The Shack Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Breakfast of Champions

These chapter titles have very little to do with the actual content of the chapters.

I would also like to note that we are at the halfway point. Thank God. I have to say, I’m not enjoying this book as much as I thought I would. At least the last book we did (A Mountain to Climb) was readable and had a good sense of pacing. This book just has a lot of filler.

When he reached his room, Mack discovered that his clothes, which he had left back in the car, were either folded on top of the dresser or hung in the open closet.

So, God put Mack’s clothes away, but couldn’t be bothered to put the clothes in the actual drawers?

To his amusement, he also found a Gideon Bible in the nightstand.

That is actually kind of amusing.

He opened the window wide to let the outside night flow freely in, something that Nan never tolerated at home because of her fear of spiders and anything else crawly and creepy.

Has nobody told Nan about window screens?

Mack made it through only a couple of verses before the Bible somehow left his hand, the light somehow turned off, someone kissed him on the cheek, and he was lifting gently off the ground into a flying dream.

At no point has Mack shown that he is ok with touchy-feely. God should not be kissing him right now. Other than that, I like this. I like that Mack falls asleep while he tries to read his Bible, and God just tucks him in. God’s not offended that Mack’s too tired to read. It’s nice characterization.

and he was lifting gently off the ground into a flying dream. Those who have never flown this way might think those who believe they do rather daft,

Um, what? No. No I have literally never thought that, and I don’t know anyone who has. Dreams about flying are a thing, and if you get those, well, honestly the only reaction I’d have is jealousy. Which is actually the end of that sentence:

Those who have never flown this way might think those who believe they do rather daft, but secretly they are probably at least a little envious.

It’s like, for some reason, the author feels the need to defend “flying dreams” to his audience.

He hadn’t had a flying dream in years, not since The Great Sadness had descended, but tonight Mack flew high into the starlit night, the air clear and cool but not uncomfortable. He soared above lakes and rivers, crossing an ocean coast and a number of reef rimmed islets.

As odd as it sounds, Mack had learned inside his dreams to fly lie this: to lift off the ground supported by nothing–no wings, no aircraft of any sort, just himself. beginning flights were usually limited to a few inches, due mostly to fear or, more accurately, a dread of falling. Stretching his flights to a foot or two and eventually higher increased his confidence, as did his discovery that crashing wasn’t painful at all but only a slow motion bounce. In time, he learned to ascend into the clouds, cover vast distances, and land gently.

Is this kind of thing even possible? Well I mean, of course it’s possible, but is it possible without any sort of training? What Mack describes here sounds less like a “flying dream” and more like “lucid dreaming.” Which is ridiculously hard to accomplish.

Either way, this all could have been cut. All that was necessary was to tell us that, “Mack dreamed he was flying.” We don’t need the dream described and we don’t need another paragraph after that about how Mack is a lucid dreamer.

Especially since the dream is about to turn into a nightmare, wherein Missy calls out for Mack to come save her, but he can’t. So that makes 3 paragraphs about this dream and it’s not really all that important. Mack wakes up with his heart racing, and an overwhelming feeling of despair and sadness.

Then he also spends 5 seconds wondering where he is. He’s not in his house, so where is he?

Then he remembered. He was still at the shack with those 3 interesting characters, all of whom thought they were God.

I’m not sure if the author is showing Mack having a normal human reaction, or if he is going for the “atheists know that God is god, they just won’t admit it” approach. Mack isn’t an atheist, but in this moment he is having doubts. Which would be a very normal reaction –if this was happening when he first met them. If, when he first met them, he asked them something that only God would know, to prove to himself that yes, this was really God, I would buy that. But this delayed reaction doesn’t really make sense.

Also, a few chapters ago these God people literally turned winter into spring. Or transported Mack to a parallel universe, or took him back in time. Or something. At the very least, something is going on here. If I am to buy that Mack is having doubts, his doubts would also have to take into account this information. If Mack doesn’t believe these 3 are God, I have to see him forming theories about what else they could possibly be. Mack could believe that these “Gods” are actually aliens. He could believe they’re time traveling humans from the future where technology has advanced. But you can’t just spring “these people who thought they were God” on the reader without Mack wondering how they on earth one pretends to be God while actually doing shit that at least looks like it could have a supernatural explanation.

Because in real life, people aren’t actually that daft.

“This can’t really be happening,” mack grunted…he thought back to the previous day and again entertained the fear that he was going crazy. As he had never been much of a touchy-feely person, Papa–whoever she was–made him nervous, and he had no idea what to make of Sarayu.

Then we get this. Papa is clearly making Mack uncomfortable with her physical affection. She needs to stop hugging/kissing Mack until and unless he shows he consents to it. And no, she’s not doing it because it’s what Mack needs. Some people don’t need physical affection, and it doesn’t mean something’s wrong with them. Some people may want physical affection but not be ready to accept it from you personally. In either case, you should hold off on giving out hugs until the person consents to it. But here God is just walking all over Mack’s boundaries, and Mack’s right to be wary of that.

This, of course, will never be acknowledged in any way by the text.

Mack wonders why he’s having nightmares if God is in the Shack. It’s a good question, and it brings to mind another: did God give him the nightmare, under the guise of bringing his pain to the surface so he could work it out? Because that’s kinda creepy.

Mack showers, shaves, and dresses, and we are told that he took his sweet time about doing it.

He took his time in the warmth of the water [in the shower], took his time shaving, and, back in the bedroom, took his time dressing.

Jesus looked at his watch. “Good God,” he said, turning to God. “How long does this man take in the shower? He’s going to use up all the hot water. Our water bill is going to be through the roof.”

Sarayu looked at the clock on the wall. “He takes longer to dress than a girl. It’s like he’s a princess or something. I mean, he’s in there deciding which tie to put on.”

Just kidding, those last 2 paragraphs didn’t actually happen. The one above them, though, did.

What was going on here? Who were they really and what did they want from him? Whatever it was, he was sure he didn’t have it to give.

Again, if Mack is going to wonder who these 3 really are, I need to hear some theories and I need Mack to go trying to prove or disprove these theories.

Notice, also, that when Mack begins to suspect the Godhead wants something, he doesn’t feel afraid of what they might want. He’s just worried he won’t have what they want, as if it’s just a given that he’ll give it to them without complaint.

Pretty sure that’s not how humans work.

In any case, this morning the Godhead are listening to Bruce Cockburn, who we are told is one of Mack’s favorite singers. It turns out that this is a real singer, and he sings “folk” and “jazz influenced rock,” whatever that means. God tells Mack that she is especially fond of Bruce.

I love that God listens to a wide range of music styles, Especially music that most Christians think God would outright send them to hell over. Whether or not the author succeeds is up for debate, but I do like that he is at least trying to break some stereotypes people have about God.

“So, honey,” Papa said, continuing busily with whatever she was doing, “how were your dreams last night? Dreams are sometimes important, you know. They can be a way of openin’ up the window and lettin’ the bad air out.”

Busily with whatever she was doing? You can’t like, describe what she’s doing? It wouldn’t need to be complicated, just something like: “As she cracked eggs into a pan.”

Set that aside, because what I really highlighted this paragraph for was that last sentence. Yes, sometimes dreams are important. It is true that sometimes dreams can be a way for our unconscious mind to tell our conscious mind something. A way of telling ourselves what we already know.

But I’ve never heard of dreams being a way of “letting the bad out.” Usually nightmares leave people feeling more anxious,  not less. I’m even going to go out on a limb here and assume that having nightmares about your child being brutally murdered is a completely normal and human reaction to your child being brutally murdered.

Mack tells God that he slept just fine, thanks. Then, to change the subject, Mack asks God if Bruce is her favorite. God says she has no favorites, just that she is especially fond of him.

“You seem to be especially fond of a lot of people,” Mack observed with a suspicious look. “Are there any you are not especially fond of?”

I like this. I like that our main character voices at least some of his concerns and questions.

God thinks for a moment, then decides that nope, she can’t come up with any people she’s not especially fond of.

Also, I have noticed that God’s accent seems to be really strong at times, and completely absent at others.

Consistency, it is a thing.

Mack asks God if she ever gets mad at anyone, and God says of course she does. All parents do, don’t they?

Then we come to something I wish would get explained more thoroughly.

“But–What about your wrath? It seems to me that if you’re going to pretend to be God Almighty, you need to be a lot angrier.”

“Do I now?”

“That’s what I think. Weren’t you always running around killing people in the Bible? You just don’t seem to fit the bill.”

Yes, she was. In case anyone has forgotten, God killed a lot of people. I mean, we’re talking mass genocide here. If the author is going to bring this up, the author needs to have his main character explain why a God of love is also a genocidal maniac.

Instead of responding to the mass genocides she’s committed, God chooses to respond, instead, to Mack’s accusation of pretending to be God.

Which, hang on. If you thought that this person was pretending to be God, maybe you should also think about the fact that this person has powers that you don’t understand (turning winter into summer, for example) and that maybe it’s not a good idea to piss off the being with the superpowers?

“I understand how disorienting this must be for you, Mack. But the only one pretending here is you. I am what I am. I’m not trying to fit anyone’s bill….I’m not asking you to believe anything, but I will tell you that you’re going to find this day a lot easier if you simply accept what is, instead of trying to fit it into your preconceived notions.”

Did God seriously just to tell Mack to stop using his critical thinking skills? Yes, she did. And also, “fitting things into preconceived notions” is kind of how humans explore our reality. Yes we have to adjust sometimes when we find reality different from our preconceived notions, but we have these “preconceived notions” for a reason.

In any case, Mack next asks God about hell. Note that he does not ask how God can justify sentencing people to eternal torment, he just asks if God enjoys it. Which indicates that he has never read his Bible.

Ezekiel 33:11

Say unto them: ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked….

Although to be fair, Ezekiel is talking about death rather than eternal torment. We will not get into an argument, here, about whether the concept of hell is actually Biblical. In this book, within this universe, hell is real, and so we will be working with that assumption until we are told otherwise.

Instead of telling Mack this, God looks Mack dead in the eye and says:

“I’m not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.”

THEN WHY DOES HELL EXIST! Seriously, hell isn’t going to cure anybody of anything.

Setting that aside, this still doesn’t make sense. On the surface, it seems to. When I do something wrong, I actually feel horrible inside. I have done stuff that causes me horrible guilt and shame, to the point of being physically painful. So on one hand, I could agree with God: sin is it’s own punishment.

On the other hand, no, I don’t agree with God. Because people exist who feel absolutely no shame or guilt for anything they’ve done, either because they’ve managed to convince themselves that what they did wasn’t so bad, they’ve managed to delude themselves into thinking they didn’t do it, or because they are sociopaths who just don’t care.

Instead of saying all this, Mack just says he doesn’t understand. What is there not to understand, Mack?

Just then, Jesus and Sarayu come to breakfast. I guess I was wrong about them being in the room the entire time. My bad.

Jesus was dressed much as he had the day before, just jeans and a light blue button down shirt that made his dark brown eyes stand out.

Now see, if the author wanted to really break some stereotypes, Jesus would be wearing skinny jeans or leggings with high heels and some serious bling.

Sarayu, on the other hand, was clothed in something so fine and lacy that it fairly flowed at the slightest breeze or spoken word. Rainbow patterns shimmered and reshaped with her every gesture. Mack wondered if she ever completely stopped moving. He rather doubted it.

I rather like this characterization of the Holy Spirit.

God promises to answer Mack’s questions, but says that they should eat now.

“Thank you for breakfast,” he told Papa while Jesus and Sarayu were taking their seats.

“What?” She said in mock horror. “You aren’t even going to bow your head and close your eyes?” She began walking toward the kitchen, grumbling as she went. “Tsk Tsk, what is the world coming to? You’re welcome, honey,” she said as she waved over her shoulder.”

I’m divided. On the one hand, God is clearly playing. On the other hand, earlier you looked at him funny when he tried to bow his head and close his eyes when you thanked him for the food. It sounds like poor Mack is getting mixed messages.

Mack tells God he loves the greens, and she warns him not to eat too much. Apparently eating too many greens can give you diarrhea. A quick google search confirms this to be accurate.

Mack then tells Jesus that he loves to watch the members of the godhead interact, because it’s very different from how he expected. He was expecting Papa to be the boss, and Jesus being obedient. Which isn’t totally off base, I mean, doesn’t the Bible say something about Jesus being obedient to his father?

“I have always thought of God the Father as sort of being the boss and Jesus as the one following orders, you know, being obedient. I’m not sure how Holy Spirit fits in exactly….sort of a free spirit, but still under the direction of the father. Does that make sense?”

Yes, yes it does. It may not be an accurate description, but it does make sense.

Jesus looked over at Papa. “Does that make sense to you, Abba? Frankly, I haven’t a clue what this man is on about.”

Sigh.

“Nope,” [said Papa], “I have been trying to make head or tail out of it, but sorry, he’s got me lost.”

Understandably, Mack gets frustrated. He asks if someone is in charge, if there’s a chain of command. After some more laughing about there being no chains involved, Sarayu tells Mack that there is no authority in the godhead, only unity.

We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command….what you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us. Actually, this is your problem, not ours.”

Before we get too far into this, I want to interject and say that I like this. Far too often, fundy Christians will insist that someone has to be in charge of a relationship. Just like Jesus submits to the authority of his heavenly father, so women are to submit themselves to the authority of their husbands.

I like that the author doesn’t subscribe to this idea and I like even more that the God of this book doesn’t, either. It definitely breaks some expectations for sure.

It’s the rest of the conversation I’m not sure what to think of.

God tells Mack that, because of our sinful condition, it boggles our tiny little minds that there could ever be harmony without authority.

“But every human institution that I can think of, from political to business, even down to marriage, is governed by this kind of thinking. It is the web of our social fabric,” Mack asserted.

Yes, and that’s a problem. Fortunately, the idea of there needing to be an authority figure in a marriage is going the way of the dodo bird, but not completely.

Apart from marriage, however, I don’t see a problem with there being an authority figure. Maybe it’s my sinful human nature, but I think that a country without a leader would just descend into chaos. Please, spare me the comments about how our current leader is actually causing more chaos. That is completely and entirely beside the point.

Jesus tells Mack that this is one of the reasons it’s hard for humans to have true relationships.

“Once you have a hierarchy, you need rules to protect and administer it, and then you need law and enforcement of the rules, and you end up with some kind of…system of order that destroys relationship rather than promotes it. You rarely see or experience relationship apart from power. Hierarchy imposes laws and rules and you end up missing the wonder of relationship that we intended for you.”

If this was just talking about the context of friendships and marriage, I would agree. However, Jesus is including business relationships and government in this. Also, consider who this is coming from. Do you know how many rules are in the Bible? Doesn’t God demand perfect obedience from his children? Who is God to be talking about how authority figures ruin relationships when he presents himself as the ultimate authority?

Mack asks for more greens. Papa seems reluctant to give them to him, but doesn’t say anything.

Sarayu continued. “When you chose independence over relationship, you became a danger to one another. Others became objects to be manipulated or managed for your own happiness.”

when did Mack choose independence over relationship? Is this referring to the human race in general? Adam and Eve?

In any case, I still don’t see how it’s a choice between independence and a relationship? Why can’t I be independent and have a relationship? How is someone who chooses not to be in a relationship a danger to others? I’m currently single, and I don’t see other people as objects to be manipulated.

Sarayu then says that authority is an excuse to make other, weaker people conform to what the stronger people want.

Make points out that, without authority, there would be mass chaos and planetwide panic.

Sarayu says that authority can be used to inflict great harm.

Which, yes, it can. But that is only a valid argument where there is no authority needed in the first place, like in a marriage. In a business relationship, someone has to be in charge, or nothing would ever get done. Someone has to tell us all to stop playing candy crush on our cell phones and do some actual work.

If my boss does try to abuse his current position, there are channels I can go through to resolve the issue.

“But don’t you use [authority] to restrain evil?”

Ideally, that is generally what authority is supposed to do. Sarayu gives this long winded answer that doesn’t really explain anything.

“In your world the value of the individual is constantly weighed against the survival of the system, whether political, economic, social, or religious–any system, actually. First one person, and then a few, and finally even many are easily sacrificed for the good and ongoing existence of that system. In one form or another this lies behind every struggle for power, every prejudice, every war, and every abuse of relationship. The “will to power and independence” has become so ubiquitous that it is now considered normal.”

I’m honestly not sure what to think about this. Yes, the main goal in any society is balancing out the needs and freedoms of the individual against the needs and freedoms of society as a whole.

And some systems are worse than others.

It is the matrix, a diabolical scheme in which you are hopelessly trapped even while completely unaware of its existence.

Is…..this author/god seriously advocating for there not being any authority or system of government at all? And this coming out of the mouth of a character who is more or less a dictator. Because “obey me or go to hell” isn’t all that much different from “obey me or die.” In fact, one could argue that it’s much worse.

Sarayu says that the reason Mack and I don’t feel like this makes any sense whatsoever is because we are damaged by sin.

We need to move on, so I’ll let this go. For now.

God tells Mack that he was created in order to be loved by God, and that everything that has happened so far has happened for this purpose.

“How can you say that with all the pain in this world, all the wars and disasters that destroy thousands?…and what is the value in a little girl being murdered by some twisted deviant? You may not cause those things, but you certainly don’t stop them.”

No, no Mack’s got a point. Even when I still believed in God, I hated him, and this was one of the reasons. I mean, reading the Bible, God just sounds like a real asshole.

God replies thusly:

“There are millions of reasons to allow pain and hurt and suffering rather than to eradicate them, but most of those reasons can only be understood within each person’s story. I am not evil.”

Ok, so elucidate on the reasons that wouldn’t be an invasion of someone else’s privacy.

There’s some stuff about free will, and God says that their ultimate purpose will be accomplished “without the violation of one human will.”

What about Missy’s will not to be murdered? I mean, it seems like God only picks certain people who’s freewill he cares about, and screw the rest of us.

“But the cost!” [Mack said], “Look at the cost, all the pain, all the suffering, everything that is so terrible and evil…and look what it has cost you. Is  it worth it?”

“Yes!” came the unanimous, joyful response.

If this was just in response to “look what this has cost you,” that would be one thing. But this is in response to “look what it has cost you and everyone else.” To have the godhead happily respond that, yes, it has been worth the lives of trillions of people throughout the ages, is to make the godhead seem horrifying.

I’m sorry, but I don’t think much of God’s concept of freewill. If someone decides to murder me, you better darn bet I want to violate their free will.

Understandably, Mack is more than a little horrified. He asks God if the billions of lives lost matter to her, and says that the end doesn’t always justify the means.

It’s a pity Mack doesn’t manage to hold on to this logical line of thinking.

God tells Mack that his views of reality are limited, and that he doesn’t think she is good. Well uh, no shit….

If you knew I was good and that everything…is all covered by my goodness, then while you might not always understand what I am doing, you would trust me, but you don’t.”

Instead of responding the way I expect Mack to–by saying that of course he doesn’t trust God because she hasn’t earned it–Mack just sounds baffled at the idea that he, gasp, might not trust God.

Then Sarayu says that Mack can’t produce trust in God on his own. It has to develop naturally as their relationship progresses.

Why would he want to have a relationship with the being who allowed his daughter to get killed, even though said being could have prevented it?

Instead of defending herself, God just says, “I’m not a bully.”

Because I totally believe everyone who’s ever said that to me.

Sarayu asks Mack to meet her in the garden after breakfast, and before Mack excuses himself, he tells God that he can’t think of anything that would justify the brutal murder of his own daughter.

“We are not justifying it. We are redeeming it.”

I don’t even know what that means, but it doesn’t sound any less horrifying. When even *I* have better morality than your omnibenevolent being, you need to rethink your theologies.

 

 

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