Perhaps one of my favorite themes of the Shack is the that of the broken being restored. We see this right from the beginning-the ways that the Trinity take things which are broken and desolate and bring forth life and beauty. When Mack receives the letter from Papa and returns to the shack that was the site of his worse and most horrific nightmare, he sees it as it is: a foul reminder of suffering and death, rundown and dilapidated. After his initial outburst at God (Whom he believes did not actually show up for the meeting), he turns around and storms out, returning to his car. And then:
“He had barely walked fifty feet up the trail when he felt a sudden rush of warm air overtake him from behind. The chirping of a songbird broke the icy silence. The path in front of him rapidly lost its veneer of snow and ice, as if someone were blow-drying it. Mack stopped and watched as all around him the white covering dissolved and was replaced by emerging and radiant growth. Three weeks of spring unfurled before him in thirty seconds. He rubbed his eyes and steadied himself in the swirl of activity. Even the light snow that had begun to fall had changed to tiny blossoms lazily drifting to the ground. What he was seeing, of course, was not possible. The snowbanks had vanished, and summer wildflowers began to color the borders of the trail and the forest as far as he could see. Robins and finches darted after one another among the trees. Squirrels and chipmunks occasionally crossed the path ahead, some stopping to sit up and watch him for a moment before plunging back into the undergrowth. He even thought that he glimpsed a young buck emerging from a dark glade in the forest, but on second look it was gone. As if that weren’t enough, the scent of blooms began to fill the air, not just the drifting aroma of wild mountain flowers, but the richness of roses and orchids and other exotic fragrances found in more tropical climes. Mack was no longer thinking about home. A terror gripped him, as if he had opened Pandora’s box and was being swept away into the center of madness, to be lost forever. Unsteady, he carefully turned around, trying to hold on to some sense of sanity. He was stunned. Little, if anything, was the same. The dilapidated shack had been replaced by a sturdy and beautifully constructed log cabin, now standing directly between him and the lake, which he could see just above the rooftop. It was built out of hand-peeled full-length logs, every one scribed for a perfect fit. Instead of the dark and forbidding overgrowth of brush, briars, and devil’s club, everything Mack could see was now postcard perfect. Smoke was lazily wending its way from the chimney into the late-afternoon sky, a sign of activity inside. A walkway had been built to and around the front porch, bordered by a small white picket fence. The sound of laughter was coming from nearby—maybe inside, but he wasn’t sure. Perhaps this was what it was like to experience a complete psychotic breakdown. “I’m losing it,” Mack whispered to himself. “This can’t be happening. This isn’t real.” It was a place that Mack could have imagined only in his best dreams, and this made it all the more suspect. The sights were wondrous, the scents intoxicating, and his feet, as if they had a mind of their own, took him back down the walkway and up onto the front porch. Flowers bloomed everywhere, and the mix of floral fragrances and pungent herbs aroused hints of memories long forgotten. He had always heard that the nose was the best link to the past, that the olfactory sense was the strongest for tapping into forgotten history, and now some long-stored remembrances of his own childhood flitted through his mind. (The Shack, 86-88).
Later, as Mackenzie and Sarayu are working on the garden near the shack (which is near catastrophe and in much need of work), Papa approaches and asks Sarayu if She and Mack are having a good conversation. We are told:
““The best!” exclaimed Sarayu. “And guess what? He called our garden a mess—isn’t that perfect?” They both beamed broadly at Mack, who still wasn’t absolutely sure he wasn’t being played with. His anger was subsiding, but he could still feel the burning in his cheeks. The other two seemed to take no notice. Sarayu reached up and kissed Papa on the cheek. “As always, your timing is perfect. Everything that I needed Mackenzie to do here is finished.” She turned to him. “Mackenzie, you are such a delight! Thank you for all your hard work!” “I didn’t do that much, really,” he said apologetically. “I mean, look at this mess.” His gaze moved over the garden that surrounded them. “But it really is beautiful, and full of you, Sarayu. Even though it seems like lots of work still needs to be done, I feel strangely at home and comfortable here.” The two looked at each other and grinned. Sarayu stepped toward him until she had invaded his personal space. “And well you should, Mackenzie, because this garden is your soul. This mess is you! Together, you and I, we have been working with a purpose in your heart. And it is wild and beautiful and perfectly in process. To you it seems like a mess, but I see a perfect pattern emerging and growing and alive—a living fractal.” (147-148)
One of the themes of the Shack is the way that Papa can take ruined messes of darkness and pain and transform them into thriving creations of goodness and joy. Here is echoed yet another theme of the Scriptures; truthfully, one of the most common!
Job 38:27-To satisfy the desolate waste, And cause to spring forth the growth of tender grass?
Psalm 107:35- He turns a wilderness into pools of water, And dry land into watersprings.
Isaiah 32:15 (Easy To Read Version)-This will continue until God gives us his Spirit from above. Then the desert will become rich farmland and the farmland will be like thick forests.
Isaiah 35:1-7-1 The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose; 2 It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, Even with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, The excellence of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, The excellency of our God. 3 Strengthen the weak hands, And make firm the feeble knees. 4 Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, With the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. 6 Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, And streams in the desert. 7 The parched ground shall become a pool, And the thirsty land springs of water; In the habitation of jackals, where each lay, There shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
Isaiah 41:19-I will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the acacia tree, The myrtle and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the cypress tree and the pine And the box tree together,
Isaiah 51:3-For the LORD will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, And her desert like the garden of the LORD; Joy and gladness will be found in it, Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
Isaiah 55:13-Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, And instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; And it shall be to the LORD for a name, For an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”
Jeremiah 33:12-13-12 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘In this place which is desolate, without man and without beast, and in all its cities, there shall again be a dwelling place of shepherds causing their flocks to lie down. 13 In the cities of the mountains, in the cities of the lowland, in the cities of the South, in the land of Benjamin, in the places around Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, the flocks shall again pass under the hands of him who counts them,’ says the LORD.
Ezekiel 36:33-38-33 ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will also enable you to dwell in the cities, and the ruins shall be rebuilt. 34 The desolate land shall be tilled instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass by. 35 So they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ 36 Then the nations which are left all around you shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted what was desolate. I, the LORD, have spoken it, and I will do it.” 37 ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I will also let the house of Israel inquire of Me to do this for them: I will increase their men like a flock. 38 Like a flock offered as holy sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem on its feast days, so shall the ruined cities be filled with flocks of men. Then they shall know that I am the LORD.” ‘
Amos 9:14-I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; They shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; They shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.
All of these passages (and many more which could be cited) remind us of the fact that Papa desires to take things which are desolate and to create new life; to bring forth beauty out of that which has been devastated and ravaged. How powerfully the Shack brings out this Biblical truth!
Perhaps my favorite text regarding this transforming power of God is found in Isaiah 61. There we read:
Isaiah 61:1-3-1 “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn,3 To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”
Look at how God takes these people who are “brokenhearted” and “captives” and how He transforms them. Look especially at verse 3, and notice how this is various translated:
Isaiah 61:3 (CEV)-especially in Jerusalem. He sent me to give them flowers in place of their sorrow, olive oil in place of tears, and joyous praise in place of broken hearts. They will be called “Trees of Justice,” planted by the LORD to honor his name.
Isaiah 61:3 (ERV)-those in Zion who mourn. I will take away the ashes on their head, and I will give them a crown. I will take away their sadness, and I will give them the oil of happiness. I will take away their sorrow, and I will give them celebration clothes. He sent me to name them ‘Good Trees’ and ‘The LORD’S Wonderful Plant.’
Isaiah 61:3 (Amplified)-To grant [consolation and joy] to those who mourn in Zion—to give them an ornament (a garland or diadem) of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment [expressive] of praise instead of a heavy, burdened, and failing spirit—that they may be called oaks of righteousness [lofty, strong, and magnificent, distinguished for uprightness, justice, and right standing with God], the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.
The idea of this passage is expressed powerfully:
“The sixth responsibility of this “Anointed One” is “to provide” (, NIV “and provide”) for those grieving in Zion “by giving”360 them something new and “beautiful, glorious” 361 for their head. This will replace their past use of “ashes” (, a word play on ), a sign of mourning. In addition, in order to emphasize the stark contrast with the past, the author compares this transformation of life to having oil (Pss 23:5; 45:8, which contrasts with the times of mourning), a festive headdress (3:20; Ezek 44:18), or an opulent garment that is worn in a time of praise instead of ashes at a time of fainting and mourning. This metaphorical way of describing the outward transformation of a person’s clothes and behavior betrays a deep transformation of this person’s situation as well as their psychological reaction (by their “spirit” ) to the changes God will introduce at this time (60:20, “the days of mourning will be completed”). The point is that mourning, which was so often a part of the nation’s history, will end and praise will begin. The head ornament (a positive symbol) will be used “instead of” the ashes (a negative symbol) because a new era of salvation has arrived.” (Gary V. Smith, The New American Commentary: Isaiah 40-66-An Exegetical And Theological Exposition Of Holy Scripture, 19975-19971 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; B&H Publishing Group)
From these facts, I want to share with you some thoughts about Papa and the wonderful things He can do for our hearts and lives.
First, Papa knows all about our struggles. Please notice that God is intimately aware of our needs and of our problems; He knows all about our trials and concerns. God is not some far removed deity who does not care about us or our needs; He is near at hand and ready to help us.
Jeremiah 23:23-24-23 “Am I a God near at hand,” says the LORD, “And not a God afar off? 24 Can anyone hide himself in secret places, So I shall not see him?” says the LORD; “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the LORD.
Jeremiah 23:23-24 (CEV)-23 I am everywhere— both near and far, 24 in heaven and on earth. There are no secret places where you can hide from me.
Psalm 139:1-12-1 For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. O LORD, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. 3 You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. 4 For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether. 5 You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it. 7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?
8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” Even the night shall be light about me; 12 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
God knew about the situation of Isaiah’s day, just as He intimately knew the struggles of David and all of Israel. Isn’ that one of the reasons why we love God-because He is concerned with each of us individually?
Second, God knows the desolate places in our own hearts and lives. Now, let me share something with you that greatly troubled me for a long time about the Shack (and about the Bible’s teaching regarding life in general); God allows those desolations into our lives. He has the power to prevent them; He has the foreknowledge to see them coming before they happen; yet He allows them.
You know, Mack had issues with this:
““Is that what this is about? Did she have to die so you could change me?” “Whoa there, Mack.” Papa leaned forward. “That’s not how I do things.” “But she loved that story so much.” “Of course she did. That’s how she came to appreciate what Jesus did for her and the whole human race. Stories about a person willing to exchange his or her life for another’s are a golden thread in your world, revealing both your need and my heart.” “But if she hadn’t died, I wouldn’t be here now…” “Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I needed it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” (The Shack, 198-199)
“Somehow Mack knew they were nearing the end of a long journey, and Papa was working to help him take the last few steps. “There was no way to create freedom without a cost, as you know.” Papa looked down, scars visible and indelibly written into his wrists. “I knew that my creation would rebel, would choose independence and death, and I knew what it would cost me to open a path of reconciliation. Your independence has unleashed what seems to you a world of chaos, random and frightening. Could I have prevented what happened to Missy? The answer is yes.” Mack looked up at Papa, his eyes asking the question that didn’t need voicing. Papa continued, “First, by not creating at all, these questions would be moot. Or second, I could have chosen to actively interfere in her circumstance. The first was never a consideration, and the latter was not an option for purposes that you cannot possibly understand now. At this point, all I have to offer you as an answer are my love and goodness, and my relationship with you. I did not purpose Missy’s death, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use it for good.” (The Shack, 2238)
Perhaps one of the hardest things to grasp is the knowledge that God can end the suffering in our lives; He CAN put a stop to the events which bring about our own desolations; yet He doesn’t. In an earlier post, I talked about how one of the reasons why we can find peace in our own wilderness is because-even though we don’t know the “whys” to our suffering-we can KNOW the One Who allows it into our lives. We may not understand why Papa allows the ruin into our own personal world, but we know that He has promised to bring good through it. What’s more, He has promised to one day eradicate all of the evil during the times of the “restoration of all things” (Acts 3:19-21). One of my favorite authors, Norman Geisler, has written about this:
“As we said before, free beings are the cause of evil, and freedom was given to us so that we could love. Love is the greatest good for all free creatures (Matt. 22:36-37), but love is impossible without freedom. So if freedom were destroyed, which is the only way to end evil, that would be evil in itself, because it would deprive free creatures of their greatest good. Hence, to destroy evil would actually be evil. If evil is to be overcome, we need to talk about it being defeated, not destroyed. The argument against God from evil makes some arrogant assumptions. Just because evil is not destroyed right now does not mean that it never will be. The argument implies that if God hasn’t done anything as of today, then it won’t ever happen. But this assumes that the person making the argument has some inside information about the future. If we restate the argument to correct this oversight in temporal perspective, it turns out to be an argument that vindicates God. 1. If God is all-good, He will defeat evil. 2. If God is all-powerful, He can defeat evil. 3. Evil is not yet defeated. 4. Therefore, God can and will one day defeat evil. The very argument used against the existence of God turns out to be a vindication of God in the face of the problem of evil. There is no question here that if it has not yet happened and God is as we suppose Him to be, that we simply haven’t waited long enough. God isn’t finished yet. The final chapter has not been written. Apparently God would rather wrestle with our rebellious wills than to reign supreme over rocks and trees. Those who want a quicker resolution to the conflict will have to wait.” (Norman Geisler & Ronald Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook Of Christian Evidences, 63-65 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
While we live and walk through our own barren valleys, we trust in the Savior to bring us to the “green pastures” and the “still waters” (Psalm 23). To get to those beautiful and luscious landscapes, we will have to traverse the rugged and often desolate terrain.
Third, another thing which stands out about these principles (and something which is something I often forget) is that this transformation takes time. Several of the passages mentioned above (especially in Isaiah) talk about vegetation and gardening. I am not too keen on flowers and plants, but one thing that I know is that it takes time for things to grow. In the same way, the transformations that God wants to bring into my life are going to take time. The “fruit of the Spirit” does not come over night (Galatians 5:22-23), but must be cultivated as the Word takes root and is watered and cared for (I Corinthians 3). That is why I sometimes deal with doubt, anxiety, or depression; God has not finished the transformation in me yet. I have to learn to be patient and trust in Sarayu (and work with Her, as Mack did) to take those things out of my heart and life which are hindering me.
Finally, I have to realize something else. As incapable I am to bring out this transformation by my lonesome, I still have a part to play in these changes. Look carefully at the passages mentioned above. Several of them mention the fact that God empowers His people to help bring about some aspects of these changes. In other words, I can’t just say, “God change me.” I have to say, “God, help me to change.” It is not enough to put all of the responsibility on God; I have to acknowledge my responsibility and accountability to become the person that God wants me to be. He can provide the means; but I have to provide the choice to allow the transformation to take place.
What a great God that we love and follow, Who can bring such incredible change to the lives and hearts of His people!
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.