The Shack: A Powerful Fable about Forgiveness

If anything matters, then everything matters. --Papa

Ten years after William P. Young penned the self-published novel The Shack, Lionsgate brings the story of one man’s struggle with faith, forgiveness, and the problem of evil to the screen. Thanks to a strong ensemble performance built around Sam Worthington’s Mack, audiences will find themselves wrestling with big questions about their relationship to God and their encounters with each other. In The Shack, the problem of evil is strong, but the power of God’s love is greater.

Years after Mack’s young daughter is murdered by a serial killer, God sends Mack a letter, inviting him to the same location where his daughter died. There, Mack reluctantly enters into dialogue with Papa (Octavia Spencer), Jesus (Aviv Alush), and Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara). While Mack has left his wife (Radha Mitchell) and friends (including Tim McGraw, who co-wrote “Keep Your Eyes on Me” with Faith Hill for the film) behind, he finds himself recognizing that while he spends in the wilderness of his soul, he is anything but alone.

While in the shack, Mack asks questions about suffering, justice, judgment, sin, salvation, and more. Deftly working through the ‘mystery’ of Mack’s daughter’s death, director Stuart Hazeldine uses John Fusco’s screenplay to provide a background to Young’s narrative, working the story carefully through flashbacks, as well as two sets of ‘the present.’ Without ever slowing the narrative story of Mack’s progression, the film carefully presents a Christian worldview of the world while openly allowing for discussion about how various elements of sin, judgment, and salvation work together.

"You’ve judged your children worthy of love, even if it costs you everything. Now, you know Papa’s heart."-- Sophia

Beautifully rendered with a blend of realistic interactions and stunning (yet believable) special effects, the cinematic version stays true to the spirit and narrative of the book while allowing viewers to wrestle in their own way. The presentation of Mack’s interaction with Wisdom/Sophia (Alicia Braga), and his time with Male Papa (Graham Greene), carry weight that translates on screen, leaving the audience (even those who’ve read the book) reflecting over a powerful reminder of what forgiveness looks like.

While I found the film engaging, well acted with strong dialogue throughout, the scene where Mack ‘battles’ with Sophia over judgment was … emotionally charged. It left me considering how I forgive - and how I judge and am therefore guilty - in situations much less grave than Mack’s. But there in a nutshell is the way that Young’s story, and the cinematic representation of it, show that sin is sin is sin - and that we need God’s grace to be forgiven, to forgive ourselves, and to forgive others. Whatever faults some may find with the theological representations of God or the depiction of salvation, there’s no denying that this is an awesome reminder of grace and forgiveness.

If I go back, then I still want you in my life. -- Mack

See The Shack, experience it’s perspective and consider how you are called to live, love, and forgive. Share the film with someone else and discuss it; wrestle with the ramifications of knowing the Triune God and experiencing the power of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. That invitation is open to all, not magically delivered or mysteriously cryptic, through the power of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus.

There God said, “I love you, I forgive you,” and dared us to say the same.

In The Shack, we see one man’s vision, in poetic metaphor, for what would happen if we lived that out.