I read “The Shack” several years ago, shortly after it was published. It was an instant best seller, and I was anxious to read it.
I wasn’t prepared for the way it affected me. Toward the end of the book, I was overwhelmed by the powerful message of God’s love and forgiveness. I was at home alone, reading in my recliner, my dog sitting at my feet. Without warning, the power of God’s love and forgiveness overwhelmed me. I started weeping, then sobbing. I am not sure what it touched within me, but it was a powerful emotional moment. My dog jumped into my lap to comfort me.
So, I was anxious to see the movie.
The movie followed the book even though cinema always falls short of imagination. Nevertheless I enjoyed revisiting the portrayal of God as infinitely loving and forgiving. Although the real message of The Shack, it seems to me, is not about God, but about us. We need to forgive one another. We need to stop judging one another. Jesus clearly taught these truths in Luke 6.
But, as we left the theater, I felt disturbed. Something seemed to be missing.
Like most people, I like to think that everyone goes to Heaven, that there is no judgement and there is no hell. This seems to be the message of The Shack: “It doesn’t matter how you live, what you believe, or what you do, God forgives all his children and we all go to heaven.”
But this isn’t the message of the Bible. No one warned us more clearly about judgement and hell than Jesus.
Jesus told the story of a rich man who lived selfishly and lavishly and a poor man named Lazarus who suffered abject poverty. When they died the rich and selfish man suffered hell while the poor man went to heaven. Suffering in torment the rich man begged that Lazarus might be permitted to bring him a sip of water to cool his tongue in his agony. “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ (Luke 16:25-26).
We cannot excuse our actions based on how we may have been mistreated by others. We are all ultimately accountable for what we do and what we say. “It is appointed to man once to die and after this the judgement.” (Hebrews 9:27).
We have all sinned. We have all done things we should not have done. We have judged others and we have been angry without cause. We have spoken words that will condemn us when we stand before God. This is why God stepped into the gap and sent His Son, not only to teach us a better way, but to pay the penalty for our sins. “But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).
God has made provision for everyone to go to Heaven. But we must accept His offer of forgiveness. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3).