The day The Shack sold its hundred thousandth copy, it became likely there would be a movie adaption. The day it sold its millionth, it became practically guaranteed. And, sure enough, it comes to theaters March 3, starring Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, and Tim McGraw.
For some time, I have been considering whether I should see and review it. I am quite sure that watching and reviewing The Shack would prove to be a wise business decision. I could get to an early screening, write up a review, and see a nice bump in my site’s traffic. Pageviews are the currency of the Internet and as a blogger I am supposed to base my decisions on what will maximize them. Even better, watching and reviewing The Shack could be genuinely helpful to others. That is especially true if the movie proves to be as deeply flawed as the book. A review might serve to equip people to watch it with discernment or even to avoid watching it altogether.
However, I am far more sure that watching and reviewing The Shack would be an unwise and even sinful spiritual decision. For that reason I will not be seeing or reviewing The Shack. Let me explain why.
The Shack in Brief
I trust you are familiar with The Shack, the book that came from nowhere to sell more than twenty million copies. It is the story of Mack, a man who has suffered a terrible tragedy and whose faith has been left in tatters. But then he receives an unexpected invitation to return to the scene where that tragedy unfolded. In a little shack, he encounters Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each in human form—Papa, an African-American woman, Son, a middle-aged Middle-Eastern man, and Holy Spirit, an eclectic Asian woman who goes by Sarayu. Together, over the course of a weekend, they deconstruct and reconstruct Mack’s faith. He leaves the shack a transformed man. (For more on the book, see my lengthy review.)
The book has a number of theological weaknesses that ought to be of concern to Christians. Some noteworthy theologians have gone so far as to describe it as full-out heresy. At the very least, it contains much that is foreign to the Bible and some that is directly opposed to it. It is probably safe to assume that many of these concerns will appear in the film just as they did in the book. Then again, it is possible that the filmmakers addressed some of those well-publicized concerns. Yet these are not the issues that will keep me from seeing it.
My Foremost Concern
My foremost concern with The Shack—the one that will keep me from seeing it even for purposes of review—is its visual representation of God. To watch The Shack is to watch human actors play the roles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I take this to be a clear, serious violation of the second commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6). I will not see the film, even to review it, because I will not and cannot watch humans pretend to be God.
I will grant that the primary concern of the second commandment is worship. It forbids creating any image of God in order to worship God through that image. Yet the commandment first forbids any visual representation for any reason. Whether that image is used to better worship God or better understand God, the commandment covers it. For our purposes, we can leave aside the issue of representing God the Son as a human figure. Some Christians believe this violates the second commandment (since Jesus is God) while others do not (since Jesus is a man and a historical figure). But to represent the Father and Holy Spirit as human figures is a matter of far greater clarity.
Representing God as Humans
Those who see The Shack will see Octavia Spencer (and, later, Graham Greene) in the role of God the Father. She will be a visual representation of the God who has existed from all eternity, the God who planned and purposed the creation of the universe, the God who foreknew and predestined his people to salvation, the God who was the subject of human rebellion, the God who set into motion a great plan of redemption, the God who poured out his holy wrath on his Son, the God who will declare that the time has come for the great Day of Judgment. Those who watch the movie will see her take on the role of a God who is “a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”
Those who see The Shack will watch Sumire Matsubara in the role of God the Holy Spirit. She will represent the Holy Spirit of God who has existed from all eternity, who was present and active in the creation of all that is, who draws God’s people by the gospel, who dwells within them, who sanctifies them, who comforts them, who sustains them, who preserves them. Those who watch the film will see her take on the role of a God who is equally “a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”
Obviously, no human can do justice to such a role. But the problem is far worse and far more serious. Everyone who watches the film will see a human actor portraying the divine Holy Spirit and in that way have their understanding of the Spirit diminished. To portray the Spirit is to vastly misrepresent the Spirit; to portray the Spirit is to blaspheme the Spirit. The same is true, of course, of the Father. Listen to Philip Ryken as he explains God’s concern in the second commandment.
[Idolatry] created a false image of God that was inadequate to his deity and unworthy of his majesty. God is infinite and invisible. He is omnipotent and omnipresent. He is a living spirit. Therefore, to carve him into a piece of wood or stone [or human flesh] is to deny his attributes, the essential characteristics of his divine being. An idol makes the infinite God finite, the invisible God visible, the omnipotent God impotent, the all-present God local, the living God dead, and the spiritual God material. In short, it makes him the exact opposite of what he actually is. Thus the whole idea of idolatry rests on the absurdity of human beings trying to make their own image of God. An idol is not the truth but a lie. It is a god who cannot see, know, act, love, or save.
God is not a human being. God is not like a human being in any way that can be explained by presenting him in an embodied form. God is so other that any visual representation harms instead of helps our understanding. Even as The Shack uses human beings in an attempt to lead people closer to God, it will actually lead them farther away. It must. J.I. Packer says, “we should not look to pictures of God to show us his glory and move us to worship; for his glory is precisely what such pictures can never show us. … all manmade images of God, whether molten or mental, are really borrowings from the stock-in-trade of a sinful and ungodly world, and are bound therefore to be out of accord with God’s own holy Word. To make an image of God is to take one’s thoughts of him from a human source rather than from God himself; and this is precisely what is wrong with image-making.”
The Shack presents God in human flesh. It makes the infinite finite, the invisible visible, the omnipotent impotent, the all-present local, the spiritual material. In its visual portrayal of God it diminishes, it obfuscates, it blasphemes, it lies. Even though I would watch the film to help others interpret it and to bring correction to error, I would still be subjecting myself to a false, blasphemous portrayal of God. I cannot allow myself to watch it even for that purpose. I cannot and will not watch or review it.