I’ll Take Narnia’s Aslan over The Shack’s Papa Any Day: What William P. Young is Missing

This week The Shack is (still) #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller list and, after three weeks, still in the top five at the movie box office. With unforgettable images Young draws a picture of God’s compassion for a bruised reed of a man who has lost his little girl in a crime of unspeakable violence and murder.
The God of all comfort prepares Mack's favorite food in the kitchen. Skips rocks across the lake with him. Wears old flannel shirts. Young’s story takes us inside Mack’s grief and shows how God’s tender, creative soul-care heals and restores.
Throughout almost thirty years of rheumatoid arthritis, the wanderings of a prodigal, and the inevitable conflicts and rejections of the pastorate, Jesus has lavished me with his tenderness and mercy. Yet in times of deepest sorrow I find the portrait of God that CS Lewis has drawn in Aslan, the lion-King in his fictional world of Narnia, even more comforting than Papa in The Shack.

We see Aslan’s playful, gentle, tenderness, romping with the children who ride on his back and nestle in his fur. We see him weep and groan over Narnia’s agonies.
But we are continually reminded…"Aslan is not a tame lion." He is wildly unpredictable. His fury destroys the White Witch’s minions. His claws rip Eustace’s dragon-skin clean off. His fearful growls in the dark spur Bree to gallop faster and carry Shasta to safety. His humiliating, horrific sacrifice for Edward’s selfish indulgence-turned-nightmare takes our breath away.
Lewis invites us to think about the wildness of God in a way that enlarges our understanding of his compassion. When I or someone I care about is unjustly wronged or even oppressed, or when the Church is maligned or marginalized, I want a strong, fearful God to fight for us. Fight for his Church.
I’m not as eager for God to fight for my heart and my redemption when it involves hurting me. Yet I am learning (again) that ultimately the most compassionate thing God can do for me is to expose the countours of my weakness, selfishness or indifference so that I might change and grow.
In Mere Christianity Lewis writes, "God is the only comfort. He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most need to hide from. He is our only possible ally and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again."
One day we will stand before him, overwhelmed by that goodness. Instead of condemning, he welcomes us. Invites us to share his throne and his reign—an act of compassion and nobility that staggers our dim imaginations.
Compared to Aslan, Papa’s therapeutic breakfast-making sovereign looks pretty one-dimensional. All mercy and compassion all the time. By contrast, the wrath of Aslan against oppressors and injustice makes his mercy shine more brightly—like the diamond displayed on the jewelers black velvet.
His bloody sacrifice for sinners like me infuses his compassion with a transcendence hard to wrap words or images around. A soaring magnificence sadly missing from Papa’s folksy humor and hugs.
In his poem “The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God,” John Piper describes the compassion of God to his little girl: “"Beware Jemimah, God is kind in ways that will not fit your mind."
And that is the greatest deficit of the Papa of The Shack—his/her kindness fits too easily into our minds conditioned by today’s New Agey, marshmallowy, overwrought compassion. Tender feeling-with but without holiness or righteousness or accountability or sacrifice or hard-earned wisdom from a man like Job who lost far more than Mack.
God comes to Job like Papa comes to Mack in his pain and suffering and gives the most important gift—the gift of his I-AM-enough presence. The fulfillment of our deepest longing when we are in the deepest pit. When we need an Answerer far more than an answer.
But interestingly, he comes without comfort food or Neil Diamond music. He comes to Job and says, “Brace yourself like a man and I will question you.” Words I can imagine coming from the mouth of Aslan, but not Papa.
The prophet Isaiah tells us that Jesus is so tender that "a bruised reed he will not break." Still, when we are hurting, we need God to be fully God.

This review points out some of the merits and the Biblical problems with The Shack. For a more theological evaluation, this from Al Mohler.
How do you respond to the portrait of God drawn in The Shack? Please respond in the comments below…

Lael writes and speaks about faith and culture and how God renews our vision and desire for Him and his Kingdom. She earned a master's degree (MAT) in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas, and has taught Western culture and apologetics at secular and Christian schools and colleges. Her long-term experience with rheumatoid arthritis and being a pastor’s wife has deepened her desire to minister to the whole person—mind, heart, soul and spirit. Lael has co-hosted a talk radio program, The Things That Matter Most, on secular stations in Houston and Dallas about what we believe and why we believe it with guests as diverse as Dr. Deepak Chopra, atheist Sam Harris and VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer. (Programs are archived on the website.) Lael has authored four books, including a March 2011 soft paper edition of A Faith and Culture Devotional (now titled Faith and Culture: A Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith), Godsight, and Worldproofing Your Kids. Lael’s writing has also been featured in Focus on the Family and World magazines, and she has appeared on many national radio and television programs. Lael and her husband, Jack, now make their home in South Carolina.

One Comment

  • gigi05

    The Shack

    You quote John Piper's compassion of God to his daughter "Beware, Jemima, God is kind in ways that will not fit your mind."

    You are correct in this quote, for we do not think like the Almighty. But, I believe the movie The Shack is but a small glimpse for a man who is filled with so much anger and disbelieve in a Merciful and Loving God. Therefore, the movie is depicting a hopeful God in His child who is lost in his anger and disbelieve in HIm.

    I was taught that God is both male and female because He created us in His own image. Therefore, in The Shack, I was surprised that my mother was correct, for I have always seen Him as both….to me it was confirmation of her teaching of God.

    God in this movie version is hoping that Mack will see His providence in his (Mack's) life…God never though answered Mack's question as to why this happened to his daughter, but did bring Mack to opening his eyes to WHO God IS, to trust in HIM, to LOVE HIM, to BELIEVE in HIM, and ADORE HIM.

    I totally understood this movie, because my son too lost his child and had many of the same issues as Mack, but through prayer and supplication to ABBA our Father, my son is coming around ~ slowly but surly. I trust God in His mercy and grace. We have seen and felt His wrarth, but most importantly, we have felt and seen His LOVE & MERCY.

    Instead of nit picking a movie lets keep things positive and praise God that there are such movies as The Shack, Narnina, etc. Keep in mind there used to be none before, but as Christians, we have begun a move and "Hollywood" listened.

    Thank you for your insight and for taking the time to read my comments.

    God bless and keep the dialogue coming. 😎