Mack is shaken awake just before dawn by a kindly looking man with a silver ponytail. He realizes it is Papa, who says that he thinks this morning Mack will need more of a father figure. Mack dresses in hiking clothes that Papa has left for him and heads to the kitchen.
By shifting appearances to resemble a father, Papa demonstrates again that he uses changes in physical appearance to help Mack understand underlying attributes of God. In this case, he wants to demonstrate that God can be a fatherly presence, and more, broadly, that a relationship with God can offer what each person needs at different times.
Sarayu gives Mack a tightly rolled pack, filled with aromatic flowers and herbs that Mack and Sarayu picked the day before. Jesus says he will give Mack a gift when he returns. Papa makes Mack some breakfast, and he eats before following Papa outside. They grab a shovel and a pick.
Sarayu, Jesus, and Papa all work together to prepare Mack for the difficult day ahead, demonstrating the way that the trinity can work together in concert since they are all components of God.
Papa and Mack begin to walk down the trailhead. Then, Papa starts leading them on an unofficial path through the trees, marked occasionally by a red arc inscribed on a tree or stone. Mack thinks about how much he has healed after such a short time, and realizes he still has so many questions. One lingering question is how Papa could have allowed Missy to die. Papa explains that he could have averted Missy’s death by never creating life in the first place, or by actively interfering in her circumstance. The first was never a consideration, while the second was not an option for reasons that are beyond Mack’s understanding. He adds that while he didn’t purposely cause Missy’s death, he can use it for good. Mack says he still doesn’t understand but now, he trusts Papa.
Mack still has difficulty understanding how God could allow tragedies to happen. His old perception of God as cold and uncaring has been mostly dispelled, but this confusion lingers. Papa explains again that evil derives from human independence even though God may eventually find purpose to derive from that evil. Although Mack doesn’t fully understand, he has relinquished enough of his own independence to trust that Papa is right.
Papa and Mack arrive at a rocky shale clearing. Papa says that, before he shows Mack their destination, which will be painful, he wants to take away one more thing darkening Mack’s heart. Knowing what Papa means, Mack begins to cry, asking how he can ever forgive Missy’s killer. He wants justice, or at least revenge. But Papa says Mack must forgive the killer so that Papa can redeem him. In order to forgive, Mack doesn’t need to forget what happened, or let go of his anger. But he will be able to let go of his own pain. Papa says Missy has already forgiven her killer because of Papa’s presence in her. Weeping, Mack says out loud that he forgives the man. He feels lighter and more alive.
Mack has been able to shed most of the judgment he once carried, but he still harbors heavy resentment for Missy’s killer. Not only is holding onto this judgment that is keeping him removed from God, but it is also a personal barrier to his healing, because it keeps his pain and grief unresolved and tied to retribution against the killer. Papa convinces Mack that forgiving the killer will help him to feel closer to God and begin healing his own pain. Note that such forgiveness does not free the killer from God’s judgment, but rather frees Mack from trying to take on the role of God.
Mack goes to walk back to the cabin, but Papa says they still have more to do. He says they are going to bring Missy home. Mack begins to cry again, thanking Papa and apologizing for crying. Papa says not to discount the healing and joyful power of tears.
Mack is embarrassed by the intensity and inconvenience of strong emotions. But Papa, like Sarayu, reminds Mack that these emotions serve extremely vital purposes and should not be a source of shame.
Papa and Mack follow the trail to a pile of rocks blocking off a cave. Together, they clear the rocks and crawl into the cave entrance, heavy with the scent of decay. They come to a small body covered in a decaying sheet. Mack realizes the purpose of Sarayu’s gift, and unwraps the scented mat. Papa wraps Missy’s body inside, and they exit the cave as Mack says “I forgive you” under his breath. Before they leave, Papa places a rock with the red arc marking by the mouth of the cave.
Faced with the epicenter of his grief, Mack is both literally and figuratively armed with the tools to confront Missy’s death. Just as Sarayu’s gift helps him to carry her body, his newfound forgiveness for Missy’s killer helps lessen the weight of judgment and pain that he associated with her death.