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The Shack

Certification: 12A Running time: 132 minutes
A Summit Entertainment release 2017
Director: Stuart Hazeldine

Starring Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Avraham Aviv Alush, Radha Mitchell, Alice Braga, Graham Greene, Tim McGraw, Sumire, Amélie Eve, Megan Charpentier, Gage Munroe.

I have been in two minds about William Young’s bestselling story The Shack since reading the book when it was first published. The book and the film both begin with the same opening line: “Who wouldn’t be sceptical when a man claims to have spent an entire weekend with God – in a shack, no less?” This gets to the heart of the issue; the story grabs our attention but does stretch our credulity.

The Shack will be a marmite film for evangelicals; it will not be everyone's cup of tea culturally or theologically. 

It does, however, face up to the complexity and agony of human pain. It also communicates well the reality of a God who draws near to us and identifies with our pain.

Sam Worthington, who plays the main character Mack, makes the helpful observation about losing someone we love: “If you look at it in a very simple way, the ?lm offers a beautiful message that if you forgive the tragedy that hits your life, you can actually get through it. It may be extremely painful and take a long time, but forgiveness releases you, it sets you free.” 

One line in the film that struck a chord was when God said to Mack: “When you concentrate on the pain, it is harder to see me.”

I understand why some of the odder theological insights infuriated conservative evangelicals; it is important to remember, however, that the book is not attempting to define the Trinity but to tell a story. In some ways, the visual impact of the film makes the dance of the Trinity clearer. When Mack meets the Trinity, he asks: “‘Which one of you is God?’  ‘I am,’ said all three in unison. Mack looked from one to the next, and even though he couldn’t begin to grasp what he was seeing and hearing, he somehow believed them.”

There is a raw authenticity to the story, that dares to name our human sorrow, and inches toward believing that God is interested in us. The film leaves room for a God who both intrigues with mystery but also comes up close and personal. The main message – that life is a mess but God can mend the broken heart – is clear.

From a cinematic point of view the film is well conceived, faithful to the book and well-paced, it has top drawer actors, and is set in the beautiful Oregon countryside. My son has been studying in Oregon, so when I saw the breathtaking Oregon scenery, complete with the spectacular Multnomah Falls, I was hooked.

The Shack is worth seeing and recommending as a potential bridge-builder for the gospel.

Some might find parts of the film overly American and sentimental, but you would need a heart of stone not to identify with the searing pain of loss it depicts, or the liberating hope it holds out to those who respond to the seeking God with humble trust.

John Woods is pastor of Lancing Tabernacle in West Sussex.

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