THE DIVINE-HUMAN RELATIONSHIP
Part 2: The Consequence of Role-Reversals
in The Shack
THE DIVINE-HUMAN RELATIONSHIP
In a little book, The Language of Canaan and the Grammar of Feminism, Vernard Eller noted that, “the God/man relationship is to be understood primarily under three figures—each of which castes God in a clearly masculine role.” Those three metaphors are “(a) husband and wife (or lover and beloved); (b) father and child (normally ‘children’ or ‘son’); and (c) king and people . . .” In these figures Eller states, “God is masculine—and must be for the figure to work.” Again, as the human race relates to God’s masculinity, “Man is a woman—to put it in a way that is linguistically maddening and yet biblically true.” This starkly contrasts to the way in which The Shack's* author, William Paul Young, presents God.
As the Bible pictures God as masculine and the aggregate of His people as feminine, let’s look at the biblical metaphor of “husband and wife,” the “overlay of power” attendant thereto, and explore how role-reversal might affect that relationship.
In the Old Testament, Israel is known as the “wife of Jehovah,” and in the New Testament the church as the “bride of Christ.” Intimating that He was Husband to that nation when they broke covenant with Him, the Lord predicted His relationship with them would be restored. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord” (Emphasis mine, Jeremiah 31:31-32, KJV). Jeremiah pictures the relationship between HUSBAND YAHWEH and WIFE ISRAEL.
Again, Jesus told a story about a wedding in waiting. He likened Himself to be the GROOM. He compared the people for whom He was coming to be His BRIDE—a coming that, though announced and expected, was going to be abrupt and surprising (Matthew 25:1-13). The Apostle Paul further develops this marriage metaphor when, after setting forth the guidelines for intimacy in the marriage relationship, he said, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32).
Thus, “husband” is a chief metaphor by which God explains His relationship to His people. The figure of marriage connotes the most intimate of “relationships”—the former involving Israel being the Lord’s partner, and the later the church being His promised. The marriage figure is richly endowed with the image of the divine masculine (initiation, wooer) and the human feminine (response, wooed). Such is the nature of divine grace. To invert the relationship creates a spiritual climate in which people can easily initiate creating their own gods and goddesses, and making their own rules (i.e., legalism) by which they, because of their actions, expect to control God and cause Him to react favorably to them. People become manipulators instead of worshippers.
Can the creation of a feminine-divine image as pictured in The Shack impede, even damage, the relational-potential between people and God, something polar opposite from what readers testify the book has done for them? Can this happen when the story invites people into a surreal-spiritual world? Yes it can, for that is how imagination and idolatry relate to each other. But you might be asking, how? We would answer: By projecting femininity to the Trinity in a role-reversal that is opposite from what the Bible depicts the divine-human relationship to be.
Eller comments upon the biblical relationship between God and His people: “It is not wide the mark to say that, in Yahwism, the human race plays the role that goddesses play in the religions of dual-gendered deity.” He continues,
This means that the biblical faith has built into it a much higher anthropology than is possible to any the pagan faiths—and let it be said, an anthropology that not only fully includes women but actually is biased toward the feminine. Consequently, we ought to be very cautious about falling for the temptation our biblical predecessors so valiantly resisted, namely, moving the feminine principle into the godhead and thus jeopardizing the great anthropological (and feminist) advantage scripture had already given us.
The above quotation may need clarification on one point; that goddess-ism is something “our biblical predecessors . . . valiantly resisted.” The fact of the matter is, the vast majority did not valiantly resist the temptation posed by idols. Only a remnant did (1 Kings 19:18; Romans 11:4-5). The Old Testament is littered with examples of idolism in which worshippers projected their gods to be goddesses too. The Lord tells Jeremiah that, “The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out libations to other gods in order to spite Me” (Jeremiah 7:18, NASB). The name “queen of heaven” may refer an aggregate of feminine deities extant in the ancient world—Isis (Egyptian), Astarte (Phoenician), Ishtar (Assyrian and Babylonian), Ashtoreth (Canaanite), Anat (Canaanite), and others. The implication of such a relational role-reversal lies at the base of demonic experiences, idolatrous practices, and false religion.
In The Shack’s relaxed, give-and-take, and schmoozing atmosphere created by Young, the biblical roles between people and God are reversed. Mack becomes quite comfortable initiating, and the goddess quite comfortable responding. The author also injects sensuality into Mack’s relationship with the feminine-divine. On two separate occasions—once with the sensual Sophia (the personification of Papa’s Wisdom), and then later with Sarayu (the Holy Spirit)—he experienced kundalini–like ecstasy. Young records that when the sensual Sophia spoke to him, “Mack could almost feel her words rain down on his head first and melt into his spine, sending delicious tingles everywhere. He shivered and decided that he never wanted to speak again. He only wanted her to talk, to speak to him or to anyone, just as long as he could be present.” (The Shack, 153) Then later with Sarayu, Mack “distinctly felt her presence in the tingle down his spine.” (The Shack, 195)
“GODDESS-ISM” IN ANCIENT ISRAEL
Though feminine idols permeated the religions of ancient civilizations, and though its ideology may have secretly simmered amidst a mass of Israelites since the Egyptian captivity (Ezekiel 20:7-8), goddess-ism seems to have gone public in Israel when introduced by King Solomon. In a turnabout, the same king who had constructed and dedicated the Temple that would house the presence of Yahweh (1 Kings 6:1-38; 8:1-9:9), built worship centers “before Jerusalem” to house, among other idols, images to the goddess Ashtoreth of the Sidonians (1 Kings 11:1-8; 2 Kings 23:13). In his later life, and for reason of his possessing hundreds of wives and concubines [The historian presents the king as an aging playboy, ed.], Solomon’s sensual bent turned his heart unto other gods and goddesses. The sensuality of the king’s adultery led him into idolatry.
To be continued, Lord willing. . . .
"My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away." (Song of Solomon 2:10)
16. Vernard Eller, The Language of Canaan and the Grammar of Feminism, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982) 37. In analyzing the literary implications of Young’s creation of goddess-ism, Eller’s “An Excurses on the Unity of God in the Language of Canaan,” was most helpful (37-44).
17. Ibid. 38.
18. Ibid. 37.
19. In the context of God as husband and Israel as wife, we note the phrase “to go a whoring” (Exodus 34:15-16; Deuteronomy 31:16). In acts of spiritual adultery/idolatry, some of which involved physical liaisons with cultic prostitutes, both female and male, God is ever pictured, in spite of Israel’s infidelities, as the faithful husband. The phrase “go a whoring” is “almost never used to describe sexual misconduct on the part of the male in the Old Testament.” The reason for this emphasis is that the “term is used most frequently to describe ‘spiritual prostitution’ in which Israel turned from God to strange gods.” See Merrill F. Unger and William White, Jr., “TO GO A WHORING, BE A HARLOT,” Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament (Nashville; Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980) 467-468.
20. Raymond C. Ortland, Jr., remarks that, “God is a perfect ‘husband’ to his people, our sins really are a betrayal of him, and thus a moral category exists for which the image of a harlot is a reasonable fit. . . . [W]hen God’s love is primarily in view, our ‘harlotry’ is a meaningful description of our rejection of his love for the love of others.” See author’s Whoredom, God’s Unfaithful Wife in Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996) 183.
21. Illustrating the initiation-response relationship between male and female, and though in our culture this has changed and is changing, in marriage the man usually initiates (i.e., proposes) and the woman responds (i.e., either accepts or rejects the man’s proposal).
22. “They attributed their lack of plenty to the discontinuance of honor they paid to the goddess.” In other words, the goddess did not respond because they did not initiate. See Vine, W. E., “Queen of Heaven,” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell) 1981. Online Logos Library System.
23. In The Shack’s Front Matter, one enthusiast remarks, “Finally! A guy-meets-God novel . . . When I read it, I felt like I was fellowshipping with God.” (Mike Morrell, zoecarnate.com) In that Morrell was worshipping “with God,” I can only wonder who or what God might have been worshipping. The remark of the enthusiast would better have read “worshipping God.” I recognize that William Paul Young may sincerely be attempting to promote the relational understanding between God and people. I say “may” because only God knows his intent. However, as evidenced by the connection of the caste of characters to goddess-ism, the author may have additional agendum.
24. Eller, Language of Canaan, 40.
25. Ibid. 40-41.
26. Eller, wrongly I think, remarks that, “under the pressures of Canaanite Baalism, Israel failed (or refused) to accept any hint or tinge of such dual-gendered deity.” (Ibid. 40). The histories (Kings and Chronicles) and the prophets indicate this was not the case. Both Israel and Judah, as this paper shows, welcomed Baal-Asherah with open arms.
27. We can only note how in the Word of Faith movement, the game of name-it-claim-it, how God becomes the responder as man becomes the initiator.
28. See Pastor Larry DeBruyn, “THE SHACK, ‘Elousia,’ & the Black Madonna”
*The Shack by William Paul Young (Windblown Media, 2007).
Pastor Larry DeBruyn is the author of Church on the Rise: Why I am not a Purpose-Driven Pastor. This article used with permission.