A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Finding God in the Shack - Session #3

This morning, my Thursday bible study continued a study on the best selling novel, "The Shack." We're using the resource, "Finding God in the Shack" by Roger E. Olson which examines the approach the novel takes in explaining how a good, loving, and all powerful God can allow suffering and evil in the world and a creative approach to understanding the doctrine of the Trinity.

Here are the highlights from today's session:
  • The author points out that "The Shack" does a good job of keeping the reality of evil and the Christian future hope of new creation in tension. I like his term for this - "optimistic pessimism."
  • "The Shack" affirms the doctrine of total depravity which says that all of humanity is infected with sin and we are totally dependent on God to rescue us. My bible study spent some time discussing how reformed theology emphasizes predestination and how Wesleyanism allows for free will with the understanding of God's grace as prevenient. Prevenient grace is the grace that God stirs within us which invites us to accept God's offer of grace/salvation. The key difference with reformed theology is that Wesley didn't believe that grace was irresistible. Even though God stirs prevenient grace within us to provoke a response, we still have the choice to accept or not accept God.
  • I loved the G.K. Chesterton quote that says, original sin is the only empirically identifiable doctrine of the Christian faith. LOL!
  • We also discussed that to help us think about the problem of evil from a Christian understanding, we need to see the bible as a whole story which includes five parts: 1) Creation 2) Corruption 3) Covenant 4) Christ 5) Consummation. A big thanks to a bible study member who helped us think of the word "corruption" to keep us consistent with words that begin with the letter "c!" In other words, this overall look at the biblical story of God's salvation history helps us to see that while evil is a real and present reality in our world, God will eventually judge evil once and for all and God will renew all of creation when heaven descends upon earth completely.
  • One of the good points made in "The Shack" is that we can't point to one experience or person in placing the blame for evil. Evil is woven throughout all of humanity. I shared with my bible study the famous line that says, "throw a rock in the air and you're bound to hit someone guilty."
  • "The Shack" helps us to not see God as angry and filled with wrath as some people have been known to portray God. Jesus helps us to see who God is. If Jesus was willing to die on a cross for the world, God must be filled with a lot of love, not anger!
  • We talked about hell as being a place for people who refuse to be the creator God's image bearers in the world. When we fail to be God's image bearers in the world, (that is people who are filled with love, mercy, and righteousness), we fail to be human.

More on "The Shack" next week.

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