The Shack Chapter 12

In The Belly of the Beasts


When we last left our intrepid hero, he had just had a conversation with Sophia, who is God’s wisdom personified. She allowed Mack to peak in at Missy in heaven, though Missy was not allowed to see him, she knew he was watching her.

As Mack made his way down the trail toward the lake, he suddenly realized that something was missing. His constant companion, The Great Sadness, was gone.

So, God shows Mack how happy his daughter is now that she’s in heaven playing with a bunch of small children her own age…. and now Mack is happy too.

Mack’s rationale is that Missy wouldn’t want her father to constantly be suffering like this, and that’s probably true. But what’s also true is that Missy in in heaven and her entire family isn’t. How happy is a kid actually going to be in that situation? Unless her entire family really sucked, I don’t see how that would help anything.

When Mack comes back to the shore of the lake, Jesus is still skipping stones. Jesus then tells Mack that he has been talking to Sophia.

“Ah, so that’s who she is!” Exclaimed Mack. “But doesn’t that make 4 of you? Is she God too?”

“No, Mack. There are only 3 of us. Sophia is a personification of Papa’s Wisdom.”

“Oh, like in Proverbs, where wisdom is pictured as a woman calling out in the streets, trying to find anyone who’ll listen to her?”

“That’s her.”

I take it the author has no idea of the definition of the word metaphor? I’m pretty sure that verse wasn’t supposed to be taken as literally as it is being taken here. I feel like the author just needed another character and is twisting bible verses to make one.

Jesus then tells Mack that he’s only been gone for 15 minutes, and that this is possible because time with Sophia isn’t normal. Um, you couldn’t have just told Mack it only seemed to take longer than 15 minutes? because all of last chapter sounded like something that very well could have happened in roughly 15-25 minutes.

Mack says that sounds complicated, and Jesus says that it’s actually very simple.

“Because you are so lost and independent you bring to her many complications, and as a result you find even her simplicity profound.”

Strangely, Mack just accepts this rather than arguing with it. Set that aside. The main point to notice here is that this has been a running theme throughout: human independence=bad. Think through the ramifications of that and cringe in horror. I’ve already talked at length about it, so we will move on.

Mack tells Jesus that there’s one last thing still bothering him about Missy, and it’s not “why was she allowed to be murdered” or “how can you be good if you allow suffering like this to happen?” or “why was the free will of Missy’s killer more important than Missy’s free will not to be killed?

Yanno, at this point, I wonder why Mack isn’t remembering that Jesus’ miracles involved raising people from the dead. Why isn’t he begging her to please, for the love of, er, himself, resurrect my little girl?!

“I keep thinking about her, alone in that truck, so terrified….” [said Mack]

Yeah, you read that right. Mack is finally at peace with the fact that God allowed Missy to be brutally murdered. Now he’s worried about the actual trauma that she experienced. Which, now that I think about it, has kind of been on the back burner this whole book. Mack has been so focused on how Missy’s death affected him that he hasn’t given a thought for how Missy’s murder affected her. We never see Mack ask himself thinks like, “did she suffer? Did the piece of garbage rape her first?”

In any case, Jesus reassures Mack. When I first read this book, at the ripe old age of 19, this made me so angry I threw the book across the room. Horrible God, horrible book.

“Mack, she was never alone. I never left her. We never left her, not for one instant….she knew I was there. At first the fear was overwhelming and she was in shock. It took hours to get up here from the campsite. but as Sarayu wrapped herself around her, Missy settled down. The long ride actually gave us a chance to talk.”

I wouldn’t prevent your daughter from being murdered. All I did was make her feel calm about it. In fact, being kidnapped and on her way to be brutally abused and murdered even gave us a chance to talk.

If a human did something like that, we would never think of them as good. Yet somehow God gets a pass? Even if one does believe that God couldn’t have prevented this atrocity from happening, the way this is coming across still struck me as rather creepy.

“Missy may have been only 6 years old, but we are friends. We talk. She had no idea what was going to happen. She was actually more worried about you and the other kids, knowing you couldn’t find her. She prayed for you, for your peace.”

Um yeah I’m calling bullshit on those last 2 sentences. As an adult, *I* would have a very hard time even giving my father a second thought if I was being kidnapped. It would be highly irregular for a 6 year old to think nothing about what was going to happen to her and actually be more worried about what her father was going to think. (Though I believe it is possible it would have crossed her mind briefly for 5 seconds.)

Here, again, we see that Mack cares more about how all of this affected him than how it affected Missy. And Missy, for some strange reason, goes along with all of this.

“Mack, I don’t think you want to know all the details. I’ms rue they won’t help you.”

Mind you, Mack hasn’t asked for any details. Jesus just says this. Now, I could believe that Mack might not want to know the exact details of what happened to Missy. That’s fine. But it should be Mack telling Jesus this. Jesus should ask Mack if he wants the details, if he thinks they would bring him some closure. Mack should be the one to decide if it would help or not. Now he’s going to spend the rest of his life wondering. But then, Mack is so self absorbed that maybe he’s never even thought to wonder about this.

Mack cries for a while longer, and then he and Jesus head back across the water. Jesus sees a fish and tries to catch it, but fails. Mack asks why Jesus can’t catch it if he’s the Lord of creation. Jesus says that he could, of course, but what would be the fun in that? I agree, and it’s a bit of a nice characterization: oh sure I could just magic things to happen, but then life would be boring. That’s valid, well done.

Mack tells Jesus that Missy’s death no longer holds the same power over him that it once did. Jesus tells Mack that these things often seem bigger in the dark than they are in reality.

Yes. The reason Mack was sad about his daughter being murdered at the ripe old age of 6 years old is because he made it seem so much bigger to himself inside his own mind. Look, I could admit that there are some things that we do make out to be worse than maybe they really are. Like not getting into Harvard. But that’s worlds different from one’s own child actually being BRUTALLY MURDERED.

They talk for a while about unhealthy coping mechanisms, and how Mack needs to learn to live loved. There’s more important things to cover, we’re skipping it.

Mack asks why Jesus didn’t tell him all of this stuff about Missy before, and it’s a good question. Why didn’t Jesus try and meet up with him earlier?

“Don’t think we didn’t try. Have you noticed that in your pain you assume the worst of me?”

Gee, ya think? I too would assume the worst of someone who allowed my child to be brutally murdered even though they could have prevented it. 

Jesus keeps talking.

“I’ve been talking to you for a long time, but today was the first time you could hear it, and all those other times weren’t a waste either.”

Jesus has  never tried talking to Mack in person like this before. Christians will probably think that Jesus was trying to talk to Mack in the privacy of his own skull. The problem with that, though, is that, at least for me, I could never sort out “god’s voice” from my own thoughts. Was I talking to God, or to myself? It was so confusing, and I imagine it would have been confusing for Mack, too.

They sit in silence for a while, and then Mack asks if, when he saw her, Missy was in heaven.

Instead of giving him a direct answer, Jesus says something that is more in line with what Seventh Day Advenitsts believe about heaven. Which is kind of shocking.

“Well, Mack, our final destiny is not the picture of heaven that you have stuck in your head–you know, the image of pearly gates and streets of gold. Instead, it’s a new cleansing of this universe, so it will indeed look a lot like here.”

Adventists believe in heaven, of course, and they believe that we are going there for a few thousand years or so while Jesus creates a new earth. But then they believe that Jesus will take us back to the new earth and the new universe, drop us off, and tell us to have fun living forever on a planet where no one dies. It is unclear if Adventists believe we’ll be able to have children after the second coming, so overpopulation may or may not become a problem eventually….

In any case, this is not too out of line with what I was raised to believe, but it is slightly outside mainstream Christianity as far as I know.

“Then what’s with the pearly gates and stuff?” [asked Mack].

“That stuff, my brother, is a picture of me and the woman I’m in love with.”

The Bible does compare the church to a bride adorned for her husband. But the “pearly gates and stuff,” as we read about it in the book of Revelation, is clearly not a reference to us.

I…. don’t know why Mack isn’t making a bigger deal of this and how it literally makes no sense. 

Instead, Mack starts talking about how the church isn’t exactly his favorite place in the world.

“Mack, that’s because you’re seeing only the institution, a man made system. That’s not what I came to build. What I see are people and their lives, a living, breathing community of all those who love me, not buildings and programs.”

This blows Mack’s tiny little mind. He can’t believe Jesus is saying this. I think that if Jesus didn’t come to build a man made system he should tell his followers that directly, but set that aside.

Yes, the church is also an institution and a building and a program. However, when most of us refer to the church, we do refer to the community of the church. And many of us find that particular community pretty terrible, because even people who love Jesus (and in some cases I would argue that this is true especially of people who love Jesus) aren’t exactly all that loving to their fellow human, and seem to have a twisted concept of what exactly love is. Some Christians truly believe that they are being loving Christians when they deny gay people the right to have rights. They love gays too much to allow them to continue living their “homosexual lifestyle.”

So this “mind blowing” revelation isn’t exactly all that mind blowing. It’s just more of the same crap I’ve heard most of my life.

“As well intentioned as it might be, you know that religious machinery can chew up people!” Jesus said. “An awful lot of what is done in my name has nothing to do with me and is often contrary to my purposes.”

“You’re not too fond of religion and institutions?” Mack said.

Of course not. Haven’t you ever heard a Christian say “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship?” Yeah, some Christians absolutely don’t believe they’re religious. Apparently Jesus is one of them.

Jesus then says that he never creates institutions, ever. When Mack asks about marriage, Jesus says that marriage isn’t an institution, it’s a relationship.

Ok, it’s a relationship, but it’s still an institution. In fact, historically speaking, this is likely a chicken and egg question: did the institution of marriage come first and then love evolved out of that, or was it the other way around? Many historians think that the institution of marriage came first, and then it kind of changed over time into something one did for love.

I mean, shoot, the very first marriage in the garden of eden was an arranged marriage. Jesus didn’t exactly ask Eve if she wanted to be married to Adam–or even if she wanted to be married!

In any case, Jesus goes on to say that he doesn’t like religion, politics, or economics.

“They are the  man created trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and deceives those I care about. What mental turmoil and anxiety does any human face that is not related to one of those three?”

I don’t even know what to say to this. In an ideal utopia, we wouldn’t need politics and economics. But at this point, if humans are going to have society, economics is kind of unavoidable, unless I want to go live in the woods naked and never use money, ever. Which wouldn’t be very feasible and, in some states, illegal.

Jesus–or should I say, the author, because that’s really who is talking here–goes on to talk about how bad these things are.

“These terrors are tools that many use to prop up their illusions of security and control…. It’s all false! Systems cannot provide you security, only I can.”

I don’t know, I feel very secure knowing that we have laws, police, and government. Whether or not those 3 things are effective or not is something that is up for debate. However, I would not want to live in a place without these things. If I couldn’t call the police when someone breaks into my house, I wouldn’t feel very secure. Is this book seriously trying to tell me that all I need is a relationship with Jesus?

These systems are in place because we need them. Yes it would be wonderful if I didn’t need these resources, but I do not live in a fake ass utopia.

Jesus then talks to Mack about being in the institutions and systems, but not of them. This reminds me of the Bible verse to be in the world but not of it, which is…um….

Look. There’s nothing wrong with someone not wanting to get into politics or religion. But economics? How does one avoid that? You participate in an economic society every time you go to the grocery store. Every time you go to work. It’s kind of how our society functions….

Mack asks if that is what being a Christian is about, and Jesus replies

 “Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian.”

The text doesn’t explicitly say why Jesus doesn’t identify as a Christian. The earthly Jesus who actually existed was Jewish, but my guess is that the text is going for something closer to “Of course Jesus isn’t a christian: christian means “follower of Christ.” Jesus is Christ. Get it? heh. Heh.”

It’s just a guess, though. The author doesn’t bother to actually explain any of this to us.

Jesus then goes on to say that there are people who love him in every system, be in it political groups, religions, etc. And this idea is pervasive in Christianity. The idea that, in ever religion, there are people who love Jesus. They just don’t always realize they’re doing it. That Muslim who lives a good life and does good things and is generally kind to everyone he meets? He’s doing that because of God working in his life. The Muslim in the example loves Jesus, he just doesn’t know it.

“I have no desire to make them Christian,” [said Jesus] “but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.”

So, you don’t want to make them “Christian,” you just want them all to be “sons and daughters of God.”

Mack asks if that means that all religions lead to Jesus, and Jesus says no, they don’t.

So, Jesus doesn’t want a large family full of Muslims, Jews, and Atheists. He does want them all to be Christians, just not in name. And frankly, I don’ t know what to make of that. It’s confusing and frankly, if I was a Christian reading this, I would find it very heretical.

Again, do conservative Christians just accept this because it is coming from one of their own? Because if I was to say something like this, all hell would break loose.

In any case, I’ll try and start posting more often. It’s hard for me to get into writing these days, but once I start I really do enjoy it. I may not be able to do 2 books at once, unfortunately. That may be beyond me at this time. Once I finish this book we’ll do more of The Stand. At least everyone voted for that one. I just did this because I wanted to but God is it worse than I remembered.