The Shack


William P. Young

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The Shack: Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

As Mack makes his way to the lake, he realizes that The Great Sadness is no longer a part of him—after all, Missy would not want it to be. He meets up with Jesus, who is skipping stones. Jesus explains that the woman in the cave was Sophia, a personification of Papa’s wisdom. She is not a separate persona of God but a part of Sarayu’s mystery. Mack and Jesus talk about whether any of the conversations at the cabin and the lake are “real,” or simply taking place in dreams. Jesus assures Mack that either way, the truths he’s learning are extremely real.
Beginning to talk about the source of his grief has already helped Mack to move on, because he can examine the underlying logic behind his emotions. Realizing that his daughter would not want him to hold onto his pain helps him begin to move on. As Jesus points out, these emotional revelations will have a real and lasting impact even if the circumstances under which they come about are fantastical.
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Mack says he can’t stop thinking about Missy alone and terrified in the truck. Jesus stops him and says Missy was never alone—he, Sarayu, and Papa were with her the whole time. Jesus says he and Missy talked during that time, and Missy was calm, worrying only about how her father would feel. Mack feels himself begin to sob, but he doesn’t feel alone. He feels a sense of relief.
Jesus helps confront a lingering misconception that Mack holds about God: Mack believes that God sometimes abandons people in times of need, and that he abandoned Missy when she was kidnapped. But Jesus corrects this misperception, telling Mack that all three incarnations of God helped Missy during her kidnapping. God is not cold and removed from humans during times of tragedy, but a source of comfort. While God cannot intervene—because doing so would limit humanity’s option to choose—God never abandons.
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Mack begins to walk into the lake without hesitation, trusting that he will be able to walk on the water as before. Instead, he is surprised to see the water well up around his calves like usual. But unlike before he knows Jesus is there, so he doesn’t have to worry. Sure enough, Jesus soon joins him, and, with Jesus buy his side, Mack rises up out of the water and is able to walk on the surface. Jesus says Mack has been keeping dark fears inside him for a long time, because it feels safer. But, as Mack learns to accept the love of God, they will join him on his life’s journey and help him to be less alone. Jesus says he, Sarayu, and Papa have been trying to show Mack the truth about Missy for a long time, but he wasn’t ready to receive it.
Just over the course of the afternoon, Mack has already learned to be more trusting of God. Before, he tried to imagine what would happen if he plunged into the lake, or get angry at God for not allowing him to walk on water. But now, he trusts that God will care for him, showing that Mack is choosing to be less independent from God. Turning towards God in this way will not only allow Mack to be less afraid of the future, but also ready him to accept important truths, like the fact that Missy was never abandoned by God.
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When they reach the dock on the opposite shore, Mack asks if he was seeing Missy in heaven, even though it didn’t resemble the pearly gates and gold-plated heaven he had envisioned. Jesus says that that image of heaven is derived from an image of Jesus’s bride, the church. Mack says the image of the church as a beautiful community of individuals forming a spiritual city does not align with his experience of church, and Jesus agrees that Mack is referring only to the institution of church, not the community of people who symbolize the church for Jesus.
Mack has never felt close to God before this weekend, even though he was brought up in the church. One reason for this is that the church serves to mediate the relationship between people and God, which can create distance rather than bringing them together. The church as people like Mack know it is an imperfect human creation that does not reflect the ideal relationship between people and God. But Jesus defines the church not as an institution or rules and rituals, but as a community of believers. Jesus’s description makes church a web of relationships of love.
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Jesus says that the way to become part of the church is by embracing relationships and sharing life. Instead, people have formed bureaucratic institutions that have nothing to do with Jesus and are even contrary to his purpose. The creation of institutions, like marriage, politics, economics, and religion, are simply the works of humans playing God, and don’t represent Jesus’s actual intentions. These systems provide a false sense of security.
Jesus further explains the ways in which the relationship between God and people is tainted by the institution of the church. The church as an institution infects this relationships with hierarchies and power, which are antithetical to loving, open relationships. Ideally, people should strive for a loving relationship with God instead of becoming distracted by the bureaucracy of the church.
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Mack feels much of the conversation going over his head, but he wants to try to understand. Jesus explains that in order to live a full life of friendship and openness, humans need to embrace Jesus—otherwise, it would be like trying to walk on water without him. As they stand up from the dock, Jesus tells Mack that even though many institutions and systems of power created by humans are inescapable, he can help Mack find freedom from them by opening himself up to love. Mack can be in the world but not of it. Jesus heads back to his workshop, with a final word to Mack, telling him that letting Mack see Missy earlier was Papa’s idea. Mack goes into the shack to try to find her.
Jesus returns to the idea that it is necessary to try to establish a close personal relationship with God, founded on trust rather than the rituals of the church. By making this personal choice to have a loving relationship with God, humans can circumvent the corrupting influence of power dynamics and institutions, even though those hierarchies are everywhere and impossible to completely escape.
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