In 2007, a book called The Shack became an unexpected sensation. Created and self-published by Canadian author William Paul Young, who just wanted to write a story for his children, the novel ended up becoming a New York Times bestseller. To date, The Shack has sold more than 22 million copies, and been translated into forty languages.
This year, the story is set to become an even bigger phenomenon as it arrives on the big screen. The film adaptation (which comes to UK cinemas on 9th June) boasts a stellar cast, including Octavia Spencer and Sam Worthington, and is sure to provoke many conversations in the church and beyond.
Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) seems to have a pretty great life. He’s married to Nan (Radha Mitchell), and they have three wonderful children. But somewhere deep inside, something isn’t quite right. Mack grew up being terrorised by an abusive, alcoholic father, and the memories still haunt him. While Nan’s faith in God is vibrant and intimate, Mack’s is much more distant. It’s hard for him to believe in a loving heavenly Father when his own father never expressed much love.
Then, during an idyllic holiday at the end of the summer, tragedy strikes his family. Mack is plunged into a deep grief from which there seems to be no way out. When a letter arrives in the mailbox claiming to be from God, inviting him to spend the weekend at a remote shack in the mountains, he’s sceptical to say the least, but he’s desperate enough to go and investigate. What he finds there will change his life forever.
The Shack aims to shake up its audience’s ideas about who God is. Whatever perspective we’re coming from, our picture of God will inevitably be shaped by our history and our personal biases, just like Mack’s. “I grew up with a very dysfunctional view of God,” says author William Paul Young, “distant, White, grandfatherly, disappointed, watching from the infinite distance. I like to say, ‘Gandalf with a bad attitude’. I don’t think that version of God exists.”
The playful, approachable, down-to-earth version of God portrayed in the film may surprise both believers and non-believers. The Shack is focused on communicating God’s deeply personal love for each of us – and His willingness to reach out to us in a way we’ll understand. For Mack, this means appearing in the form of a woman (Octavia Spencer), who at once showed him unconditional kindness. This brings down Mack’s defences and allows him to enter into an honest conversation with God for the first time.
Because of his past, and because of the recent loss he’s suffered, Mack carries a deep anger against God. His time in the shack gives him a chance to express this, and to ask the question that haunts all of us in one way or another: How can an all-loving and all-powerful God allow bad things to happen in the world?
The answer Mack receives isn’t a logical argument, but a relationship. The Shack reminds us that we worship a God who isn’t distant from our pain, but who chose to suffer for and with us in the Person of Jesus. Mack’s healing begins when he learns to trust that God is good, and able to bring something beautiful even out of tragedy.
This film promises to take people of all beliefs on a unique journey, presenting Christian faith in a powerful and refreshing way. For believers, it’s a reminder that God doesn’t want us to carry our heavy burdens of unresolved pain and unforgiveness through life. If we’ll accept the invitation, God offers to meet with us wherever we’re at, and to make us whole.
The Shack is released in UK cinemas on 9th June. Damaris Media is guiding the conversation with free church booklets, available at www.TheShackMovieUK.com. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request packs of printed copies for your community, as well as film posters and tent cards to display.
This article comes from Damaris Media, who create free film resources for community groups. Read more at damarismedia.com and keep up to date on their latest resources by subscribing to their e-newsletter at damarismedia.com/signup.