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The Pain and The Shack
2 January 2010
In my last article, I talked about the lessons in forgiveness we can learn from Rwandan holocaust survivor Immaculeé Ilibagiza. But there is another side of forgiveness that she doesn't really deal with in her books. What about when we need to forgive GOD?
Wait a minute! God is perfect and never sins ... how can HE need to be forgiven? It's true, God does not need to be forgiven. But often we find ourselves in the position of needing to forgive Him. The problem is not on His end, but on our end.
As we can see in Immaculeé's books, the person doing the forgiving can benefit from the act of forgiveness as much as, or even more than, the person being forgiven. So even though God does not need to be forgiven, WE often need to forgive Him for our own benefit, so we can be set free from the pain and bitterness that devours our hearts.
As I said before, the Bible teaches us that God is perfect and never sins. So how is it that we would have a need to forgive Him for anything? If we are honest with ourselves, we will find that in our heart of hearts we actually find it exceedingly easy to blame God for many, many things that happen in life.
I am sure that every human being who has ever existed has said at one time or another, and probably many times over the course of a lifetime, "God, why are You doing this to me?" But after some reflection and Bible study, we can usually come to the point where we realize that God is not the first-hand cause of all the bad things that happen on this planet.
So then, the question generally shifts from "God, why are You DOING this to me?" to "God, why are You ALLOWING this to happen to me?" This second question is A LOT more difficult to overcome.
The Shack. I had heard some rumors at that time that the book was controversial and possible heretical. But when I read it, I was deeply touched, and even though I was looking for any unbiblical statements, I ended up not finding anything I would reject as heretical. I thought it was actually one of the best books I had ever read.
A couple of months ago, a Christian leader whom I respect said in his newsletter that he had qualms about speaking at the same conference as the author of The Shack, William Young. Here is what he said in his newsletter: "A few of you have expressed concern that I've agreed to speak at [a certain] conference because there are some other speakers slated to attend whose theology is questionable. Chief concern: William Young, author of 'The Shack,' a novel I and others have found heretical."
Well, I was quite shocked to read this! So I thought that I had better read the book again, to see if I could find this "heresy" and "questionable theology". So, I read it again. While I still could not find the problem areas of the book, I did find that the book has a lot to do with the question at hand. The whole book is about this issue: If God is such a good and powerful and loving Father, how can he allow such painful, horrible things to happen to His children?
Regarding the people who have a problem with this book, I think the mistake they are making is that they are reading the book more with their minds than with their hearts. This is not an intellectual book that you can examine and dissect and scrutinize under your heresy-detection microscope. Neither do you have to turn your mind off. But I believe that this is primarily a book for the heart. It is a spiritual parable that needs to be received and understood by the spirit.
I'm not going to share any quotes from The Shack. It's not the type of book you can quote easily. Whatever is expressed needs to be understood in the context of the entire book and story. You need to read the whole thing, ideally multiple times, and let it soak into your spirit, and let the Holy Spirit work the truths of the book into your inner person. If you want a book that deals with the "God, why are You ALLOWING this to happen to me?" question, this is a great place to start. So, if you haven't read it yet, don't delay! You can click on the book cover above to buy it from Amazon.com.
UPDATE: Check out my review of a book I just read, So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore, which is a great follow-up to The Shack and written in a similar style, although by a different author.
The Problem of Pain. I had read this book many years ago when I was a young Christian. But because of some very painful circumstances I have been experiencing at work, I felt like it was time to revisit this book.
I have found this book to be incredibly, tremendously helpful in answering our question, "God, why are You ALLOWING this to happen to me?" I HIGHLY recommend that you read it. Again, you can click on the book cover to the left to purchase it on Amazon.com. You really need to read the whole book, and the progression of his arguments, but let me leave you with a few quotes to whet your appetite:
"'If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.' This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form."
"All arguments in justification of suffering provoke bitter resentment against the author. You would like to know how I behave when I am experiencing pain, not writing books about it. You need not guess, for I will tell you; I am a great coward. But what is that to the purpose? When I think of pain — of anxiety that gnaws like fire, and loneliness that spreads out like a desert, and the heartbreaking routine of monotonous misery, or again of dull aches that blacken our whole landscape, or sudden nauseating pains that knock a man's heart out at one blow, of pains that startle into maniacal movement a man who seemed half dead with his previous tortures — it quite overwhelms my spirit. If I knew any way of escape I would crawl through sewers to find it. But what is the good of telling you about my feelings? You know them already: they are the same as yours. I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. That is what the word means. I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made 'perfect through suffering' is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design."
"My own experience is something like this. I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition, absorbed in a merry meeting with my friends for the morrow or a bit of work that tickles my vanity today, a holiday or a new book, when suddenly a stab of abdominal pain that threatens serious disease, or a headline in the newspaper that threatens us all with destruction, sends this whole pack of cards tumbling down. At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happinesses look like broken toys. Then, slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. I remind myself that all these toys were never intended to possess my heart, that my true good is in another world and my only real treasure is Christ. And perhaps, by God's grace, I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing its strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature leaps back to the toys: I am even anxious, God forgive me, to banish from my mind the only thing that supported me under the threat because it is now associated with the misery of those few days. Thus the terrible necessity of tribulation is only too clear. God has had me for but forty-eight hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over — I shake myself as dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, if not in the nearest manure heap, at least in the nearest flower bed. And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless."
Well, these are a few quotes that spoke to me, but they don't begin to scratch the surface of the profound wisdom and insight found in this book. It's a masterpiece of Christian thought. Get the book. Read it. Apply it to your life. Be transformed by it. Happy New Year!!
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