“I am especially fond of you.”
This is the line that has been echoing in my head since I watched the new film, The Shack. It’s also what I remember most about reading the novel eight years ago. Though the book- and now the film- has experienced its share of detractors, no one can argue with this central truth: that God loves us without restraint, and without condition.
Last Thursday, I joined Canadian Christian media personalities for an advance screening of the film, presented by Graf-Martin Communications. It was a special privilege for World Vision to be included in this event, as Paul Young is a longtime friend of ours. Several years ago he was the speaker for our annual Day of Prayer, and I still hear staff speaking of the impact his presence here had.
A universal invitation
Paul’s personal story became a life-changing read for so many people. “Can you imagine, I write a little book for my family, print 15 copies for Christmas, and that story ends up landing in the great sadness of humanity, into our story. It’s such a gentle invitation into the relentless affection of a God that we can trust,” he told us via video.
The film adaptation is set to do the same for a new audience. Produced by those who brought us Life of Pi and The Blind Side, the movie gets so many things right: The cinematography of the natural setting is absolutely breathtaking, and draws you in to the private, reflective world of main character Mack Phillips. The casting of Octavia Spencer as a warm, mothering “Papa” (God) draws you in even more- she had me smiling every time she graced the frame. And the actors’ moving portrayal of life’s beautiful, terrible mess left the entire room in tears.
There were, however, a few distractions for me. Sam Worthington’s Southern accent seemed to slip from his performance after the first few scenes, leaving me wondering how a British man got dropped into this American tale. Then, as with most films based on books, certain dialogues and scenes seemed tacked on just for a cinema audience. Lastly, I found the character of Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) a bit forced. To be fair, portraying a spirit in human form must have been a challenge.
Still, none of these were serious enough to keep me from fully experiencing the true strength of the film: its honest look at the importance and difficulty of forgiveness.
All of us would find it almost impossible, as Mack does, to forgive a man who brutally murdered a loved one. Watching him experience this horror on screen, I recoiled from the idea that he should offer grace to a man who preys on little girls.
Yet, as Christians, that is what God asks us to do. In acknowledging that even his daughter’s murderer could be redeemed, Mack experiences his own redemption.
It reminded me of the response from the Amish parents of the school massacre in Pennsylvania. Their forgiveness shocked us all, because it was completely counter-cultural. No one would have blamed them if they had pursued revenge. But in the end, the grace they offered was more powerful than the hate that took their children.
That grace is at the core of The Shack, shining a spotlight on how much our current political and cultural climate needs it. If we can accept that God loves us without restraint, we must also be willing to accept that God loves our “enemies” just the same.
I came away from the screening realizing that for a long time I have not been considering the humanity and need to be loved of those I disagree with. I needed that wake up.
Bring a friend!
As our host, Melinda Estabrooks, noted at the beginning of the presentation, The Shack is a chance to introduce your friends and neighbours to our faith’s most important concept: grace. Far from shying away from the most difficult circumstances, The Shack meets them head on with wisdom and compassion.
If you’re a fan of movies that bring a little hope into the noise of our everyday lives, I encourage you to attend on opening night, March 3rd, in theatres across Canada. You can find more information at theshackmovie.ca.