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Eric D. Carlson
Associate Professor of Physics

The Shack

Date Reading Leader Topic
Foreword to
Chapter 4
Eric Carlson Why is God so mean?
Chapters 5 and 6
Christine
Fischer
Trinity and the nature
of God
Chapters 7 to 10
Eric Carlson Does God limit her
powers?
Chapters 11 to 13
Eric Carlson Who are we to judge?
Chapters 14 to 16
Eric Carlson Love and forgiveness
Chapters 17 to
Afterword
Eric Carlson And in conclusion . . .

January 11

I. Author and Title

  • Author
    • How much of W. Paul Young do you think is Mack?
      • Compare pages 7-8, and perhaps page
    • What events in his own life helped him write this book?
  • Title
    • What does “the Shack” represent to the author?
    • Why did God choose to invite Mack to return to the Shack?

II.   Symbolism:  The Ladybug

  • A ladybug appears on the cover, and twice in the book
    • See pages 26 and 49-52
  • How do ladybugs defend themselves?
  • What’s the significance of the Ladybug’s color?
    • Missy’s favorite color, crayon, and red dress
    • Can something be beautiful whose apparent purpose is not beauty?
  • Where does the name “Ladybug” come from?

III. Symbolism:  The legend of Multnomah Falls

  • Compare with the Christian story:
    • Similarities?
    • Differences?
  • Is there a universality of message?  How does the Jesus story translate to other people and cultures, who possibly have never heard of him?
  • Why is a sacrifice necessary to “appease” the Great Spirit?  Why does it have to be a princess?
  • Does God accept the innocent in lieu of the guilty?

IV. Links with Information

January 18

  1. How might you react if you received a message inviting you to meet with God? What kinds of reservations or qualms might you feel?
  1. What kind of welcome did Mack get? (p.82-83)
  1. How did you react to the Trinity (as described in The Shack)? (p.86-87)
    • God as an African American woman [Papa, Elousia (Gr. tenderness)]
    • Jesus as a Middle Eastern man wearing a tool belt
    • The Holy Spirit as the vaguely feminine, diaphanous Sarayu
  1. What might have been better choices for these characters? How would you represent theTrinity in a fictional work?
  1. Because Mack grew up being abused by an alcoholic father, he has a hard time feeling good about biblical references to God as Father. “Maybe it’s because I’ve never known anyone I could really call Papa,” Mack says. (p.91) God appears to him as Papa, who is a woman. (also p.92-94)
  1. Do you agree with Papa when she responds to Mack’s questioning of feeling God-forsaken when she says, “Will you at least consider this: When all you see is your pain, perhaps then you lose sight of me?” (p.96)
  1. The three as one:  “I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely the one.” (p.101) … “I am love.” (p.101) … “You understand,” she continued, “that unless I had an object to love – or, more accurately, a someone to love – if I did not have such a relationship within myself, then I would not be capable of love at all? You would have a god who could not love.” (p.102)
  1. Quote from Jacques Ellul’s Anarchy and Christianity: “No matter what God’s power may be, the first aspect of God is never that of the absolute Master, the Almighty. It is that of the God who puts himself on our human level and limits himself.” (p.88)
  1. “This weekend is about relationship and love.” (p.102)
  1. Mack is intrigued by Papa’s (God’s) choice of music. “So God listens to funk?” (p.90). Mack was expecting “something churchier.” Consider and discuss.

January 25

I.    Does God limit Her powers?

  • Read p. 106, par. 1 to p. 107 par. 0
  • Do you think God can/does deliberately suppress knowledge?
  • Why do we tell God things when we pray?
  • God seems to mostly choose not to act – is this the way God behaves?

II.   Is God wrathful?

  • Read I Sam. 15:1-3
  • Read p. 119, par. 3 to p. 120, par. 2
  • Does God punish sin?
  • Is sin its own punishment?
  • Is punishment as retribution justifiable?
  • Is punishment as deterrence justifiable?

III. What kind of relationship does God want with us?

  • Read p. 122, par. 6 to p. 123, par. 0
  • The trinity is described as co-equal, with no part being in charge.  Does that seem sensible to you?
  • Does God want a relationship with us where neither side is in charge?

IV. Why doesn’t God keep people from doing evil?

  • Read p. 124, par. 9 to 125 par. 2, also p. 127 par. 2-3
  • Is it possible God can make good out of everything?
  • Should we never oppose evil, since God can fix it?
  • Should we trust God to make things come out right, always?  See p. 126, par. 1-2

V.  Is man’s sin responsible for all the pain in the world?

  • Read p. 132, par. 1 to 4 (three sentences), p. 135, par. 1
  • Is the universe entirely about us?  Read p. 133, par. 1
  • Where does moral responsibility lie for natural disasters?
  • What about animals?  Papa befriends a Jay p. 97, but eats birds p. 105

February 1

I.    Who are we to judge?

  • Read p. 158 par. 4 to p. 159, par. 4
  • Do we have to feel superior to judge someone?
  • How do we judge justly?

II.   What judgment do we make against God?

  • Read p. 160 par. 5 to p. 161 par.6
  • Is man able to judge God?  Read Job  38:1-7, and Job 42:1-6
  • Who is to blame for sins?  The individual?  The person who twisted them?  Adam? God?
  • Justice vs. mercy?

III. Who should go to hell?

  • Read p. 161, par. 10 to p. 162, par. 6
  • Does God judge us?
  • Could God send us to hell?  If he has a choice, would he?

IV. Is there a better way?

  • Read p. 165, par. 3 to par. 7
  • God says Missy didn’t have to die.  Did Jesus have to die?  Or was there a better way?

V.  Is God always with us?

  • Read p. 173, par. 0 to par. 6
  • What do we mean when we say God is always with us?
  • Why does God not intervene when we need him?

VI.What is the meaning of church?

  • Read 179 par. 4-7
  • Do you share Young’s cynical views of church and other institutions?
  • VII. Is Christianity the only way to God?
  • Read p. 182, par. 1 to par. 6
  • Is Christ the only way?
  • Are there false roads?  Can they lead to God?

VIII. Could/Should God intervene?  Ever?

  • Read p. 190, par. 1 to par. 2
  • Is it always better for God to choose not to intervene?

February 8

I.    Does God want us to follow rules?

Read p. 202 par. 8 to p. 203 par. 2

  • Compare/contrast Matt. 5:17-20 and Matt: 12:1-8
  • Should we try to follow rules?  Do rules make us better people?
  • If we find morality from God, what role do rules play?

II.   Could/should God intervene in this world more?

Read p. 222 par. 1 to par. 2

  • Is it possible that God should not intervene in the world more?
  • If God can do anything, why must there be a terrible cost for reconciliation?
  • Can we truly trust God that all evil things will have a good ending?

III. Mack and his father – does Mack need forgiveness?

  • Mack apparently killed his father, see p. 8 par. 2 and p. 38 par. 4
  • Is his father’s death justified?  Was Mack wrong to kill him?
  • Read p. 214 par. 7 to p. 216 par. 0
  • Is reconciliation as simple as this?  Did his father repent?

IV. Mack and Missy’s killer

  • Read p. 223 par. 8 to p. 227 par. 10 (I know, it’s long)
  • Should we forgive those who have not repented?
  • Does it harm us to not forgive?
  • Does the harm of wronging one another ever really go away?
  • Do we harbor resentment unnecessarily?

February 15

I.    What would go on your coffin?

  • Read p. 231 par. 2 to p. 232 par. 2
  • Why do you think the ladybug pin was included among the decorations?
  • Comments on Mack receiving closure from recovering Missy’s remains

II.   Thought’s on Missy’s poem/prayer

  • Read p. 233  par. 1 to 4
  • “Wind” or “breath” are common synonym for “spirit” or “soul”
  • Why does the prayer ask the “wind” to “take my breath”?
  • Why do we “dance among the tombs”?

III. Mack’s choice

  • Read p. 234 par. 5 to par. 9
  • What would you choose, and why?

IV. Kate and Mack’s sense of guilt

  • Read p. 235 par. 8 to p. 236 par. 1
  • Mack and Kate blame themselves for the loss of Missy.  Clearly, neither was to blame
  • Do we blame ourselves for things we haven’t done wrong?  How do we overcome false guilt?
  • What about things we have done wrong?  How do we overcome guilt?

V.  What’s the real world?

  • Read p. 237, par. 2-3
  • Which is the real world?  To confuse the issue:
    • Missy’s body is still there in our world (p. 246, par. 4)
    • A rock that God moved remains moved in our world (p. 246 par. 2)

VI. Why do you think Young had the accident occur?

VII. The murderer

  • He is caught, partly as an effect of God’s intervention
    • Why didn’t it happen earlier?
    • Does God act this way?
  • Mack wants to see his daughters murderer, presumably to forgive him.  Is this appropriate?

VIII.  The book – any final thoughts on this book

Last updated February 14, 2009



for questions or comments, contact ecarlson@wfu.edu
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