I borrowed this book from our good friends Ryan and Carrie on Sunday, and I’ve been reading it since then. As with all books or “information,” I’m reading this book not to simply acquire more information, or simply to be able to lay it down and sum it up either by “good” or “bad” or “meh.” I’m engaging in a practice I call “reading for change,” which is the practice of attentiveness to how a book provides insight into life; how it challenges or confirms my hunches about life. “Does this book help me come to terms in a deeper way with the brokenness, or hope, or beauty, or darkness, or pain, or hope that this world contains?” is a question I keep present along the way. And while The Shack isn’t excellently written, it’s raw and authentic to human experience. I appreciate that. And I appreciate the conversations between the main character and God.
The following is a dialogue between the main character (Mack) and a representation of God (Sarayu) that I found illuminating. I’ll highlight the parts of importance as I see them.
(Sarayu says) “When something happens to you, how do you determine whether it is good or evil?”
Mack thought for a moment before answering, “Well, I haven’t really thought at that. I guess I would say that something is good when I like it-which makes me feel good or gives me a sense of security. Conversely, I’d call something evil that causes me pain or costs me something I want.”
“So it is pretty subjective then?”
“I guess it is.”
“And how confident are you in your ability to discern what indeed is good for you, or what is evil?”
“To be honest,” said Mack, ” I tend to sound justifiably angry when somebody is threatening my ‘good,’ you know, what I think I deserve. But I’m not really sure I have any logical ground for deciding what is actually good or evil, except how something or someone affects me.” He paused to rest and catch his breath a moment. “All seems quite self-serving and self-centered, I suppose. And my track record isn’t very encouraging either. Some things I initially thought were good turned out to be horribly destructive, and some things that I thought were evil, well, they turned out…”
He hesitated before finishing his thought, but Sarayu interrupted. “Then it is you who determines good and evil. You become the judge. And to make things more confusing, that which you determine to be good will change over time and circumstance. And then beyond that and even worse, there are billions of you each determining what is good and what is evil. So when your good and evil clashes with your neighbor’s, fights and arguments ensue and even wars break out.”
“I can see now,” confessed Mack, “that I spend most of my time and energy trying to acquire what I have determined to be good, whether it’s financial security or health or retirement or whatever. And I spend a huge amount of energy and worry fearing what I’ve determined to be evil.” Mack sighed deeply.
“Such truth in that,” said Sarayu gently. “Remember this. It allows you to play God in your independence. That’s why a part of you prefers not to see me. And you don’t need me at all to create your list of good and evil. But you do need me if you have any desire to stop such an insane lust for independence.”
“So there is a way to fix it?” asked Mack.
“You must give up your right to decide what is good and evil on your own terms. That is a hard pill to swallow; choosing to only live in me. To do that you must know me enough to trust me and learn to rest in my inherent goodness…evil is a word we use to describe the absence of Good, just as we use the word darkness to describe the absence of Light or death to describe the absence of Life. Both evil and darkness can only be understood in relation to Light and Good; they do not have any actual existence. I am Light and I am Good. I am Love and there is no darkness in me. Light and Good actually exist. So, removing yourself from me will plunge you into darkness. Declaring independence will result in evil, because apart from me, you can only draw upon yourself. That is death because you have separated yourself from me: Life.”