Trigger Warning: Discussion of Suicide
Last week, if you recall, Willie had just given Mack his jeep and his gun. Willie is sending his mentally ill friend alone, in his car, with his gun, to a shack in the middle of nowhere. What could go wrong?
Mack starts driving Friday morning at dawn.
Flashes of visual memory and stabbing instants of blistering fury now came in waves, attended by the taste of bile and blood in his mouth.
This would be a good place to drop some flashbacks. Don’t tell us about the flashes of memory, show them. Then take out chapter 4 entirely and boom, you have the backstory woven throughout the main story.
We are told that Mack has to drive around for a bit before he finds the beginning of the trail. He decides to leave everything in the car, in case he has to just turn around and leave. He does take two things: the small tin box with the picture of Missy and the note from God, and Willie’s gun.
The trail was treacherous, the rocks icy and slippery….it was eerily quiet. The only sounds he could hear were the crunch of his steps on the snow and the heaviness of his breathing. Mack started feeling as if he was being watched.
Could be Missy’s killer….
Suddenly something moved close by. Startled, he froze, silent and alert…. He slowly reached behind his back, siding the pistol from his belt. Snapping off the safety, he peered intensely into the dark underbrush….
The mountains, at this time, are really cold and snowy. And yet, Willie talked about the possibility of Mack running into a hiker. So I think we can assume that, despite the weather, people are still out hiking. Knowing this, why the hell is Mack’s first reaction to reach for the gun? Why doesn’t he call out, “who’s there?” If nobody answers, then he can reach for the gun.
But no, Mack never calls out. He never gives a potential human a chance to identify themselves. After a few paragraphs of wondering if the noise was God, Missy’s Killer, or an active imagination, it turns out to be a badger.
And it’s not bad. This whole “I think I’m in danger and I start at every noise” does work well…. if you can ignore the fact that Mack could’ve shot some poor hiker in the face. Don’t give a jumpy man a gun, ok?
Mack puts the safety back on the gun and puts it away, thinking someone could get hurt.
Gee, ya think?
Determined that he was done being afraid, he continued down the path, trying to look more confident than he felt. He hoped he hadn’t come all this way for nothing. If God was really meeting him here, he was more than ready to get a few things off his chest, respectfully, of course.
We…. have to assure our Christian readers that Mack isn’t going to be anything less than respectful to God? I mean, this doesn’t really make sense. Mack has lost a child. It makes sense for a human being to rant, rave, rage, and cry at God. Does Mack plan on going up to God and saying, “excuse me sir, but could you pretty please tell me why my daughter had to come to an unfortunate end?”
This makes Mack look even less human. An emotionless robot.
Mack finally reaches the shack.
The shack itself looked dead and empty, but as he stared it seemed for a moment to transform into an evil face, twisted in some demonic grimace, looking straight back at him and daring him to approach.
I like this. Sometimes, when we are panicky and afraid, we see things as more ominous than they really are. I don’t think the author actually means that the shack is infested with demons.
As Mack enters the shack, he does start calling out.
Mack couldn’t help himself as his eyes were drawn to the one place he could not bear to look. Even after a few years, the faded bloodstain was clearly visible in the wood near the fireplace where they had found Missy’s dress.
Why is the bloodstain still there? Why is this shack still here?
And finally his heart exploded like a flash flood, releasing his pent up anger and letting it rush down the rocky canyons of his emotions. Turning his eyes heavenward, he began screaming his anguished questions. “Why? Why did you let this happen? Why did you bring me here? Of all the places to meet you–why here? Wasn’t it enough to kill my baby? Do you have to toy with me too?”
Finally, a normal human reaction! We can debate all day long if it’s the “right” reaction to have, but this the first sign of a normal human reaction from Mack that we’ve seen. He seems like less of a sociopath.
In a blind rage, Mack grabbed the nearest chair and flung it at the window. It smashed into pieces. He picked up one of the legs and began destroying everything he could. Groans and moans of despair and fury burst through his lips as he beat his wrath into the terrible place. “I hate you!” In a frenzy he pounded out his rage until he was exhausted and spent.
Weren’t we just told in the last chapter that Mack hated violence? But you know, I’m not going to harp on this too much. Mack has lost a child, and honestly, taking out his anger on inanimate objects is probably best case scenario.
Mack screams at God some more, and honestly, it’s good that he’s finally letting it all out. And if God exists, I think God would agree. These things Mack is saying? They’re prayers. Mack is communicating with God, and isn’t that what prayer is, really?
God hears Mack’s prayer. The angels hear Mack’s prayer.
Mack could feel the gun in the small of his back…he pulled it out, not sure what he was going to do. Oh, to stop caring, to stop feeling the pain, to never feel anything again. Suicide? At the moment that option was almost attractive. It would be so easy, the thought. No more tears, no more pain… he could almost see a black chasm opening up in the floor behind the gun he was staring at, a darkness sucking away the last vestiges of hope from his heart. Killing himself would be one way to strike back at God, if God existed.
Honestly, Willie should have forseen this. Mack has been sad and depressed over the death of his daughter for quite some time, and then Mack tells Willie he’s making a trip to the place where his daughter died, so he can meet God. Christian and non-Christian people alike often refer to dying as “meeting their maker.” How does Willie NOT wonder if Mack is going up there to commit suicide?
I am not opposed to guns. I am not opposed to using guns to protect yourself. What I am opposed to is pure stupidity, which this is.
Not sure how realistic it is for someone to want to kill themselves, in part, because it would be a great way to get back at God. That just seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face. I’ve certainly never felt that way when I’ve been suicidal (in the distant past) and I’d be interested in knowing if anyone has actually thought this.
Mack starts thinking about his other non dead family members, and realizes that his suicide would hurt them very much, so he doesn’t do it. Then Mack falls asleep.
It was probably only minutes later that Mack woke with a jerk.
It was at this point in the story that I expected God to be there. I thought Mack would fall asleep, and then wake up to God standing next to him. But I’m wrong.
“This is ridiculous! I’m such an idiot! To think that I hoped God might actually care enough to send me a note!”
I don’t disagree, but I can identify with the sentiment. When I was a Christian, I too wanted to believe God cared.
“I’m done, God,” Mack whispered. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired of trying to find you in all of this.” And with that he walked out the door. Mack determined that this was the last time he would go looking for God. If God wanted him, God would have to come find him.
Good for you, Mack.
As Mack walks out the door, he tears up the letter he found in the mailbox.
He had barely walked 50 feet up the trail when he felt a sudden rush of warm air overtake him from behind. The chirping of a songbird broke the icy silence. The path in front of him rapidly lost its veneer of snow and ice, as if someone were blow drying it. Mack stopped and watched as all around him the white covering dissolved and was replaced by emerging and radiant growth. 3 weeks of spring unfurled before him in 30 seconds. … Even the light snow that had begun to fall had changed to tiny blossoms lazily drifting to the ground.
So, God came and magically made it spring. Hey God, if you exist and you’re reading this, could you do that here? Because, uh, it is supposed to be spring…. what’s with all the snow?
The text goes on about the scene change for a while before shifting to Mack’s thoughts. Naturally, Macks is a little bit terrified.
He was stunned. Little, if anything, was the same. The dilapidated shack had been replaced by a sturdy and beautifully constructed log cabin now standing directly between him and the lake, which he could see just above the rooftop. It was built out of hand peeled full length logs, every one scribed for a perfect fit.
We’re probably not supposed to look into this too closely, but I can’t help but wonder what is happening here. Has God taken Mack back in time, to when the shack was a cabin? Has he created an alternate reality? Why the weather change? Parallel universe?
In any case, Mack understandably thinks he is losing his tiny little mind. Honestly, Mack thinks God sent him a letter, he’s already lost his mind.
Mack smells the flowers and grips the railing on the cabin walkway, deciding that they feel real enough not to be hallucinations. Then he wonders whether or not he should knock. And how should he address God, anyway? “Father?” “Almighty One?” “Mr. God?”
Ok, those last two were kind of funny.
And would it be best if he fell down and worshiped? Not that he was really in the mood.
Ok, that was kinda funny too.
Mack’s not the only one to wonder how he’d react to meeting God. There’s actually a song about this, called “I can only imagine.” I now have that song stuck in my head.
Just as Mack decides to bang loudly on the door and see what happens, God comes out.
And now we come to the thing, I think, that bothers conservative Christians who dislike this book/movie the most.
Just as he raised his fist to [bang on the door], the door flew open, and he was looking directly into the face of a large, beaming African American woman.
I’m sure by now everyone already knows this from watching the trailers, so it’s probably not much of a surprise. But in case you’ve missed it, God in this book is portrayed as a fat African American woman.
Oh yeah, conservatives are definitely freaking out.
Let’s talk about Christian!Abby’s reaction to this. Christian!Abby was actually ok with it. She figured that if “God created man in his own image; male and female he created them,” that meant that, well, God was both male and female. And if God created humans in his/her own image, that meant that black people were just as much a reflection of God as white people. Christian!Abby had no issue with this portrayal, and Atheist!Abby doesn’t either.
God’s first reaction to seeing Mack is to give him a great big hug. Which, ummm I don’t think Mack wants from you right now. You’re God, you should know this.
“Mack, look at you!”she fairly exploded. “Here you are, and so grown up. I have really been looking forward to seeing you face to face. It is so wonderful to have you here with us. My, my, my, how I do love you!” And with that she wrapped herself around him again.
Despite the fact that Mack was pissed off at God 5 minutes ago, he doesn’t mind that God is now giving him a hug and claiming to love him. Sooo God has magic powers that make you not want to punch him in the face?
Mack starts to cry, and God tells him to let it all out. But Mack Shakes his head. God says that if Mack isn’t ready, that’s ok. It can wait. She reaches into his belt and takes the gun.
“You don’t really need that, do you? We wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt, would we?”
That is unnerving. Mack hasn’t figured out if he’s safe with you yet. But God’s right, someone should’ve taken the gun away from him long ag– actually, no one should’ve given it to him in the first place Willie.
God takes Mack’s coat and gun and a “small, distinctively Asian woman” comes to take Mack’s tears. Yeah, you read that right: his tears.
Everyone, meet the Holy Spirit, an Asian woman. The next paragraph makes it clear why she is described this way.
As she stepped back, Mack found himself involuntarily squinting in her direction, as if doing so would allow his eyes to see her better. But strangely, he had a difficult time focusing on her; she seemed almost to shimmer in the light and her hair blew in all directions even though there was hardly a breeze. It was almost easier to see her out of the corner of his eye than it was to look at her directly.
Because she’s The Holy Spirit, get it? I suppose it would be hard to figure out whether she looks Chinese or not if you can’t actually see her, so we’ll let it pass for now.
And then we are introduced to Jesus. Now, points to the author, he got this right. Unlike Nathan Green paintings, Jesus is not a white man, and it’s nice to see that acknowledged.
He appeared Middle Eastern and was dressed like a laborer, complete with tool belt and gloves…wearing jeans covered in wood dust and a plaid shirt with sleeves rolled just above the elbows, revealing well muscled forearms. His features were pleasant enough, but he was not particularly handsome.
Could we get more of a description than “middle eastern” though? All Middle Eastern people do not look alike. What is his eye color? What is his hair color? How long is his hair? Does he wear it in a pony tail? Jesus has muscles guys! And I get that the Bible describes him as “not handsome but not ugly either,” but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so there’s wiggle room for him to be absolutely stunning.
Mack asks if there are more of them, and God says no.
Mack takes a closer look at the Holy Spirit. He guesses her to be Northern Chinese, Nepalese, or Mongolian. He has a hard time figuring it out, though, since she keeps flickering. Which, ok fair enough. If I had to try and look at a person who wasn’t there I’d probably also go with “Asian” as a description. But what’s your excuse for Jesus?
Jesus kisses Mack on both cheeks and hugs him. Mack decides he likes Jesus immediately, which…. this is lazy writing. He should be hanging back a bit trying to find out if this is a man he can like and be friends with. Especially since Mack just got done screaming at God/Jesus.
Mack asks God what her name is. I guess he hasn’t figured out she’s god yet. God tells him she likes the name, “Elousia,” which I have no idea how to pronounce.
When I google the name “Elousia,” all I get are results for this book. Take that as you will.
She crossed her arms and put her hand under her chin as if thinking especially hard — “you could call me what Nan does.”
I don’t know, I might have a hard time referring to a woman as “Papa.”
And finally Mack figures out that, duh, these people are God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus says Mack could call him “Jesus” if he wants, though his mother called him “Yeshua.” Jesus tells Mack he also goes by “Joshua” or “Jesse.”
“Joshua” makes sense, because that’s the Hebrew name for Jesus. But why Jesse? Sure Jesus is reported to be a descendant of Jesse, but why would you call him that? Nobody calls me by my great great great grandma’s name…whatever that was.
The Holy Spirit wishes to be called “Sarayu.”
Let’s see, there’s a Sarayu river….ah, here we are. The name Sarayu is actually not all that uncommon in India, and it is mainly used by Hindi. It means “Wind,” or “River.”
I’m guessing the author just needed a name that meant “wind,” googled, and came up with “Sarayu.”
“Then,” Mack struggled to ask, “which one of you is God?”
“I am,” said all 3 in unison. Mack looked from one to the next, and even though he couldn’t begin to grasp what he was seeing and hearing, he somehow believed them.