught of images, but he could feel his control ebbing away. His stomach knotted as he clenched his fists, his breathing coming short and quick. “And what about the man who preys on innocent little girls? What about him, Mackenzie? Is that man guilty? Should he be judged?” “Yes!” screamed Mack. “Damn him to hell!” “Is he to blame for your loss?” “Yes!” “What about his father, the man who twisted his son into a terror, what about him?” “Yes, him too!” “How far do we go back, Mackenzie? This legacy of brokenness goes all the way back to Adam—what about him? But why stop there? What about God? God started this whole thing. Is God to blame?” Mack was reeling. He didn’t feel like a judge at all, but rather the one on trial. The woman was unrelenting. “Isn’t this where you are stuck, Mackenzie? Isn’t this what fuels The Great Sadness? That God cannot be trusted? Surely, a father like you can judge the Father!” Again his anger rose like a towering flame. He wanted to lash out, but she was right and there was no point in denying it. She continued, “Isn’t that your just complaint, Mackenzie? That God has failed you, that he failed Missy? That before the creation, God knew that one day your Missy would be brutalized, and still he created? And then he allowed that twisted soul to snatch her from your loving arms when he had the power to stop him. Isn’t God to blame, Mackenzie?” Mack was looking at the floor, a flurry of images pulling his emotions in every direction. Finally he said it, louder than he intended, and pointed his finger right at her: “Yes! God is to blame!” The accusation hung in the room as the gavel fell in his heart.”
There it is, brought out in all its’ full horrifying power: God is to blame.
Can we trust God when He created a world and knowing full well the horrors that it would bring forth?
Can we trust God when we see that He has the power to stop the evil, and yet He allows it to continue?
Is God to blame for the suffering in the world around us?
If God is all-powerful, can we really trust Him?
Does He have the right to be called “Papa?”
I do not have all of the answers to these questions. I have spent many years struggling to understand the “whys” and the “hows” of these deep philosophical struggles.
In this article, I want to just highlight a few things which I have learned through the years.
First, many people would be furious for the Shack for bringing out these matters.
Many people I have worked with through the years are of the mindset that man has no place “questioning God.”
Many have been conditioned to believe (whether through upbringing, the media, church, or other cultural influences) that Christianity frowns upon asking questions and seeking answers.
However, that is not accurate from a biblical point of view.
When John the Baptist had questions and doubts, he raised them with Jesus. Jesus did not rebuke John for questioning; instead, He performed various miracles to help substantiate John’s trust in Him (Matthew 11:1-5).
Gideon asked for proof and confirmation from The Lord when he had questions and needed certainty, and The Lord provided it (Judges 6:36-40).
Didn’t The Lord invite the people of Israel to come now and “reason together” (Isaiah 1:18)?
Are we not commanded to be prepared to give a “defense” to everyone who asks a reason of the hope that is in within us (I Peter 3:15)?
No, Christianity does not shy away from the “hard questions.” It invites all to bring their doubts, concerns, and questions in the search for the truth.
Second, there is nothing wrong in asking questions about the goodness of God in light of the suffering and evil of this world.
When Gideon was first approached by the angel of God and told that The Lord was with him, Gideon responded:
Judges 6:13-Gideon said to Him, “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.”
Many people know the story of Job, how he was a righteous man who suffered horribly (Job 1-3).
However, what many are not aware of is the fact that in his suffering, there were many times when he lost his faith in the goodness of God. For example, he declared:
Job 9:22-24-22 (CEV)- What difference does it make? God destroys the innocent along with the guilty. 23 When a good person dies a sudden death, God sits back and laughs. 24 And who else but God blindfolds the judges, then lets the wicked take over the earth?
Job questioned God??? Absolutely!
Job 30:21 (Amplified Bible)-You have become harsh and cruel to me; with the might of Your hand You [keep me alive only to] persecute me.
All through the Book of Job, you will find statements like this, where Job accuses God of turning against him and being cruel to him. We find the same all through the Bible! God’s people asking questions of God’s goodness in the midst of a world which is filled with heartache, suffering, and evil.
Does God reprove them for asking questions?
Does He reprove them for raising doubts!
No! (We will look more at Job’s situation in a while).
Instead, He offers them assurances and proofs, designed to help them understand that even when they do not understand the “whys” and the “hows,” they can trust in Him and in His good purposes (even if they are beyond our full comprehension right now).
Third, the Bible reminds us that even if we do not have the full answers right now, we can depend on God’s goodness.
In Scripture, God’s goodness is not simply a matter of philosophical reasoning (although that definitely plays a part); it is a matter of direct empirical evidence which leads to the inescapable conclusion that God is truly good in His Nature and in His Character.
If we stop and carefully consider, we will see that this truth is manifest everyday of our lives.
Psalm 52:1-Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man? The goodness of God endures continually.
Acts 14:17-Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”
Romans 2:4-Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
Romans 5:8-But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God’s perfect goodness is a direct result of His perfect and non-contingent Nature. A contingent being is one which depends upon something outside of itself for existence.
I am contingent; I do not have the grounds for existence within myself. I exist because of several factors outside of myself (my parents, gravity, oxygen, heat, etc.).
Since there are contingent beings, why do they exist at all (since they do not have the reason for existence within themselves)?
The only way to explain this is by the existence of a non-contingent Being, One Who is completely self-sufficient.
Scripture identifies this God as the great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14; John 8:58).
Since Papa is completely self-sufficient, He must be perfect. An imperfection is that which is lacking, and you cannot have something which is lacking in a completely self-sufficient Being.
Thus, God must be perfect in goodness.
Logically and philosophically, this conclusion is inescapable, and is everywhere affirmed and proven through nature (as well as through Jesus).
Third, there are those who maintain that God should not have created in the first place: that God (foreseeing all of the evil and suffering in the world) should not have created a universe to begin with.
However,, does the evil and suffering in the world truly “outbalance” the good in the Creation?
One famous apologist decided to examine this question carefully in the following way.
Deciding to perform an experiment, he explains:
“Nonexistence rather than existence: what an idea! Still, it’s worth asking, if the world is a package deal, if free will for man means the choice to do good or evil, and if natural suffering comes built into the infrastructure of nature and of evolution, well, then is the whole thing worth it? Did God do us a favor by creating us, or would he have done us a greater favor not to have created us in the first place? To answer this question, it might help to try an exercise in reflecting on your life. Make a list of the really bad things that have happened to you. Don’t focus on the things that are your fault, though; enumerate all the unfair and terrible injustices you have suffered, either at the hands of others or through unavoidable calamity. Don’t leave anything out; go ahead and show us all your scars. Do this for the past year, and then do it for your whole life. Now make a second list, and here I’d like you to put down all the really good things that have happened to you. Again, let’s not focus on the rewards of your own efforts, on the successes you feel you have merited. Rather, enumerate, as far back as you can remember, all the sublime and wonderful and hilarious experiences that you’ve had. I did this recently, and I found that my “good” list vastly outweighed my “bad” list. In fact, it was no contest. And I suspect that for the vast majority of people, positive experiences will be common and bad experiences relatively rare. The point here is that by the irrefutable test of experience, life for most of us is a very good thing, and thus our overall response to it is not regret but gratitude.” (Dinesh D’ouza, Godforsaken: Bad Things Happen. Is There A God Who Cares? Yes. Here’s Proof!, 184-185 (Kindle Edition); Carol Stream, Illinois; Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.)
No matter the amount of evil in the universe, it cannot compare with the goodness that we see everyday.
One of my favorite authors, Stephen King, wrote a series of books known as the Dark Tower series (very bad language within this series, be warned).
Anyway, he writes of the “Dark Tower” and describes an incredible realization that Eddie experiences:
“Eddie saw great things and near misses. Albert Einstein as a child, not quite struck by a runaway milk-wagon as he crossed a street. A teenage boy named Albert Schweitzer getting out of a bathtub and not quite stepping on the cake of soap lying beside the pulled plug. A Nazi Oberleutnant burning a piece of paper with the date and place of the D-Day invasion written on it. He saw a man who intended to poison the entire water supply of Denver die of a heart attack in a roadside rest stop on I-80 in Iowa with a bag of McDonald’s french fries on his lap. He saw a terrorist wired up with explosives suddenly turn away from a crowded restaurant in a city that might have been Jerusalem. The terrorist had been transfixed by nothing more than the sky, and the thought that it arced above the just and unjust alike. He saw four men rescue a little boy from a monster whose entire head seemed to consist of a single eye. But more important than any of these was the vast, accretive weight of small things, from planes which hadn’t crashed to men and women who had come to the correct place at the perfect time and thus founded generations. He saw kisses exchanged in doorways and wallets returned and men who had come to a splitting of the way and chosen the right fork. He saw a thousand random meetings that weren’t random, ten thousand right decisions, a hundred thousand right answers, a million acts of unacknowledged kindness. He saw the old people of River Crossing and Roland kneeling in the dust for Aunt Talitha’s blessing; again heard her giving it freely and gladly. Heard her telling him to lay the cross she had given him at the foot of the Dark Tower and speak the name of Talitha Unwin at the far end of the earth. He saw the Tower itself in the burning folds of the rose and for a moment understood its purpose: how it distributed its lines of force to all the worlds that were and held them steady in time’s great helix. For every brick that landed on the ground instead of some little kid’s head, for every tornado that missed the trailer park, for every missile that didn’t fly, for every hand stayed from violence, there was the Tower.” (Stephen King, The Dark Tower V: Wolves Of The Calla, 194-195 (Kindle Edition); Hampton Falls, New Hampshire: Donald M. Grant Publisher, Inc.)
The existence and amount of evil in the universe does not justify the contention that God was wrong to create.
Indeed, it helps us to see the deeper mystery of goodness; for it is incredible and astounding that God can bring the incredible goodness into our universe that He does, not in spite of the evil, but even through the evil which He allows to exist!
Let’s also remember that the “ends” for which God created the universe most definitely justify the “means” through which those ends are achieved.
God created this universe to be a realm where man can learn and grow; a place where he can choose to love God or to reject Him.
In short, we were made for relationships (Ephesians 1:4-11). Papa provides us the blessed gift of freedom to choose which path we will follow: a path of accepting God, or of rejecting Him (Deuteronomy 24:15).
Years ago, brother Thomas B. Warren wrote an incredible book which attempted to reconcile the existence of God with the problem of evil, pain, and suffering.
At one point, he wrote:
“It is to be doubted that any man has (or could have) the knowledge to explain completely the contribution (to “soul-making”) of every instance of such destructive forces. Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that God is not blameworthy for having created a world in which such events occur. This is the case because God has a morally justifiable reason for having created such a world. This means that it is possible to set out an explanation which is consistent with the basic propositions which are crucial, so far as the problem of evil is concerned, for Biblical theism so that such instances of destruction need not be assumed to support necessarily a case opposed to my own arguments. It must be remembered that God did not create the world to be man’s permanent home but to be merely his temporary “vale of soul-making,” the environment in which man’s one and only probationary period is to be spent. In that connection, it is good for man to realize that his life on earth will be brief (i.e., it is certain that his life on earth will end), and that the exact time of that end is uncertain. Such natural calamities as noted above are of such nature as to provide man with reminders of these two important facts. This is not to say that such events force (in the sense of overwhelming so that there is no alternate choice) man to the acceptance of these views. But, they afford conclusive evidence for such, provided one will use properly his own free will. The realization that one’s life on earth is both certain (as to the fact that it will end) and, uncertain (as to the exact time that end will occur) should lead men to give most serious thought to the questions of God and the proper response to him. The destructive power and the uncertainty of such events should serve as a reminder to man that this world is not his permanent home. This, too, could play a vital role in an environment designed for “soul-making.” (Thomas B. Warren, Have Atheists Proved There Is No God? 834-846 (Kindle Edition); Glasgow, KY; National Christian Press)
This Creation-even with the pain and the suffering which thrive, trouble, and torment us-is still the perfect realm for which God’s ultimate purpose may thrive. His purpose is redemption, and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:19-21).
Isn’t that one of the main themes of the Bible-that God will redeem and restore?!
Isn’t that the hope which we have as Christians?
Doesn’t our heart beat with the promise of that Day?
One powerful philosopher who has gone through his own “Shack,” has written these powerful and profound words:
“In one of the most powerful scenes in The Shack Papa acknowledges that he could “have prevented what happened to Missy.” He “could have chosen to actively interfere in her circumstance,” but he decided not to do it (p. 222). Only love enabled Mack to trust God with that decision. We can’t imagine what could possibly justify evil? But, at one level, that is the wrong question. God’s purpose is not to justify it, but to redeem it (p. 127). My favorite scene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ is when Jesus, carrying the cross, falls to his knees under its weight. His mother runs to him and their eyes lock. With blood streaming down his cheeks and holding the symbol of Roman power and violence, Jesus says, “Behold, mother, I make all things new.” This is the promise of God — a new creation, new heavens and a new earth in a new Jerusalem. There the old order will pass away and the voice of God will declare: “I am making everything new” (Revelation 21:5a). A day is coming when there will be “no more curse” (Revelation 22:3). There will be no more darkness — the glory of God will fill the earth with light. There will be no more violence — the nations will receive healing and walk by its light. There will be no more death, mourning or tears — the Tree of Life and the Water of Life will nourish the people of God forever. That renewal, however, is not simply future but is already present. Hope saves us even now. As the Father pours out his love into our hearts by his Spirit, includes us in the Triune fellowship at his breakfast table, and walks with us in our suffering, we can experience the joy of relationship, the peace of love and the hope of renewal. Mack discovered it when he learned to trust. We will too.” (John Mark Hicks, Meeting God At The Shack: A Journey Into Spiritual Recovery, 1330-1344 (Kindle Edition); Gratidao Publishing)
Indeed, isn’t that promise of Heaven the one truly great equalizer and motivator?!
That promise of the Home to be, a realm where there will be no tears, no suffering, no pain, and endless joy and fellowship (Revelation 21-22; Matthew 8:11-12) can be the power which drives us through our own “Great Sadness.”
It is what prompted Jesus to endure the Cross (Hebrews 12:1-2), what motivated the Apostles of Christ to stand firm and true to Him in the midst of their persecutions and trials (II Corinthians 4:16-18), and what is held before every disciple of The Lord when we find ourselves at the horrible front room of our own personal Shack (Romans 8:18, 28; John 14:1-3).
To quote again from Warren:
“Man’s earthly life is insignificant in regard to the trials, adversities, and sufferings which he endures during it. The consequences of man’s decision either to become a son of God or not to become a son are of such magnitude as to render all of these sufferings of no ultimate negative significance. It will no doubt be the case that when men reach heaven, they will be amazed to recall that they ever grumbled or doubted while in the midst of suffering while on earth. They will say that even if their suffering had been a million times worse than it was, it still would have been no more than “the snap of a finger” in comparison with the grandeur and glory now experienced (full, ultimate fellowship with God).” (Thomas B. Warren, Have Atheists Proved There Is No God? 1067-1073, (Kindle Edition); Glasgow, KY; National Christian Press)
That brings me to the last thing which I want to consider with you my friends.
Throughout his journey, Mack did not come to understand the ultimate reasons why Missy died. He found the peace that he was longing for, and the solution to the Great Sadness; but the answer was not found in fully comprehending the reasons “why” this tragedy had unfolded as it had, and why his precious Missy had been taken from him.
But he found that peace in learning to trust Papa. Even though he did not understand, he knew that he could trust in Papa’s love. Beloved, that is the lesson that Job had to learn as well.
Throughout the Book of Job, the patriarch did receive partial answers to his suffering; but he never really truly understood why he had to endure the hardships which he did.
One of the powerful lessons of Job comes from realizing what happened at the end of the Book.
In chapters 32-37, Elihu defends the goodness of God in the midst of Job’s denials to that effect. Then, in chapters 38-41, God appears to Job in a whirlwind and begins to question him.
For years, I believed that these questions were simply designed to show Job that he did not understand as God and that he should just get off his high horse (paraphrase).
However, that is not the point of the questions at all! The questions which God asked of Job were not simply designed to impress Job with God’s power and knowledge, but with God’s goodness as well. John Mark Hicks wrote of this so eloquently:
“But these questions also point to God’s wisdom and care. These are not simply questions about power. Their function is not simply to remind Job of God’s power, but also to remind him of God’s wisdom and care. The questions are not arbitrary; they move from God’s creative work when he laid the foundations of the world (38:4-7) and controlled the chaotic waters (38:8-11) to his transcendence over the chaos of the wicked and death (38:12-21), control over the waters (snow, rain, rivers) of the earth (38:22-30, 34-38), and his regulation of the stars and seasons (38:31-33). The questions then move to the animal kingdom and God’s management of his living creatures. The questions are not just about knowledge but about care. God asks if Job “knows” (e.g., 39:1), but he also asks whether Job can manage this creation and care for it the way God does. Does Job hunt for the lion (38:39), feed the young ravens (38:41), give the wild donkey his home (39:6), use the wild ox in his service (39:9-12), care for the ostrich even though she has no sense (39:12-18), and give the horse his strength (39:19)? God asks, “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom (39:26), or “does the eagle soar at your command? (39:27). Through his power God manages his creation with wisdom and care. God’s creation is not the playground of his power but the nursery of his care. The world is not out of control; God is managing it quite nicely.” (John Mark Hicks, Yet Will I Trust Him: Understanding God In A Suffering World, 173-174 (emphasis added, M.T.); Joplin, MO; College Press Publishing Company)
My friends, we can learn from the fictional character Mack and from the real life Job that truly-YES, we can trust Papa. God will restore and redeem all things, as He has promised.
Even the existence of Hell itself is part of God’s original plan to remedy the evil of man (but that will be for another lesson).
The grace of The Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.