Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review: The Shack

A friend of mine nudged me into reading The Shack by William Young. I'm glad she did.

The Shack is a sort of Christian version of Why Bad Things Happen To Good People - it attempts to explain how something as awful as a child being murdered could fit into a Christian theological context.

Although I was a little skeptical at first, I did find the book clever, filled with novel imagery and good at explaining Christian concepts (like, say, the Trinity).

I did, however, read the book with a sort of mission: I was curious how the Christian depiction of G-d would match up with my Jewish experiences. Discarding the obvious differences (like the presence of Jesus), at first there seemed to be a fair bit of alignment. Both the Christian and Jewish perspective talk about our limited vision as people to understand events. But, as the book delved deeper, I could definitely detect a major split in philosophy.

I'd really need to read the book a couple more times to fully grasp what the author was driving at, but it seems like his key message was that we should strive to embrace a sort of active passivity with G-d. That is, the goal is to have a relationship with G-d and you can only achieve this by giving up worldly pursuits. Taking action, even embracing organized religion or laws, only serves to put up barriers between you and G-d.

Jews, on the other hand, are all about action. Instead of looking at ritual as something that harms your relationship with G-d, we look at it as something which enhances it. We eat certain foods, celebrate certain holidays, give money to the poor, etc. because we think this puts on the right track to living the correct life.

But, the idea of action goes just beyond traditional religious life. In a number of places, the book laughs off the foolish idea of "people playing G-d" - what could be sillier, right? Which of course, brings me to one of my all time favorite Rabbincal answers:

Regarding the question of whether man has the right to play G-d, as in many instances of genetic engineering, some claim that it is wrong to play G-d. The Jewish perspective, however, is that since man was created in the image of G-d regarding intelligence, morality and free will, he is intended to be G-d’s partner in creation. To that end, G-d intentionally left the world incomplete in order to involve man in its betterment and refinement. Therefore sickness, poverty and other suffering need not be accepted passively. On the contrary, it is G-d’s will that man intervene to improve the world.

From the Jewish perspective then, not only is it not wrong to play G-d, but we are actually supposed to play G-d to the extent that doing so will benefit and improve the world and humanity.

So, while the Christian response to a tragedy might be to redouble one's faith in G-d, a Jew would do this and look for ways to help improve this world. In the case of a child murder, John Walsh is an excellent role model.

All, in all, though, it was a good read. If you're a Christian, I could definitely see how this could help connect you with your faith. And if, like me, you're just curious - you'll have an interesting read ahead of you.

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