Images of God – Reflections on The Shack

DSC09208.JPGA Black woman, a Middle Eastern man and an Asian woman. Sounds like they should be walking into a bar right? 😉 Those figures are how God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit are portrayed in the book and movie The Shack. Although ‘Papa,’ the Black woman, is later portrayed as an American Indian as well.

The Shack is a movie about a man named Mac and his encounter with the divine after the kidnapping and murder of his six year old daughter on a camping trip. It was a best-selling book about a decade ago and was made into a movie last spring. The movie included great theological themes such as death, evil, suffering, redemption, forgiveness, judgement, joy and the nature of God. I could take those themes and preach on one per week for quite a while. This morning, I am going to try and bring together our scripture readings, the movie and images of God and maybe a little bit of white privilege. Wish me luck!

What image or images come to mind when you think of God? Is it always the same? Is it the image that you had as you were growing up? Do you have any idea where those images came from? I, like most people, carry particular images, not only of God but of the people whose stories are written in our Bible. And again, I think like most of us, I really had no idea where they came from. But I found out one day where I got most of my images.

I was visiting my parents and my mother asked me if I wanted a book that I had loved as a child. It was called The Bible in Pictures. I thought that the book was long gone in one of our many moves as an Air Force family, but my mother had found it tucked away in a box. Opening it up was like discovering a lost friend. There they were: all the images from my childhood. Images that I have carried, subconsciously, into my adult life. All wonderful images, but they were a child’s images and a child’s ideas of what God and God’s people are like. And I am no longer a child. Even as I am still a child of God.

And as that child of God, I still am curious and I still explore and I still question. Questions like: Who is this God of ours? What is the nature of this God? How have people experienced God throughout the ages? How is God made known to us in real and concrete ways?

We have traditionally referred to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And as helpful and as compelling as those images are, to me they can’t possibly encompass the entire nature of God. For some, seeing God portrayed as a Black woman or an American Indian could be not just surprising, but shocking as well and perhaps blasphemous as well.

Genesis says that we are created in God’s image… male and female. But the question that I have is this: Do we create God in OUR image? For the new Nazis marching last week in Charlottesville, God is definitely white and male. Which is ludicrous considering that middle-eastern men wrote Genesis. They would have NEVER imagined God as white.

It’s okay to imagine God as an old, white man if that brings you closer to God and provides some sort of comfort and moral compass for your life. Where we run into danger is when we believe that it is the ONLY image of God. And that OUR image of God sums up the totality of God. As if God can be contained by our paltry words and pictures. And God as a white man simply isn’t scriptural.

Yes, there are many instances in which God is referred to as Father… but also many other images such as a baker woman, an eagle, a widow, a fortress, a rock, a king, a wind blowing freely, a nursing mother… and many, many more.

There is a beautiful scene in the movie where the Holy Spirit touches Mac’s eyes to allow him to see what God sees… and across the field there are hundreds of figures of dancing light… all colours… all sizes and he asks, “What am I seeing?” The Black Woman God answers, “They are all my children.”

Just like Paul writes in Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
The outer differences disappear, we are all one.

Towards the end of the movie, ‘Mac’ is sitting around with the Holy Trinity, enjoying a cup of coffee and he asks, “Does anything I do matter?” And Jesus answers him, “Every time you love, or every time you forgive, with every act of kindness, the universe changes for the better. Everything matters.”

Very similar to words spoken by Rev. Desmond Tutu: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

What kind of world do we want children like Rhea (I baptized Rhea this morning) and ALL to grow up in? What kind of world do we want to inhabit? How do we create this world? We can ask ourselves, “How am I contributing to the betterment of the world?” Not just for me and my family, but of the world?” We can ask ourselves, “How have I benefited from the circumstance into which I was born? Whether that is because of our race, our geography or our economic circumstances.” We ask ourselves, “Do I remain silent in the face of hatred and bigotry?” And how can we learn to speak out, even when our voice shakes.

Last week, Heather Heyer paid the price for speaking out at a rally in which she was protesting the neo Nazis. Heather’s father Mark Heyer said his daughter had strong convictions and was passionate about helping people.”She died trying to bring about that purpose,” he told CNN on Sunday. “She was always passionate about the beliefs she held, she had a bigger backbone than I did,” he said.

Her mother said at her memorial service, “They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her!” “And I’m going to be the voice that she can no longer be. You gave us a national forum, and maybe I should thank you for that, but I can’t. I’d rather have my child.”

Frederick Buechener, an American Presbyterian minister and writer says, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

Don’t be afraid. God is with us. Not the promise of a trouble free life, but with us. God is much bigger than any of our human images… and the world needs an expansive idea of God.

I am going to leave you with this story that Ralph Milton, long time United Church person, author of This United Church of Ours, tells about his son Mark.

On his wall, Mark has a poster based on some pictures taken by the Hubble telescope. One frame shows part of the sky we see with the naked eye – the big dipper. In the middle of that big dipper a tiny section of seemingly blank sky, about a quarter inch square, is framed. That is then blown up to about a foot square, and it turns out to be full of stars. In the middle of that picture, again a quarter inch square is framed. That is then blown up to an even larger picture, and again, it is just full of stars.This explanation was given.

If you take a thimble full of sand, the grains of sand in that thimble would be approximately equal to the number of stars you can see with your naked eye. If you then filled up a wheelbarrow full of sand; that would represent about the number of stars you can see with modern telescopes. But if you then filled up boxcars full of that sand, and those boxcars went by at the rate of one every two minutes, and those boxcars went by for a week without stopping, that represents the number of stars in the known universe.

For Ralph Milton, these pictures speak of the mystery and grandeur of God.For me, it does the same. I think we know as much about the nature of God as that thimble full of sand. Maybe a little bit more than that, but not too much. And that might not be the most important thing. Maybe the important thing is that we keep on searching and yearning for God. The God who creates us, the God who walks with us, and the God who surrounds us with love.

Thanks be to God, amen.

Genesis 1:26 & 27
Matthew 28:16–20

August 20, 2017 – Elmsdale Pastoral Charge


4 thoughts on “Images of God – Reflections on The Shack

  1. Yeah, in many ways the way we see God determines our response to him. Father, friend, avenger, refuge are all several expressions of God, like God is so all-encompassing that he has an expression for every stage of life we are in.

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