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The Spirituality of the Book “The Shack” Essay

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Updated: Oct 20th, 2019

The Shack by William Young is a Christian fiction masterpiece that is popular and controversial at the same time. As a book, it has both weaknesses and strengths as William Young tries to tackle pertinent issues that connect society to spirituality or Christianity per se. The weaknesses and criticisms notwithstanding, The Shack will leave the reader craving to learn more about Christianity in a friendly yet a powerful way.

The story line is not that captivating as the book opens with abduction and murder of a young beautiful girl; Missy, daughter to Mackenzie Philips; a titular Christian. Among other themes, trinity, forgiveness, and salvation stand out conspicuously and this paper discuses these three themes and establishes the spirituality of the story.

The issue of spirituality sets in early in this story where four years after Missy’s abduction, God supposedly sends Mackenzie a mail inviting him to a shack where Missy met her unfortunate death. Though skeptical of the invitation, Mackenzie decides to give it a trial and shows up at the shack not knowing what to expect. Fortunately, and to Mackenzie’s amazement, God shows up in the shack and what follows is a life-changing experience.


On matters of salvation, Mackenzie speaks plainly and he asks Jesus the way to salvation. Jesus replies, “Its simple Mack, it’s all about relationships and simply sharing life” (Young, 2007, p. 178). Earlier on, Jesus had instructed Mackenzie to abandon his ways and he would be restored by, “re-turning, by turning back to me, by giving up your ways of power and manipulation and just come back to me” (Young, 2007, p. 147). People ought to turn from their wicked ways governed by bodily desires and simply get back to Jesus.

God states clearly that he is reconciled to the whole world and to emphasize this he says, “Through his death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world” (Young, 2007, p. 192). This is true in part until Mackenzie pushes to understand the meaning of this reconciliation only to learn that God is “reconciled to the whole world,” not just the believer (Young, 2007, p. 192).

In this context, The Shack implies that everyone will be saved and this comes out clearly, when Mackenzie’s father, a wicked man, appears in heaven, having been forgiven of his sins. The mystique of salvation intensifies as God says, “I don’t need to punish people for sin for sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my job to cure it” (Young, 2007, p. 120).

According to Young, salvation is not for Christians alone as Jesus asks, “Who said anything about being a Christian? I am not a Christian. Those who love me come from every system that exists. I have no desire to make them Christians, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my beloved” (Young, 2007, p.182).

Therefore, according to this text, all shall be saved regardless of one’s beliefs. It does not matter whether one is a Christian, a Buddhist, and Muslim, name it; God was reconciled to the world hence bringing salvation to every one.


The Shack being a fiction, God the father is represented by an African American woman; a cook, her name is ‘Papa’. Sarayu, the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman while Jesus on the other side is a carpenter, a Jew. Though presented as a woman, God the father (Papa) makes it clear that, “I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature.

If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it is because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning” (Young, 2007, p. 93).

Trinity in this case is anchored on three centers; that is, the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit. Trinity comes because of relationship between Jesus and God, Holy Spirit acting as the link that sustains this relationship. It is through the Holy Spirit that this love and relationship is validated hence the existence of the trinity and Papa says, “When we three spoke ourselves into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human” (Young, 2007, p. 99).


The book emphasizes on forgiveness and draws a relationship between personal forgiveness and relational forgiveness (Davis, 2008, p. 296). Mackenzie hates the man who killed Missy and is not ready to forgive him not until he met God. The book emphasizes that, while people may hurt from past occurrences, having relationship with God can heal the past and lead someone to the road of forgiveness.

Anger and resentment notwithstanding, Mackenzie forgives the people who murdered her daughter. This is facilitated by the fact that he met God, Jesus and experienced their love coming to understand life from a different perspective.

There is much emphasize on forgive ness and people have to forgive even if it does not make sense to them. Jesus tells Mack, “To force my will on you…is exactly what love does not do. Genuine relationships are marked by submission even when your choices are not helpful or healthy” (Young, 2007, p.141).

Young stresses that forgiveness is more than words and does much good to the forgiver just like then forgiven. This comes out clearly, when Papa says, “Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and your ability to love fully and openly” (Young, 2007, p. 94).


The Shack emphasizes on religious issues that are affecting people around the world today. The major themes are salvation, forgiveness, and trinity. According to teachings in this story, the world has been reconciled to God, there is no judgment, and sinners will go to heaven. The theme of trinity comes out clearly when the reader realizes that trinity is because of relationship between God and Jesus and this relationship is tied together by the Holy Spirit who validates the love between the two.

Relational spirituality is highly emphasized, whereby; the understanding that people have about God depends on their environments. This implies that someone brought up, say in a rich family void of crime and abuse, will have a different spirituality from someone raised in ghettos where crime and abuse is prevalent.

It is evident that the purpose of Christ’s death was not to save humankind from sin but to reconcile the world to God. Salvation has come to all for God has been reconciled to the world by the death of Jesus on the cross. Forgiveness is not a choice, but a necessity for the forgiver benefits equally as the forgiven. Finally, it is important to read and re-read the book for it enables the reader to ask some critical questions about salvation, trinity, and forgiveness.

Reference List

Davis, D.E., Hook, J.N., & Worthington, E.L., Jr. (2008). Relational Spirituality and Forgiveness: The Roles of Attachment to God, Religious Coping, and Viewing The Transgression as Desecration. Journal of Psychology & Christianity, 27, 293-301.

Young, W. (2007). The Shack. Los Angeles; Windblown Media.

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