It was probably a dozen years ago when I first read the Shack. I loved the book and the message of forgiveness worked some much needed healing in my life. I vaguely remember some small dust ups of controversy back then but was able to set it aside since the book was in fact fiction and all of the theologically questionable things actually happened during the course of a dream – and we all know how weird dreams can be.
Fast forward to present day and my wife and I went to see the movie based on the book and, as before, we loved it and embraced the main message of the movie being the necessity to deal with forgiveness. It was also true that a couple of the theologically questionable things came through a bit more in the movie.
The two events which left me with some questions as to what Paul Young actually believes were when Papa seemed to be shocked that Mackenzie made a reference to a vengeful God and towards the end when Mackenzie’s dad is included in a large group of people presumed to be those who have passed on and are in the congregation of a heaven of sorts.
Actually there was one other thing that really bothered me and that was the fact that anybody, and I mean anybody other than Morgan Freeman was used to play the role of God. I am going to choose to believe it was because his fee simply too much for the films budget. But in all seriousness, I had no problem whatsoever with God being portrayed as a warm and affectionate black woman nor an aging American Indian. I know that some, maybe many, took special exception to the whole God as a woman part and to those I have a couple of things to say. God is portrayed as many things in scripture to include Father, mother hen, spirit, a flaming bush, strong tower, nursing mother, wind, judge, comforter, cloud, pillar of fire, etc. etc. Hopefully you get the point that to think that you know what God looks like is, well, frankly, arrogant, narrow and religious. I have read and heard all the arguments and most of them go something like this “God is most often portrayed as male” or “isn’t He called Father for a reason?”. The thought that our finite minds could even begin to visualize all that God is and all the forms that He has manifested or described Himself as during this incredibly short blink of an eye moment called world history is shallow at best. What percentage of the image of God is the form we call the human male? 50%? 100%? 1 billionth of a percent? Do you really think God can be condensed down to a form so contained, controlled and simple as to be a something we could replicate in wood, stone or gold? I don’t think so.
So what does Paul Young believe? Actually, a lot of what I believe! But with all the questions and discussions about error, universalism and issues about hell I decided to buy his most recent book, “Lies we believe about God”, and dug in. It is crystal clear, in this book, that Paul Young has gone all the way down the road of universalism. Here is a short excerpt from the book and I promise you that I am not taking it out of context.
“God does not wait for my choice and then “save me.” God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. Now our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence.
Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation?
That is exactly what I am saying!”
Paul has also embraced a similar view of hell as Rob Bell in which there is no eternal physical punishment. I do not presume to know for certain who will be saved or what hell is or isn’t. But I do know that I do not want to be in the position of that person mentioned in scripture for whom it would have been better if he had never been born because of leading people astray. The appeal of all being saved is significant as I have many friends who I love and who do not follow Jesus and the thought of them not being in heaven is not pleasant and the thought of them experiencing eternal physical punishment is horrific. But I cannot but continue to exhort them that Jesus is the only way and that to choose any other path will result in serious eternal consequences. As a visual, to promote a Gospel message in which the broad road and the narrow pathway ultimately converge in heaven could be the greatest deception and disservice to humanity ever put forth. This would of course give little incentive to choose the hard and narrow road over the broad and easy one. To put it another way, there really does appear to be a special place in hell for those who lead other away from the narrow way. Brings a whole new sobriety to the saying “better safe than sorry, really really sorry.”
In closing this blog, I can freely encourage you to read the Shack or watch the movie and embrace the message of forgiveness while at the same time understanding it is fiction. Unfortunately, I must also place several chapters in Paul Young’s most recent book in the fiction category as well. May God be merciful to Paul and those who are led astray by him and other like him.