Friday, August 29, 2008


The Consequence of Role-Reversals
in The Shack

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

To whom would you liken Me,
And make Me equal and compare Me,
That we should be alike? . . .
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me . . .
—Isaiah 46:5, 9, NASB

In his chapter “A Breakfast of Champions” (By the way, I like WHEATIES too!), The Shack’s author, Paul Young, places these words in the mouth of the Holy Spirit, Sarayu, as she addresses Mack, the allegory’s main character:

“Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or ‘great chain of being’ as your ancestors termed it. What you are seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power.” (The Shack, 122)

The Shack is big on relationships. Forty-odd times the author employs the word “relationship(s).” Indeed, one of the strengths of the story, though perhaps overdrawn, exaggerated, and even at points, profaned, is the emphasis upon “relationships” between the allegorical members of the trinity and Mack.

But to understand the covert message of the book we need to look at the overt picture of God drawn by the author as we ask the question, from whence might Paul the author have derived his image of the goddess? As we proceed, we shall look at pieces of evidence to see if, in goddess religion, there exists any resemblance to “Papa-Elousia,” the first member of the polymorphous trinity in The Shack. We shall attempt to connect the dots to discover where the author’s picture of God might be “sourced.” And then, seeing how The Shack’s composite picture of deity is linked to “goddess-ism,” we will address the potential implications of such theology for those who might seek to cultivate a relationship with the feminine-divine. In developing the implication of goddess-ism’s invasion into the Christian faith, we will employ the Apostle Paul’s paradigmatic description of the fall into apostasy and idolatry in Romans 1:19-32. Generally, the Apostle describes the deconstruction of God to come in three phases.


Allow the obvious to be stated at the outset. The Shack is a work of fiction, a work of imagination. For reason of the caricature of God contained in it, does the “it’s-only-fiction” excuse thereby exonerate the book from the charge of heresy? For a number of reasons, I don’t think so. First, by their very definition, idols are but fictions. As the Apostle Paul warned, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables [Might we legitimately paraphrase, fictions?]” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, KJV).

Second, apocryphal, pseudepigraphical, and Gnostic writings are mostly fiction, but are venerated by many. Just because literature is fiction does not mean that it does not carry spiritual clout. Yet, no book in the Protestant Bible is of the fiction genre.

Third, stories often attempt to underscore and strengthen real perceptions. The story of The Shack may represent the manner in which the author struggled with and worked through his disappointments in life. If the explanation and solution are real to him, then we might presume that they will be real to others who have suffered similar experiences in life.

And fourth, imagination is the spawning ground for idolatry (Romans 1:21). Idolatry is thinking wrong thoughts about God, and those thoughts begin when people play mind games with God. Ideas have consequences. So with this in mind, we proceed to look at where Young’s goddess image might be sourced.

The Black Madonna

“Relationship” becomes most evident when “Papa” (a.k.a. “Elousia,” the black goddess) enfolded Mack—haunted by his Great Sadness—into his/her arms and gently invited him to

“Let it all out.” In this poignant moment of emotional catharsis, the story records that Mack, “closed his eyes as the tears poured out . . . He wept until he had cried out all the darkness, all the longing and all the loss, until there was nothing left.” (The Shack, 226).

Thus his “relationship” to the feminine-divine restored Mack to emotional wholeness, something his temperamental and churlish earthly father would have been incapable of helping him with, and by implication, any purely heavenly-Father. This may explain why Paul Young paints God in the image of the feminine-divine. He thinks the image of a mother god can offer solace and comfort to humanity in ways that God the Father is incapable, at least according to the author’s projection of Him. But in linking emotional succor to feminine divinity, Young appears to have borrowed from the imagination of a pagan storyline.

On a previous Herescope posting,[1] we noted that like Elousia-Papa, “The Black Madonna calls us to Grieve. The Black Madonna is the sorrowful mother, the mother who weeps tears for the suffering in the universe, the suffering in the world, the brokenness of our very vulnerable hearts.”[2] On the emotional level, The Shack’s concept of the goddess might be linked to Black-Madonna spirituality.

“Goddess PAPA”

Bearing striking similarity to Young’s naming of Papa-Elousia in his book, there is also a goddess in the Polynesian pantheon known as, “Goddess PAPA.”[3] Of this goddess it is claimed that,

From Her we find comfort and Care
Of Unconditional Love in Times of Crises and Grief
Her intervention instills calming reassurance and Healing
All can call upon Goddess Papa for Guidance . . . [4]

As to name, nature, and nurturing potential, Young’s feminine “Elousia” bears an uncanny resemblance to the “Goddess PAPA” of Polynesian lore. Hmm . . . we can only surmise whether the author might have derived his concept of “Papa-Elousia” from Polynesian paganism, or from places thereabouts?[5] However, there may be more evidence connecting Young’s feminine-divine caricature to the feminine-divine of pagan mythology.

“The Breasted One”

In this regard, the following dialog, I think, sheds additional light upon where Young’s goddess-ism might be sourced. In defending his caricature of God as feminine, and as they discussed the role of anthropomorphisms in describing God, this exchange took place between a talk-show host, Matt Slick, and The Shack’s author:

SLICK: They [various Old Testament writers] know he [God] doesn’t have a nose and nostrils.
YOUNG: Sure, we know that he’s not male or female. So every use of imagery of God as male is just as inadequate as every use of God as female. Sure, we know that.
SLICK: Well, actually that’s gonna come and get you here in a minute.
YOUNG: So—so he is male? You have a God who is male?
SLICK: I didn’t say that. Why does God refer to himself and Jesus refer to him as Father?
YOUNG: Well, why is he called El Shaddai, which is “the breasted one”?
SLICK: Well, that’s nice. But, why is he called the Father? And why is the Son [interrupt]?
YOUNG: Because it’s relational.
SLICK: What kind of relationship?
YOUNG: It’s the relationship of Father and Son.[6]

Added to his apparent allusions to the Catholic Black Madonna and the Polynesian Goddess PAPA, the author again appears to have projected into God a quality derived from a radical-feminist perspective; namely, that El Shaddai means “the breasted one.” But where might Young the author have derived such an idea about God? Does the meaning really reside in a name for God that’s in the Bible?

The name “breasted one” appears to be sourced in feminist spirituality. In Part One (“The Feminine Divine in the Hebrew Scriptures”) of her book, Delighting in the Feminine Divine, Bridget Mary Meehan, states that, “D.F. Stramara translates El Shaddai (a name for the Divine in the Hebrew Scripture as ‘God the breasted one’.)”[7] But for several reasons, the inference that the divine name El Shaddai means “breasted one” is ludicrous. It is a meaning pulled out of thin air. It is an imagined meaning.

First, Shaddai is a masculine noun! If it referred to a goddess, then we would expect the noun to be feminine in gender. Second, Shaddai is a singular noun. If the noun meant “breasted one,” then we would look for it to occur in the plural. Third, the Hebrew name Shaddai is of uncertain origin.[8] Nevertheless, no standard lexical authority suggests the idea of “breasted one” being the etymological base from which this name for God is derived. Fourth, to be constructed to even remotely resemble a meaning of “breasted one,” a second letter “d” (Hebrew, dālet) needs to be added (Though Shaddai possesses two “d’s” in the English transliteration, it possesses but one “d” (Hebrew, “dālet”) in the original text (i.e., Sha-dai).[9]

And finally, if the meaning “the breasted one” be accepted, then it might be considered—God forbid—that Artemis-Dianna, the many breasted goddess of Ephesus, was a type of Shaddai! If with her many breasts Artemis is Shaddai–like, then Paul the Apostle needlessly stirred up controversy at Ephesus when he preached against the goddess in that ancient city (See Acts 19:23-41.). Painting God as feminine for reason of importing a foreign meaning of “the breasted one” into Shaddai is an irresponsible leap into the interpretive dark. Yet, by Young’s own admission, that, in part, explains why he painted God to be “Papa-Elousia” in his spiritual allegory.


After identifying El Shaddai as “the breasted one,” Meehan becomes a “spiritual director” and recommends the following “Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion”:

“What new insights or understandings about God do you discover through this image? What images of God come from your reflection on women’s sexuality? How do you feel about these images? What images, feelings, insights express your experience of your sexuality?” [10]

Set against the backdrop of this spiritual director’s advice, the Apostle’s description of idolatry becomes vivid. He states: “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man [woman?] . . .” (Romans 1:22-23a). Images . . . image, is the composite picture continuing to emerge?


But there is a final question asked in the book, Delighting in the Feminine Divine: “How does your sexuality affect your spirituality?”[11] At this juncture, we must note where the answer to this question might lead. Wrote the Apostle, “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them” (Emphasis mine, Romans 1:24).

This whole degrading process may be tracked back to Israel’s Egyptian captivity and the subsequent post-exodus worship of the golden calf (Ezekiel 20:7-9; Exodus 32:1-35). After their divine deliverance from Egypt, the Israelites imagined they needed “a god” to feel close to, one who was present with them and not some unseen and distant deity who either wouldn’t or couldn’t meet their needs.[12] So in Moses’ absence, they told Aaron, “Come, make us a god who will go before us . . .” (Exodus 32:1, NASB).[13] So under Aaron’s supervision, they collected valuable jewelry which was then smelted and molded into the image of a golden bull, symbolizing the power they felt was needed for their provision and protection in the wilderness.

But failing to “feel” the divine nearness to them [Idols cannot provide that, ed.], the Israelites decided, as they did with making the idol, to stimulate what they felt would be a divine presence. The Scripture records their worship turned sexual as they “rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6b; Compare 1 Corinthians 10:7-8.). The Hebrew word for “play” (tsachaq) possesses a sensual meaning as when Abimelech observed Isaac “caressing” (tsachaq) Rebekah, or when Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of attempting to make sexual “sport” (tsachaq) of her (See Genesis 26:8; 39:14, 17.). The Israelites were “completely given over to their desire.”[14] As to this developing situation, a commentator remarks, “The people themselves assume control . . . a religious orgy has begun.”[15] Israel’s idolatry led them to impurity.

Similarly, where might an imagining of the feminine-divine lead us? Remember . . . ideas have consequences. Might The Shack actually be painting an image of God that if embraced, could lead to a spiritual infidelity that will contribute to the demise of the relationship between people and God? Could an infusion of the feminine-divine into the collective psyche of many contemporary Christians actually stimulate, cultivate, and facilitate the entrance of idolatry into the church?

To be continued, Lord willing. . . .

The Truth:

"And ye have done worse than your fathers; for, behold, ye walk every one after the imagination of his evil heart, that they may not hearken unto me." (Jeremiah 16:12)

1. See Pastor Larry DeBruyn, “THE SHACK, ‘Elousia,’ & the Black Madonna”.
2. Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox, “The Return of the Black Madonna: A Sign of Our Times or How the Black Madonna Is Shaking Us Up for the Twenty-First Century,” Friends of Creation Spirituality, January 2006, Article Number 8.
3. The Wahine ’o Wānana Institute, “Hawaiian Goddesses, Goddess Papa,” Powers That Be.
4. Ibid.
5. In making this comparison, we can only note that William Young, having spent part of his life in what is now Indonesia, might have been familiar with the spiritualities indigenous to the Pacific.
6. See “Matt Interviews author of ‘The Shack’,” Wednesday, July 09, 2008.
7. See Bridget Mary Meehan, Delighting in the Feminine Divine (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1994) 20.
8. “The designation ‘Shaddai,’ which some think is the oldest of the divine names in the Bible, occurs 48 times, 31 of which are in Job. The traditional rendering ‘God Almighty’ is debated. A consensus of sorts holds that ‘shaddai’ is to be traced, not to the Hebrew, but to an Accadian word that means ‘mountain’ so that the expression produces a meaning like, ‘’El the One of the mountains.’ If so, El Shaddai highlights God’s invincible power.” See Elmer A. Martens, “God, Names of,” Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, Walter A. Elwell, Editor (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996) 298.
9. “El Shaddai as the breasted God,” SansBlogue.
10. Emphasis mine, Meehan, Feminine Divine, 20.
11. Ibid.
12. Carl Schultz, “1560,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Volume 2, R. Laird Harris, Editor (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980) 644. Schultz thinks that the constructed calf might “have been a symbol of God’s presence” among the Israelites. In this regard, I must compare the number of self-confessed evangelicals, not content to walk by faith, are bent upon inducing the presence of God in order to “feel” Him. I only ask, can such spiritual discontent become a spawning bed for idolatry of goddess worship? Seemingly, it did for the Israelites. After all, sexual feelings are some of the strongest possessed by humanity. The New Testament describes the pagan world as characteristically driven by the sensate, by lusts and desires (Romans 13:14; 1 John 2:16; 1 Peter 1:14; Jude 18). There is great danger therefore, when feelings, not faith, drive God’s people.
13. Ibid. Schultz also notes that the name for God (plural, elohim) might have been employed by the Israelites “in a pagan polytheistic way.”
14. U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Israel Abrahams, Translator (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, 1967) 420.
15. Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus (Philadelphia; The Westminster Press, 1974) 566.

Pastor Larry DeBruyn is the author of Church on the Rise: Why I am not a Purpose-Driven Pastor. This article used with permission.