Over the next couple of days, Mack drifts painfully in and out of consciousness as his family and doctors attend to him. Vague memories from his time at the cabin drift into his mind, but it’s difficult to tell if they’re simply drug-induced dreams. On the third day he awakens to find Willie by his bedside, gruffly reprimanding him for getting so hurt. In a whisper, Willie asks if God was really at the cabin. Suddenly, memories of the weekend coming flooding back with clarity. Mack tells Willie that God is everywhere, so of course he was at the shack. But he also reveals that God said he was particularly fond of Willie. Overcome with emotion, Willie leaves.
Mack is eager to share his new insights into the true nature of God with Willie, who previously held many of the same mistaken assumptions about God as Mack did. Mack reveals his new deeply held belief that God is with all humans at all time, and therefor can never abandon them. By explaining God’s special love for Willie, Mack also shows that he now believes that just as people can form strong personal relationships with one another, God forms special relationships with each person.
When Nan returns, Mack is fully conscious and smiling. She says he was in an accident on Friday night, and he realizes that somehow, his whole experience in the cabin didn’t take any time in the real world. He confesses everything to Nan, and asks for her forgiveness for lying. At first she chalks his story up to the accident, but slowly she begins to feel it must be real because it’s so vivid.
Mack has become more comfortable with confessing when he has done wrong and asking for forgiveness, because he realizes that holding on to guilt and judgment prevents him from forming healthy relationships. That in the “real world” Mack’s car crash took place on Friday suggests that he never even spent his weekend with God, and that his entire experience was just a kind of “dream” after the accident. Earlier in the book, Mack asked Jesus about whether they were “really” interacting, and Jesus responded that it didn’t matter because the truths he was learning were real. Now the book puts Mack in the position to doubt whether what he experienced really happened. But he doesn’t doubt at all. He trusts in God.
Nan agrees to find a time for Mack and her to talk to Kate alone, on Mack’s request. Holding Kate’s hand from his hospital bed, Mack tells Kate that Missy’s death was not her fault and that no one blames her for what happened. Sobbing, Kate says she thinks it is her fault for distracting her father’s attention in the canoe and thinks that her parents believes this as well. Mack says none of them meant for it to happen, and they’ll work through it together. Kate runs from the room crying, but Mack wakes up later to find her sleeping by his side. Seeing he is awake Nan tells him that she believes his story. Her words feel incredibly important.
Like Mack, Kate is initially reluctant to acknowledge the deep feelings of guilt underlying her grief at the loss of her sister. But when Mack pushes her to explore those difficult feelings, to let them out, she reveals her own fears — that her parents were in fact judging her— and begins to feel better. Kate’s change shows that it is sometimes necessary to examine negative feelings rather than suppressing them in order to begin healing, and once again shows the way that forgiveness leads to forgiveness, and connection to connection.
After about a month of healing, Mack and Nan call officer Tommy Dalton to set up a hike near the shack. Although he doesn’t believe the story of Mack’s weekend, he agrees to go with them. Together, they follow the trail of red arcs through the woods, just as Mack described. Eventually, they make it to the cave, and Mack realizes that Papa carefully placed the last rock there because he knew Mack would need to find it later. Now convinced, Tommy says they will notify forensic specialists and law enforcement. Experts soon descend on the scene, and recover enough evidence to both find and convict the killer, and to track down the burial places of his other victims.
The real-life resolution to the mystery of Missy’s death and the bringing to justice of her killer suggests that God does indeed take a personal interest in Mack’s life, and that his newfound trust in God is not misplaced.