The Shack... God the Father as a black woman

The Shack... Theological Feature: God the Father appears as a large black woman.

How did you feel about this very important element of the story? Young states his rationale for it on p. 93. God transcends maleness and femaleness, and he can appear in any form he chooses. So what if he chooses to appear as a woman, or even a minority woman? Can he not do that? Of course he can. Besides, Papa states in the book that the image of God as an old man who looks like Gandalf is a stereotype. He explains, “And this weekend is not about reinforcing your religious stereotypes.”

Comments: True enough. God created us male and female. God has revealed himself as a Father figure, but he is not limited to maleness. In fact, the Bible does use motherly images to refer to God (Deut 32:18; Ps 131:2; Isa 42:14; Isa 66:13). Even so, the God of the Bible is consistently masculine. There is no way around this fact. God reveals himself in Scripture as Father, Husband, Shepherd, Warrior, etc. Maybe God was doing this in order to reach a Hebrew culture that was decidedly patriarchal. What about our culture? Many would argue that our culture is shedding the last vestiges of its patriachal character, and we are ready for a God who transcends gender. Perhaps. It introduces an important question -- how much do we alter the picture of God that is given in the Bible, in order to connect with our culture?

Young takes creative and theological license with the female appearance of the Father. He is not flouting orthodox Christian theology, but he is being purposefully provocative. Not surprisingly, some people love it, and others are repelled by it. If we look at The Shack as a fiction story in which God is doing something that is theologically possible, then we can relax a little and enjoy the story. Still, the consistent message of the Scriptures is that even though God could reveal himself in any number of ways, he tends to stick to some familiar patterns that are mostly but not strictly male. Thus, it would be good for us not to get carried away with presenting God in any and every form he could possibly take. However, it would also be good for us not to have a knee-jerk reaction to the Father appearing as a woman in Young’s story.

Connection to Postmodern Culture: The postmodern world stresses seeing the feminine as being equal in value to the masculine. Embracing paradox and mixing metaphors is also distinctively postmodern. That is precisely what is happening when God the Father appears as a minority woman for most of the story. (Note that Papa appears as a man in the last part of the story.) Our younger generation is eager to get past the stereotype of God as an old white man with a flowing beard. Good! But any presentation of God that overturns biblical images too radically runs the risk of wandering far from a connection with the God of the Bible. In the end, we have to wonder: is any theology that disconnects people from the Bible really going to help them?

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