How do we know for sure whether God is loving and gracious, or cold and distant?
I understand that you had some input on the story-line of the book the Shack. I have read the book and watched the movie. Do you think that is who God really is? It just seems too good to be true on so many levels. I know some people struggle with the Old Testament God versus the gracious Jesus. However, for me even Jesus seems a little cold and distant in ways when I read about Him in the gospels. Nothing really like the Jesus in the Shack. I’m not sure how to change my mind about the religious beliefs I’ve had for so many years. I still have a hard time believing that God is that good.
I love The Shack, and, yes I did help in the collaboration that produced the book and movie. Is that who he really is? That’s the best the three of us—Paul Young, Brad Cummings, and myself—could come up with, but I’m sure it falls way short of expressing all that he is. I keep discovering in my growing relationship with him that he is more loving, more gracious, more patient, and more powerful than I can conceive.
If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to read He Loves Me. I published that book almost a decade before I got involved with The Shack, and it is a great way to explore the theology behind our collaboration. You’ll find some phrases pulled directly from that book became part of Mack’s story as well. I don’t know where you’re getting “cold and distant” in the Gospels, but when I see him with Peter and John, the woman at the well, Zaccheus, Mary of Magdala, Nicodemus and others, I’m touched by his tenderness and patience as he invites them into the transformed life of following him.
At the same time, please be assured that knowing who he is doesn’t come from making conclusions out of reading books or even the Gospels. I value the Scriptures, but they alone can’t teach us who he is. Look how many different conclusions various traditions come up with about God from reading the same book? Some see him as a demanding deity, always disappointed in the failures of humanity. Others see him as an amorphous blob, uninvolved in humanity’s story. I see him as a gracious Father, rescuing his children from brokenness and transforming us over time to take on his glory.
How do we know for sure who he is? He is his own person and he has presence in the universe. He wants to show you and in fact has been doing so since before you were born. Unfortunately we find it too easy to block him out in pursuit of our own ambitions or trying to manage our own pain. But whoever turns back toward him, he will begin to make himself known again. Ask him to show you. It is this revelation of Christ that gives us confidence in his nature, and sets us free. The Scriptures show us how we can open our hearts to him, but they invite us to follow him. As we do, we can then check back what we’re learning to make sure we are still inside what Scripture revealed of his purpose and nature.
Jesus wants to show himself to you. But don’t expect a blinding light from the closet. Let him soak into your consciousness as you simply look for his fingerprints in your life. What is he saying to you in your worst moments? In your best? What is his demeanor toward you even when you fail? What is he nudging you toward or warning you to back away from? These are all knowable, though it takes some time to let that relationship develop. God knows how hard it is to see that through the religious lens you’ve been given. And he’ll be patient to show you. This is a big deal, letting the God of the universe soak into our consciousness where we grow increasingly aware of God-With-Us!
So, to answer your question, the Jesus I know is way better than the one we wrote about in The Shack, and at the same time he is marvelously consistent with what I read in the Gospels as well.
Ask him. Watch every day for the little ways he seeps into your consciousness. Be patient. He’s really good at this.