Sunday, September 07, 2008

MORE THAN METAPHOR

Part 3: The Consequence of Role-Reversals
in The Shack


By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

...[W]ith 3.8 million copies of his Christian novel "The Shack" in print, Young is being hailed as a theological innovator, his book the "Pilgrim's Progress" of the 21st century....

In "The Shack," a man named Mack, grieving over the murder of his daughter, is called by God to the scene of the crime. There he meets—there is no delicate way of putting this—the Trinity. The Father is an African-American woman named Papa who likes to cook. Jesus is a Jewish man wearing a carpenter's belt. The Holy Spirit is an elusive Asian woman named Sarayu. Together, over a long weekend, these characters force Mack to face his anger and his emptiness. Mack eats delicious feasts; with Jesus, he takes a walk on the water. Finally, God convinces Mack of his deep and everlasting love. "I don't create institutions," says Jesus in "The Shack." "Never have, never will."
--"A Close Encounter With God." Lisa Miller, Newsweek, 8/30/08



Solomon’s personal involvement with and public initiation of idolatry at the end of his reign influenced the spirituality of Israel and Judah for generations to come. The common biblical description of Israel playing the harlot with the pagan (i.e., earthly) idol-gods of the surrounding nations is, I believe, more than a metaphor.[29]

As religion, the feminine goddess Asherah (or, Ashtoreth) was fully a part of Baal worship, she being the female consort of Baal.[30] This male-female divinity (i.e., Baal-Asherah) typifies the pagan idolatry where, as one study Bible notes, the “deities symbolized generative power, [and] their worship involved prostitution.”[31]

As ritual, the intent behind religious prostitution was perhaps threefold: one, that worshippers could derive pleasure as they indulged their selfish lusts; two, that by engaging in the primal act by which the continuum of life is perpetuated, they could, in acts of imitative magic, somehow stimulate “the womb of mother earth” to open thereby increasing the fertility of their flocks and crops; and three, that they could, for reason of ecstasy derived from the sexual liaison with a body representing a god or goddess, experience their personality, however fleetingly, become mystically fused with the divine.[32] Thus, ritual prostitution involving males and females became a common occurrence at the many high places constructed “before Jerusalem” and throughout the nation (Jeremiah 3:6).[33] At this juncture of the discussion, we should note a call from some that, in advocating New Age/New Spirituality, “We must allow ourselves whatever time it takes to reestablish the consciousness of the Sacred Prostitute.”[34]

In spite of the outward repression of idolatry by reforms like those initiated by the youthful King Josiah (circa 622 B.C., 2 Chronicles 34:1-7), it has been noted that the idolatrous cancer “was deep and flourished quickly again after a shallow revival.”[35] Not even the Babylonian Captivity would cure the nation of its fascination for and playing harlot with the imagined gods and goddesses of the surrounding nations. In fact, the solution to this spiritual pollution awaits the coming of the One who will cure Israel and the world of spiritual harlotry forever (Zechariah 12:10; 13:2; See Micah 4:1-2.).

Obviously, when the image of God is changed into gods and goddesses (Romans 1:23), when poly-gendering generates polytheism, when the sacred/sexual on earth is believed to mimic the sacred-sexual in heaven (as above, so below), when sacred prostitutes become representative incarnations of the gods and goddesses, and when sex becomes a sacrament linking the human to the divine, the dynamic of “relationship” with God changes.[36] Sensuality controls the spirituality, and the divine mystery is reduced vulgar lust (See Leviticus 18:1-19:4; 1 Peter 1:15).

Solomon’s introduction of an idolatry that included the feminine-divine changed the human perception of the relationship of the gods with each other, the people with those gods, and the people with people. As the apostle wrote, God “gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves” (Romans 1:24). With the projection of femaleness into god (Asherah, being Baal’s consort), in theory it became possible for gods to reproduce gods. Like rats, the gods multiplied (i.e., polytheism).[37] As the gods proliferated and Israel created their likenesses on earth, idols flooded the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The prophet described the apostasy:

Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines . . . Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made: And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not (Isaiah 2:6, 8-9, KJV; Compare Jeremiah 2:13, 20; 3:1-10, 13.).

For reason of being influenced by the spiritualities of the East, in which spiritual adultery was exhibited in the people’s sacramental liaisons with male and female prostitutes representing the gods and goddesses, Israel’s relationship with her faithful HUSBAND “hit the rocks!”

“RELATIONSHIP” ON THE ROCKS

Idolism negatively impacted “relationship” among Jehovah’s ancient people in two basic ways—first and vertically, their relationship to the Lord was changed, and second and horizontally, their relationships to each other were affected. Idolatry impacted both the religious life and social stability of the nation.

For reason of playing the harlot with foreign gods and goddesses [As exhibited in the Ten Commandments, they lived in denial of Yahweh’s hierarchical authority over them, ed.], the Lord divorced Himself from the Northern Kingdom of Israel (i.e., the Assyrian invasion and captivity in 722 B.C., Jeremiah 3:6-11). He scattered the nation throughout the ancient world.[38] Like her northern sister, Judah’s pursuit of “relationships” with other pagan gods and goddesses also necessitated her eviction from the land. The Babylonians carried her into captivity circa 586 B.C. The primal cause for evicting both Israel and Judah from the Promised Land was that both sister-kingdoms played the harlot with foreign gods. Openly and unashamedly, they committed adultery with sacred prostitutes of both sexes before their HUSBAND-JEHOVAH. They understood neither the hierarchy of, the authority within, nor fidelity required in their relationship to the Lord (Exodus 20:3). God is not open to an “open marriage” with His people!

But as the spiritual relationship between Israel, Judah, and the Lord broke down, relationships within the social structure of the ancient kingdoms were impacted. Through Isaiah the prophet, the Lord described the state of affairs: “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths” (Isaiah 3:12, KJV). Hypothetically, Israel and Judah were two kingdoms under Jehovah. But in their idolism, the two sister-nations denied God’s authority by creating their own gods and goddesses as concurrently, they broke God’s Law. As a result, the stability of their social structure, as Isaiah communicated, lay in shambles.

The Shack’s thesis—that the Trinity exists in “a circle of relationship,” and that “hierarchy . . . is your [humanity’s] problem, not ours”—is not only biblically errant [Any concordance check of the word “authority” in the Bible will bear this out, ed.], but also spiritually and socially utopian. Any breach in the concept of God’s ultimate authority can lead to spiritual anarchy and social chaos among God’s people. If God, in the governance of family and church, doesn’t rule, and consequently and correspondingly neither do the men, then the women and children will. Thus, to the Corinthians Paul wrote, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:3, NASB). There can be no relationship where there is no responsibility, and there can be no accountability where there is no economy of authority. In fact, one great evidence of the Holy Spirit’s filling ministry among believers is SUBMISSION (Ephesians 5:21). Without faithful self-denial and submission, both relationship and fellowship suffer as imperfect people live on this imperfect earth.

CONCLUSION

Some years ago, a rock singer asked, “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us . . . If God had a face what would it look like?”[39] Thanks to the verbal painting of God in The Shack, some may think they now know what God is like.

As we pointed out, The Shack is big on “relationship(s).” Apparently, to enhance the “relationship” idea for his readers, William Young felt it necessary to inject femininity into the Trinity, a femininity that Scripture neither literally nor metaphorically endorses.[40] But if the femininity of the Trinity becomes ingrained in the collective consciousness of a large number professing Christians, the essential goddess-ism it contains may lead devout souls into versions of spirituality utterly opposed by God and His Word. We must remember verbal paintings can become just as iconic as images carved from wood or smelted from precious metals. Christians should together remember that because, “we are absent from the Lord . . . we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:6b-7).

In our relationship with God, He initiates and we respond in faith. So the question arises, are books like The Shack needed to enhance, even initiate, the feeling “relationship” with God? The answer is, if we have found our spiritual completeness in Christ through faith, they are not (See Colossians 2:10.). The sovereign God will reveal His presence in us as we existentially walk day-to-day trusting Him, obeying Him, praying to Him, witnessing to others, and fellowshipping with believers.[41] By grace through faith, we receive the blessings God gives to us as we become enraptured by His presence with and in us.

We find the experience of faith in the Savior, the Spirit, and the Scriptures. Through Jesus we experience
  • contentment in God. He said, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, satisfaction he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35, NASB). In the Spirit we experience
  • companionship with God. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16; Compare 2 Corinthians 13:14.). From the Scriptures we experience
  • confidence before God. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence which we have before Him” (1 John 5:13-14). By resting in Christ we experience
  • comfort from God, for He has promised, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5, KJV). Such—and much more—is the experiential fruit of our relationship with God, fruits that then extend His blessing to those around us.

Sometime during first part of the 1800s, Catesby Paget wrote a hymn, “A Mind at Peace with God.” The song contained these words describing the closeness to God that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ:

Near, so very near to God,
I could not nearer be;
For in the Person of God’s Son
I am as near as He.

Dear, so very dear to God,
Dearer I could not be;
The love with which He loves His Son,
That is His love to me.

Now, that’s relationship![42] And it’s the relationship of a BRIDE promised to Jesus who is “the true God and eternal life.” And because of the exclusivity of this relationship, John orders,

“Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:20-21).


ENDNOTES:

29. I think that the Bible’s picturing of God as being masculine better represents His asexuality. After all, by themselves males do not have babies. The masculine gender therefore, affirms God’s solitariness (i.e., monotheism) and sovereignty (i.e., authority). Infusing femininity into God deconstructs monotheism by creating a mythological way for gods and goddesses to reproduce (i.e., polytheism). The asexuality of God also possesses Christological implications. It safeguards against the Arian or New Age idea that God’s Son was “birthed” in time (See John 1:1.). God’s solitary masculinity also dismisses any thought that the first “christ” resulted from the conjugation of primal “father and mother” gods, thereby becoming the first-born of all human spirits. Such a myth of primogeniture is believed by many New Age spiritualists and cults.

At this point, I draw attention to a statement by emergent pastor Bob Bell. He writes: “Sex carries within it the power of Life itself. . . . Something given by the creator of the universe. Something divine.” See Rob Bell, Sex God, Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007) 197. Personally, I wonder why Bell accentuates “Life” with an upper case “L” and “creator” with a lower case “c.” It was drawn to my attention that in his book, Tomorrow’s God, Our Greatest Spiritual Challenge, Neale Donald Walsh repeatedly spells “Life” with an idolatrous capital “L” because in one conversation God told him, “The words ‘Life’ and ‘God’ are interchangeable.” (New York: Atria Books, 2004, 69).

I also question whether being “divine” refers to the process of sex, as Bell makes it to, or to the product of sex, males and females reproduced in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). Clearly, in the Genesis account, the persons God created are distinct from the process by which they are to propagate (“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth . . .”). Calling sex divine introduces eroticism into the nature of God, which becomes an interesting make-over for God, especially in light of the fact that most theologians believe He is Spirit and therefore asexual. But eroticism is an essential component of goddess-ism.

Though disclaiming that men and women are, or possess the potential to become, gods, Bell states that, “in some distinct, intentional way, something of God has been placed in them. We reflect what God is like and who God is. A divine spark resides in every single human being.” (Sex God, 19) To what does the “divine spark” refer? Does the implanted “spark” refer to the soul-spirit of a person, or to sex? In that people are either spiritually dead or alive, the “spark” cannot biblically and theologically refer to every person’s soul-spirit (John 3:3-8; Ephesians 2:1-5). Bell’s scheme will only allow that sex is the “divine spark” (As he writes, “Sex carries within it the power of Life . . . Something divine.”). So God has placed a divine “sex-spark” in His creatures, a spark that because of His asexuality, even He does not possess?

Thus, one must wonder whether Bell’s sex construct elevates or degrades the image of God in man, whether it affirms or denies the transcendence and separateness of God from His creation. I myself look at it like this: If it degrades God, then it degrades man. I shudder to think of the perversity that might result from thinking that sex and God belong to the same cosmic and monistic whole—as below, so above. In pagan belief, sex is the spark that excites, ignites, perpetuates “Life” with a capital “L,” and taps into the cosmic Energy with a capital “E.”

In playing to the New Age/New Spirituality now entrenched in our culture, I wonder again, as with his use of “Life” with a capital “L,’ whether Bell found “seed” for his thinking in Sex God from Walsch who wrote: “Mix what you call the sacred with the sacrilegious, for until you see your altars as the ultimate place for love, and your bedrooms as the ultimate place for worship, you see nothing as all.” Quoted by Peter Jones, The God of Sex, How Spirituality Defines Your Sexuality (Colorado Springs: Cook Communication Ministries, 2006) 48. Such a view of sex makes God out to be a sort of “peeping Tom”! I make this crude analogy simply to ask, How far are we willing to reduce God’s holiness to crassness, God’s transcendence to immanence? In this regard, I note the stunning statement of a radical Anglican priest: “Sex is the spirituality that reveals the sacramental richness of matter.” Jones, God of Sex, 47, citing Charles Pickstone, The Divinity of Sex.

30. In Canaanite religion, the goddess Anath was the female consort of Baal. In addition to being Baal’s sister with whom he committed incest, she also served as a prostitute for other gods. As Unger wrote, Anath was “given the epithet ‘virgin’ and ‘the Holy One’ (qudshu) in her invariable role of a sacred prostitute—another illustration of the utter irrationality and moral indiscrimination of Canaanite religion.” See Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954) 173.

31. John F. MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible, (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1997) 1073.

32. In a chapter titled “Sex and Possession,” Sargant writes: “If man is thought to rise to the level of the divine in mystical experience, it has been believed by millions of people that he can attain the same level in the ecstasy of sex.” See William Sargant, The Mind Possessed, A Physiology of Possession, Mysticism and Faith Healing (Philadelphia and New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1974) 86.

On this point, I would note that in sex there appears to take place a union between two persons that is mysterious, metaphysical, and mystical, a transcendent experience that can be thought to, from a pagan point of view, enhance “spirituality.” But the apostle Paul warned, “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh” (1 Corinthians 6:15-16, KJV).

33. “High places housed chambers where male prostitutes and harlots (qedeshim and qedeshot, Heb.) practiced cult prostitution (cf. 1 Kin. 14:23; 2 Kin. 23:7).” See W.A. Criswell, Believer’s Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997) Online Logos Library System by the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies.

34. Deena Metzger, “Revamping the World: On the Return of the Sacred Prostitute,” Anima 12/2 (1986), quoted by Peter Jones, The God of Sex, How Spirituality Defines Your Sexuality (Colorado Springs: Cook Communication Ministries, 2006).35.

35. John F. MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible, (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1997) 1059.

36. In John’s vision of end-time religion, one can wonder at the system’s indebtedness to the divine-feminine as the apostle pictures the goddess holding, “a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication,” and having the name, “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Revelation 17:4-5). One must also note the violent side of ancient goddess-ism and how this woman is pictured as drunk “with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6). Of Anath, the incestuous goddess-sister of Baal, Unger notes that she and other ancient goddesses were “patronesses of sex and war—sex mainly in its sensuous aspect as lust, and war in its evil aspect of violence and murder.” See Unger, Archaeology, 173. My point—ancient goddess-ism possessed a mean streak, and if it did then, it can now, for as the old saying goes, “Hell hath no fury such as that of a woman scorned.” In this vein, Scripture portrays the idolatrous queen and false prophet Jezebel as a murderess and seductress (1 Kings 18:4; Revelation 2:20).

37. It is as if the deities were commanded, “Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the heavens.” Hindus believe there a millions of gods.

38. This scattering has given rise to the myth of “The Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.” But the tribes were never totally lost (James 1:1; Luke 22:30). Nevertheless, by playing the harlot, Israel forfeited her relationship with Jehovah, a forfeiture Israel’s sister, Judah, did not learn from (Jeremiah 3:10).

39. Joan Osborne, “What if God was One of Us?” Lyrics HERE. Performance recorded on YouTube HERE.

40. Obviously, the Father presents a masculine impression to us as does the Son. Over two decades ago, I read an opinion which, supporting feminism, stated theoretically that God’s Son could have been born a daughter—this in spite of the prophet’s contrary prediction (Isaiah 9:6-7). Those who desire to inject femininity into the Trinity, do so by assigning femaleness to a genderless noun, Spirit (Greek pneuma, neuter). But they can only do so by ignoring the fact that Jesus reveals the gender of the Holy Spirit to be masculine. See John 16:13-14, “But when He (ekeinos, masculine gender), the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth . . . He (ekeinos, masculine gender) shall glorify Me . . .” So The Shack’s feminization of the Spirit as Sarayu contradicts Jesus’ masculine gendering of Him.

41. I can only imagine how on this point the super-spiritualists will condescendingly say, “Oh, that’s so quaint and out of date. The fashions of spirituality are changing. Poor fellow . . . his brand of spirituality stands out like a polyester leisure suit of the 1960s. Does he really believe such spirituality is all there is? Give us something new to us, something novel . . . something more.”

42. As Paul the Apostle wrote, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).


Lord willing, this current series on The Shack will be published in a booklet and available for distribution from Discernment Ministries. Pastor Larry DeBruyn will be a speaker at the upcoming Discernment Ministries conference Oct. 10-11, 2008 in Niles, Michigan. Pastor DeBruyn is the author of Church on the Rise: Why I am not a Purpose-Driven Pastor. This article used with permission.