Face-to-face with the Triune God

Avraham Aviv Alush, Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer and Sumire Matsubara star in The Shack. Photo: Jake Giles Netter/Lionsgate Films
Published March 8, 2017


The Shack
Directed by Stuart Hazeldine
132 minutes
Released March 2017
Rated PG-13

The Shack is the film adaptation of the novel by William Paul Young about a man who is stricken with grievous pain over the sudden loss of his child. He descends into what he calls “The Great Sadness,” and its dark pall threatens to unravel his family and his faith. How can we reconcile the worst things in life with our faith in a loving God? Life inevitably brings with it bitter losses: they cause us pain, and sometimes it feels unbearable. It’s bad enough if illness or accident steals a loved one from us; but what if human evil does so? It’s a question as old as man’s inhumanity to man, a question that was doubtless murmured in the death camps of the Holocaust, in the killing fields of Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia, and in the misery of today’s Syria, Iraq, Yemen and South Sudan. And not just in faraway lands: violence, abuse and neglect are as close as our own communities. Wherever man’s wickedness causes torment, enslavement, injury or death to another, we cry out: How can God allow this? Why does he not intervene on behalf of the oppressed and victimized?

In The Shack, a family is robbed of their youngest daughter when she is taken from a campground. The pain that her disappearance causes her family closes them off from love and hope. As the child’s father, Mackenzie (Sam Worthington) blames himself for failing to protect her. A cryptic note draws him back to the mountain shack, where the crime occurred. The note is signed “Papa,” the affectionate term Mackenzie’s wife, Nan (Radha Mitchell), uses to refer to God. Something-is it a glimmer of hope or the last gasp of despair? -takes Mackenzie back to the mountain. Winter suddenly turns to summer, a dilapidated ruin becomes a spacious home made of hewn logs and nature is in full bloom. There he meets “Papa,” in the form of a jolly black woman (Octavia Spencer); her son (Avraham Aviv Alush), a Jewish carpenter who greets the newcomer as a long-lost friend; and an ethereal young woman (Sumire Matsubara). They are, in fact, the film’s depiction of the Holy Trinity-Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And their purpose is to help Mackenzie free himself from the sadness, anger, guilt and grief that threaten to drown him.

Their revelations are as gentle as their welcome is warm. How refreshing to see God presented as our loving parent (and, through Jesus Christ, also as our sibling)-a parent who loves each and every one of us unconditionally, respecting our free will while seeking to share his love. The film asks why bad things happen to good people. Its answers to that mystery may not be complete. Neither may its homey portrayal of God be all there is about God: majesty, awe and reverence are put aside in favour of companionship and the ultimate familial bond. But there is food for thought here, and considerable comfort-in bringing God down to earth in a way that makes him accessible and familiar. The film’s awkward moments pale in comparison to its touching ones-and in its warm depiction of the God of love.


John Arkelian is an award-winning author and journalist. Copyright © 2017 by John Arkelian.


  • John Arkelian

    John Arkelian is an award-winning author and journalist.

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