I loved the book The Shack by William P. Young. It was an exceptional FICTIONAL story of a bitter man’s personal encounter with a loving God following a tragedy that claimed the life of his daughter.
It was a poignant story about the need to accept forgiveness and to grant forgiveness. The scene in the cave where Mac encounters Truth and is forced to play God and judge others close to him really hit home for me as I am very quick to judge without having all the facts and without seeing people and situations through God’s eyes.
Yet, as with most Christian books and films on the market today, there is typically a chorus of very strong, powerful and, sometimes, convincing voices within the church that attempt to discourage Christians from reading these stories or viewing the movies. That is a tragedy I’ve seen happen over and over again.
The movie Heaven is for Real was bashed because a nearly dead 4-year-old claimed to have an out-of-body experience, visited heaven and talked with Jesus. Don’t see it, we are told, because only dead people can go to heaven.
The movie Miracles from Heaven is bashed for not specifically mentioning Jesus and his work on the cross. Don’t see it, we are told, because the mother loses her faith and turns her back on the church during a very stressful time in her life. It’s the exact opposite of what we are supposed to do, critics say. I’d love to see their steadfast faith played out in real life should their child suffer from a mysterious illness for which there is no known cure.
Don’t see the movie Do You Believe because it doesn’t go deep in examining the Gospel message. It does not provide “the solid food of sophisticated religious films,” one review indicated.
There is so much absolute garbage portrayed in the media today whether it is a movie, book, newspaper, magazine, TV show or on the Internet. So why genuine and committed Christians perform cartwheels and handsprings over Christian-themed content — and discourage others from buying it, reading it or seeing it — is absolutely mind boggling.
Why do people seem so eager to discourage unchurched people from seeing Christian movies or reading books because 30 sentences in a 300-page manuscript may be subject to misinterpretation of God’s word? But, that’s what happens when non-believers see Christians bashing faith-based books and movies. Non-Christians look at our petty arguments and have no desire to be affiliated with such divisive, angry, controlling and bitter people.
In The Shack, the God character is portrayed through most of the film as a middle-age black woman, but also as an elderly Asian man. That doesn’t sit well with those who view God to be an elderly white man with a long beard. So, they judge the movie to be “unbiblical.”
The God character does convey the idea that God doesn’t like to punish people and is all about love. Don’t read it, we are told because that doesn’t take into account God’s final judgement of man. Yet, the Bible supports the idea that God doesn’t enjoy punishing people in 2 Peter 3:9 — “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Rather than slam the book as heretical, how about we celebrate the author’s ability to capture people’s attention and instill in them a hunger to know God and Christ in even a more personal way? Too many people think of God as an angry, hateful being who willfully allows horrible things to happen. So, how about countering that misconception with a film that mostly portrays God as warm and loving?
How about we celebrate a book or movie that gets people interested enough to go to church where they can hear even more solid Biblical teaching?
More importantly, how about we celebrate the opportunity to engage people who have seen the movie to answer their questions and encourage them to read the Bible themselves for greater understanding or the more accurate answers?
The bottom line is that if unchurched people wanted to read the Bible, they would. But, most won’t just pick up the book for the heck of it, and they certainly aren’t going to understand it without the Holy Spirit living in them.
So, how do you attract their attention in a way that presents a loving God who is about redemption and forgiveness — and the effect of sin on the lives of people — in a way unchurched people will find appealing enough to desire that kind of relationship, and do it in 132 minutes?
The church doesn’t do it by condemning every fictional book to come along because five sentences or a couple of scenes can possibly be misconstrued by new Christians and people who don’t attend church regularly.
Rather the church should use those venues as a way to engage people in discussion as to who God really is, the role Jesus plays in our salvation and what it takes for people to find forgiveness of sins and enjoy eternal life. In that discussion, the true and authentic word of God can be presented to dispel any misconceptions that may have been picked up in a book or movie.
Go see The Shack — and take a friend. Then, go out for ice cream and discuss the movie and the feelings it stirred as well as the questions it raised. We need more Christian films and books in society and the only way that will happen is if enough people spend their money supporting the works of some very creative people who aren’t out to rewrite the Bible, but to tell a wholesome story.