Elousia turns to go inside, telling Mack he can follow or do whatever else he likes. Mack stays outside with Jesus for a moment and asks if he’s supposed to go inside and talk with God, but Jesus says he isn’t supposed to do anything—rather, he should talk to her only if he wants to. After thinking about it, Mack decides that he does want to go inside.
Throughout the course of the weekend, the three incarnations of God will make it clear that Mack is free to do as he chooses. This is both because free will in general is essential to humanity, but also because any conversation or relationship must be entered into freely and by choice in order to be meaningful.
The inside of the shack is just as transformed as the outside. The blood stain by the fireplace is gone, and everything is decorated with children’s artwork. Mack finds Papa in the kitchen dancing to funk music. Mack expresses surprise that she isn’t listening to something more religious, but she says that she listens to all music, and the hearts behind it, because all musicians are her children.
Mack’s relationship with God is filtered through the lens of the church, so he expects Papa to be surrounded by the trappings of religious institutions, but such institutions, The Shack argues, are artificial human creations. Mack has many assumptions about God, including his assumption that God usually works from a motive of vengeance, rather than love. Papa’s statement about musicians suggests otherwise, showing that she takes a personal interest in all humans and operates from a perspective of love.
Mack says he’s having a hard time wrapping his head around calling the woman Papa, and she suggests it’s because he’s never really had a papa of his own—but she could fulfill that roll. Mack breaks, asking how he can trust her to take care of him if she couldn’t take care of Missy. She begins to cry, saying she is especially fond of Missy, and wants to fix the gulf between herself and Mack. She says it will take time.
Mack is confused about how this kind person who seems to care from him—so different from the distant, vengeful God he imagined—could nonetheless have abandoned a little girl in her time of need. Through his questions, he is trying to reconcile his ideas about the nature of God with the unexpected reality before him. He is also, in this moment, unwittingly passing judgment on God by assuming what Papa’s actions were and questioning their motivations,
Mack returns to his first point, saying it’s hard to call her Papa because she appears as a woman. But, she says that it’s important for her to appear this way to challenge his assumption of God as a white man. She says she is trying to prevent him from falling back on his religious conditioning. He realizes that she is helping him to get past his resistance to God by challenging his assumptions.
Pap has assumed a physical form very different from what Mack imagined to prepare him for the parallel fact that many aspects of Her nature and personality are also quite different from what he had assumed. In this way, Papa attempts to combat some of the negative ideas that Mack holds about God. At the same time, these assumptions are informed by the fact that Mack’s relationship to God is confined by what he has learned in scripture and church.
Papa says she knew Mack would come to the shack, and Mack asks if that means he had no choice in the matter. She points out that there are many inhibitors to freedom, from genetics and social conventions to advertising and mental habits. She says eventually, Mack will start to understand what freedom actually is—it’s all about the man out in the woodshed, Jesus.
Papa is all-knowing, so she knows what humans will choose to do, but she maintains that it is important for humans to have the option to exercise free will and choose to do what they think is best.
As she speaks, Mack sees that Papa has scars on her wrists, outlining pierce wounds. She says that what Jesus chose to do cost them dearly, but that they were together during Jesus’s time on the cross. Mack is confused, saying he thought that God had abandoned Jesus while he was on the cross, just like God abandoned Mack. But Papa says she never left either of them.
One of the core beliefs that Mack holds about God before going to the shack is that God abandons humans, sometimes when they need him most—like when Jesus was on the cross or when Missy was kidnapped. But Papa maintains that that isn’t the case, as exemplified by the fact that both she and Jesus have scars from Jesus’ time on the cross. In other words: she was always with Jesus, and suffered with him. The scars challenge Mack’s belief that God sometimes abandons people in their suffering.
Papa opens the window and begins feeding a bluejay. She uses the bird as analogy, saying that the bird is created to fly, and being grounded is just a limitation within that ability. She says the same is true of Mack living unloved—it is just a limitation within his ability to be loved. Pain has metaphorically clipped his wings and prevented him from feeling loved by God.
Over the course of the weekend, God repeatedly emphasizes the importance of love as the basis for all relationships—even and especially the relationship between God and humans. Papa also points out that Mack’s suppression of emotion in the wake of his daughter’s death has prevented him from feeling god’s love. He has protected himself by limiting himself.
Papa says that becoming Jesus was a way to embrace the limitations of being human, even as Papa herself still retained her unlimited abilities and existence. Jesus is both fully God and fully human. When Mack asks if flight and miracles performed by Jesus are evidence that Jesus was more than human, Papa disagrees. She says that those miracles are just evidence that Jesus’s relationship with God was perfect.
Papa explains more about the nature of God and the trinity by describing Jesus as a fully human embodiment of God. This view of the nature of God suggests that God was present in Jesus, so God could not have abandoned Jesus on the cross.
Mack says that he’s confused and asks again why there are three people in the cabin who seem to comprise a single God. Papa says that the three are necessary so that “love and relationship” can exist within God. In this way, God can contain love. Feeling slightly overwhelmed, Mack goes to wash up.
Papa explains that the importance of the trinity is that it contains love, meaning that love is at the heart of the relationship between humans and God, This is a revelation both in the sense that God acts from a place of love for humans, and in further explaining the trinity nature of God, both of which are different from what Mack previously envisioned about God.