I started The Shack well over a year ago. I was instantly drawn into the story and found myself bawling my head off at the sad twist of events that occurred early in the story. I made it about two-thirds of the way through the book within the first couple times of picking it up, but I got bogged down with some of the wacky theology and with life and it started collecting dust on my nightstand. The longer it sat there, the more withdrawn I got from the story and the less I cared about finishing it. (For those of you who LOVE this book and found it life-transformational, I'm not bashing it. I just got stuck in a part that didn't interest me and couldn't find it within myself to see how it ended.) It eventually got kicked off the nightstand and moved to the growing pile of books on the shelf that I've started and haven't finished.
I got tired of staring at that unfinished pile of books so I loaded two in my gym bag and determined to start polishing them off one bike ride at a time. Today I brought The Shack. I was worried that I wouldn't remember enough of the story and would have to backtrack, but I found myself mentally picking up where I left off. Before I knew it, I was fighting back huge sobs and using my sweat towel to wipe the tears that were pouring more freely than I would have liked in a public arena.
The book has such powerful moments and I found myself relating personally to Mack, the main character, as he wrestled with forgiving people who had deeply wounded him and seeking forgiveness from people he had deeply wounded. A powerful theme of reconciliation was woven through the last portion of the book and why wouldn't it be? It's a story of God relating to man in a fictional setting but resonating with some deep truths of who God is. At His core, God is love and He is relational. But He is also just, which means every offense has to be punished. This combination of love and justice puts Him in a quandry since our own stupidity created an uncrossable chasm. He values reconciliation. If He didn't, why on earth would He have sacrificed His only Son to bridge the gap between humanity and Himself?
In my life, I feel like God is hammering home this concept of forgiveness and reconciliation. My mom spoke to a smaller congregation within a large church last weekend and I went to support her. Her topic was on forgiveness and I found myself forgetting that I was there for moral support and really being ministered to and challenged by what she shared. (Follow the link and scroll to the bottom of the screen to podcast her talk.) Armed with a fresh reminder of what forgiveness is and what it isn't and equipped with tools to do it successfully, the Lord gave me opportunities to put this into practice. I must say, I pushed back a bit. I didn't want to spend the emotional time or energy and I can't say I've fully submitted to this exercise yet, but my soul is stirred and I know I have some work to do in my life.
With that said, I wasn't surprised when I opened The Shack and it picked right up on a theme of forgiveness and reconciliation. Pages 224-227 are now covered in pink highlighter but I wanted to share some of the treasures I found particularly impactful from the fictional conversation that Mack (the main character) has with God.
- "...for you to forgive this man is for you to release him to me and allow me to redeem him.
- Forgiveness is not about forgetting, Mack. It is about letting go of another person's throat.
- Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation. And sometimes - and this may seem incomprehensible to you right now - that road may even take you to the miracle of fully restored trust.
- Forgiveness is an incredible power - a power Jesus gives to all whom he indwells so that reconciliation can grow.
- Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive. When you choose to forgive another, you love him well.
- I love him (the offender), not for what he's become, but for the broken child that has been twisted by his pain. I want to help you take on that nature that finds more power in love and forgiveness than hate.
- Forgiveness does not require me to pretend what he (the offender) did never happened. But now you can love him in the face of it.
- You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness and give him over to me so that my love will burn from his life every vestige of corruption.
- Feeling overwhelmed and not knowing what to do, Mack cries out, "Help me Papa. Help me. What do I do?"
That last sentence, "Help me Papa" moved me to a place I haven't been in a while. It's so simple really. When I desperately want to reflect who Jesus is but am handicapped by my own sin, I can just throw up my hands and say, "Help me Papa." I love that with God, all things are possible. I love His willingness to pour His Spirit into my life and empower me to let things go that on my own, I could never let go. I love that He empowers others who I've wounded to extend that grace to me. I love that His grace covers every sin, every wound, every pain. I love that the God I serve is the Restorer of Broken Relationships and that His victory over death gives Him power to take dead dreams and dead relationships and breathe life into them. Thank You Papa. And Papa, help me please.