A good case for a good God — and a good bit more

By John D. Pierce

The movie adaptation of The Shack is a wonderful gift for anyone who believes in divine goodness and human redemption. And it’s hard to imagine a greater gift than redemption.

Especially those of us from a Christian tradition — that understands God to be revealed and experienced as more than one person — should marvel at this good work. The God-persons in the movie make a more compelling case than scholarly Trinitarian formulas or a children’s sermon involving an egg.

(You know, with its shell, white and yolk, it remains just one egg. Yet a rare two-yolk egg has brought unplanned heresy to a few sanctuaries over the years.)

To nitpick some narrow doctrinal issue with the movie is to miss the big picture — the same way fundamentalist Christians tend to view the Bible.

Like the Trinity, the movie (which is not some creed to be recited in a particular denominational setting) is three-in-one: a case for God’s goodness; a creative Trinitarian expression — though a fourth and needed person arrives just in time and should satisfy those with a Father-heavy view of God; and, most of all, a remarkable story of human redemption.

It is a well-constructed theodicy (a case for the goodness of God in the face of evil) that far exceeds most “Christian” films that shallowly address the Problem of Evil that theologians and all thinking persons have wrestled with for centuries upon centuries with insights but never full resolution.

The Shack constructs no straw men to be whisked away with a quoted Bible verse or the heroics of some social-outcast believer. Like in real life, the question of why bad things happen to good people is not fully answered; it never will be in this earthly experience.

However, God is confronted with such troubling questions, and not let off the hook for insufficient answers. Yet God’s love is as persistent as the Apostle Paul poetically described it to the Corinthians. And, ultimately, it can and does bring healing to the human heart while mysteries remain.

In the film, the deep pain of loss and sorrow is real and never downplayed or dismissed. And forgiveness is painfully hard work. Redemption comes from a gracious God but is not always easy to accept — and especially not easy to grant to those who’ve done great harm.

It is hard to image a better portrayal of Jesus than the one in the film. He is patient and kind and wholly (and holy) invested in a struggling individual — even in miraculous ways. He opens the door to a hopeful future by giving a glimpse into eternity. And anyone who thinks the cross is somehow absent didn’t pay enough attention to his words, works or wrists.

Picking out some doctrinal deficiency seemed trite in light of this moving story of a lost soul being found and restored through amazing grace. Even if compelled to do so, it would have been hard to see through misty eyes.

The criticism heard most often from some Christians is that the movie portrays a broader understanding of God’s grace than one’s narrowly prescribed “plan of salvation.” Which leaves me wondering if such discomfort comes from the fearful, perhaps even jealous, possibility that redemption may reach beyond our well-constructed, exclusive religious clubhouses.

I’m comfortable leaving the extent of God’s grace up to God. If it reaches to me, then it has the power to reach anywhere God chooses.

In light of God’s great love and grace — revealed in the Bible, in this film and often in daily living — it seems quite likely, to me, that Jesus’ acceptance of us is less bounded than any human concept of accepting Jesus.

The least of my concerns today is grace that goes too far.

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