The Shack, Part Two
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:47 AM [+]
The Many Words of God
As I said previously, the Holy Trinity (revealed with all manner of preconceptions from which I contend none of us can fully escape and should thus generally avoid period) plays a major role in the book and He/She/They (see what I mean) has/have a great deal to say. Some of it is - I believe - spot on with the teachings of the Church. And please, let us understand MY context here when I say the "teachings of the Church": what we know about God, we know solely via His revelation to His community (the Church). That Community has since handed this knowledge down in the form of her Scriptures, her Creeds, her Prayers, her Liturgies, and her other Traditions. Stepping outside of this context becomes pure speculation and is subject thereafter to the witness of the Church by which we do not mean a "magisterium" or a particular bishop or Patriarch, but rather the Church as a whole over time both past, present and future. This has always been the case anytime something seemingly "new" arises, and it may have taken centuries, but over time the Church purges herself of anything that is not faithful to the Holy Traditions for which she has been given charge. This is how we know the Church is as St. Paul says: "the pillar and ground of truth." So, some of what The Shack's God says it wonderful and reflects a fair amount of what the eastern church has been saying to the western church for a while now. But, also much of what Young has God say mirrors the common Emergent church mantras that we often here today.
For instance: "Institutions" and "hierarchies" are bad. In part, I suspect this is why in the book God the Father is never referred to as "father" or "Almighty" and Jesus is never "Master" or "Lord". Mack, who is used to perceiving God as a stern old man waiting to wack sinners on the head (which is the image - we are told - that is proclaimed by "religion" and "Institutions" both led by "hierarchs") has his false image of God countered with another one: that God is nothing but "Abba" or "Papa." Now, I MUST say that I really really do appreciate the emphasis on intimacy with God. It is a beautiful thing and I have witnessed it in the lives of some people who would likely affirm everything in "The Shack" and I have no doubts it is decidedly real and powerful. Furthermore, I have no doubts that I personally could stand to grow in deeper intimacy with God. However, there is more to intimacy than having a "pet" name. Intimacy can be washing someone's feet with your tears and drying them with your hair, and nothing remotely close to this happens in "The Shack." It would perhaps seem to hierarchal? I am rather certain that the Saints (those known and unknown) of our hierarchal Church have an indescribable intimacy with God and have never felt compelled to abandon notions of pressing their heads to the floor and weeping bitterly for their sins before the One they call "Lord" and "Master."
God clearly has revealed Himself as father. What can we say about this? I suppose we might consider the traditional role of the father in a family? Indeed a child may refer to his or her father as "papa", but there is no questions about hierarchies. "Papa" is the boss and he both earns and receives respect and honor. He loves and is loved, but he is not merely his children's pal. There is a time and place to fear - to some degree - "papa" even though that fear is ultimately unfounded. There is play time and then there is "Get your crap together!" time, as any parent knows. I suppose in any case, the analogy can be taken too far and will fail to some degree...as noted before, I don't think I've heard of an earthly father receiving the praise and worship that we have seen given AND received by our Lord. And frankly I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who feel the need to change God's fatherly title for Himself simply because they've had a rough go of it with their earthly father. We all know what the ideal is...it is God. And additionally, God clearly is revealed to us as far more than a father, right?
In any event, the God of The Shack speaks poorly of human organizations, institutions, and associated hierarchies. Repeatedly lecturing about people's need to retain power and authority and how religions are utilized to accomplish this. The mantra reads somewhat like a marxist tract, which may lead one to wonder if every club or religious denomination exists as the culmination of some grand conspiracy.
Were this the case for the Church, then our Lord is to blame, for He established it. He called out some to be leaders and if we are to believe the New Testament He inspired the early to Church to organize itself with Overseers (aka Bishops), Presbyters (aka elders or priests), and Deacons. Furthermore, again if we are to believe the New Testament, He gave unto these leaders authority. Many of the Scriptures which offer up authority to the human leaders of the early Church are largely ignored except by cultic wack-jobs, which is of course tragic. Human's wielding authority is in ANY sense (be it healthy or otherwise...and yes there IS healthy authority, right moms and dads? Law-abiding citizens?) is often viewed in profoundly negative terms by our culture today and they likely have good reason for doing so. However, the same forces that defame notions of the traditional family; making fun of the "fictions" of "Father's knows best" or "Ozzie and Harriet" are at work here and indeed I believe we have seen much to be concerned about in the repercussions of such defamation. Curiously, the family is sometimes called an Institution and perhaps that is why its conservative conceptualization is under attack? In any event, the same problems than arise from defaming the institution of the family can be seen in the defamation of authority in the Church.
Really, and I cannot emphasize this enough, the Church is no more an Institution than is a family. But families - at least traditional and large ones - have indeed seen a hierarchal organization. Younger children obeyed older ones, who were often left in charge of them. All children obeyed Mom, while Dad was traditionally seen as the head of the household. And any good family will have debates, arguments, and fights...often with dad or mom putting an authoritative end to them. But, what sets a family apart - perhaps - from the pomo perception of the cold and unfeeling orwellian Insitution, is love. Love binds the family together. And, may I suggest, love binds the Church together. With all of its faults, authority and submission are both founded in love. From the outside it may appear to be "Insitution" and have all of its preconceived trappings, but love must rule the day inside.
Now, this isn't to say that the Church cannot lose track of herself and become more akin negative conceptions of the emergent folk...indeed we should take their cries of "fault" to heart and keep ever in mind that we are the Family of God first. You may rid yourself of the externals and still not retain the internal love...and the two are not mutually exclusive. No family is perfect, and to this degree the haters of the portrayal of 1950's familial bliss are correct. Our Lord Himself warned us that there would be weeds amongst us (Matthew 13:24-30) - and I would contend that the same wisdom that tells us God can redeem even the work of a child-killer, can tell us also that God may use the work of tares amongst the wheat of the Church.
Our hierarchs in the Church are like older brothers, sister, mothers, and fathers. Their presences is intended to guide and protect the family. How well could a family function if a two year old is allowed equal authority as, say, the mother? Yes, there may be bad mothers, bad older brothers, and ill-intented fathers....but think for a moment: Is organizational anarchy really the answer? Should we abandon all notions of a traditional two parent families (as some would suggest) because sometimes they are dysfunctional? Now I say all of this, but must also say that I believe God will preserve His Church and that the gates of Hell will not prevail against her. The Church will have her problems, but the tares will not win the day. How many of our saints were actually persecuted by the Church? And today, we ask their prayers for our own salvation.
The worries about people trying to retain power is wholly unwarranted, if for no other reason than because it isn't going to go away - the pomo's have offered no solution by abandoning notions of hierarchy of institution, as I said: the externals do not cause people to yearn for power and the lack thereof does not prevent them from obtaining it. People will find a way to wield power over others and they will make every effort to hide that wielded authority under the guise of humility and lack of titles or whatever. In any crowd, somebody ends up leading. An elaborate vestment may indeed give some manner of default authority, but it may also be a means of painting a target on oneself, but make no mistake about it, I repeat that the lack of externals - like vestments - is not a free ticket to escape sinful human behavior. Sin will find a way, my friends.
You wish to avoid all notions of human authority, power, and abuse in your own life? Become a hermit. Or, ask one....we Orthodox retain a few under our hierarchies. Even they, though, become hermits under the guidance and authority of a spiritual father. We Orthodox believe the danger of self-delusion is very grave and common, and thus notions of figuring things out for yourself is a bit like tossing the instructions out first thing before undertaking a complex and important project. While sensitivity to culture is important, let's not pretend the project is really any different...the process of purification, illumination, and transformation is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Guidance (implying from someone who leads) is highly advised.
Okay next up: "Nothing is Ritual."
In our age, the algorithm seems to be if something is not entirely perfect at all times, then obviously we need to throw everything out and start over because we can do a better job. This thought is arrogant at the best of times. But what about in the case of the Church? Who was the founder? Was it not Jesus Christ? The epitaph of our age will be that we thought we were smarter than God.
I missed this series when you originally posted it, but having just read the book, I appreciated (and agree with) your thoughts.