The Shack


William P. Young

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Waterfalls Symbol Analysis

Waterfalls Symbol Icon

Waterfalls appear at key moments in The Shack as symbols of sacrifice, but they are also used to show the ways in which stories of sacrifice can be overly-simplified and give an impression of God as vengeful rather than forgiving. Mack’s young daughter Missy, whose murder sets off the events in the story, loves waterfalls. She is drawn to the story of the Multnomah falls, in which a Native American princess receives word from the Great Spirit that she can save her tribe from a sickness by throwing herself from a waterfall. Like the parable of Jesus, the story of the Multnomah princess centers on an ordinary person choosing to sacrifice themselves in order to save others. Both stories also align with how Mack initially perceives God: as an all-powerful, calculating force who demands sacrifice and causes tragedies in order to bring good to the world.

When Missy visits Mack from the afterlife during his weekend at the shack, she appears from behind a waterfall, leading Mack to question whether God caused Missy’s death in order to teach him about belief—whether her death was indeed a kind of sacrifice so that he could learn. But God, in the form of Papa, insists that this is not the case. She does not cause tragedy in order to balance things out or teach. Instead, she is able to take tragedies and use them for good. Evil and suffering exist in the world not because God demands punishment and sacrifice, but rather because humans turn away from God and choose to commit tragedies on their own. In this way, waterfalls show that some of Mack’s preconceived ideas about God are oversimplified and rely on parables of good and evil, while the truth about God is more nuanced.

Waterfalls Quotes in The Shack

The The Shack quotes below all refer to the symbol of Waterfalls. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Independence from God Theme Icon
Chapter 2 Quotes

“Sweetheart, Jesus didn’t think his Daddy was mean. He thought his Daddy was full of love and loved him very much. His Daddy didn’t make him die. Jesus chose to die because he and his Daddy love you and me and everyone in the world. He saved us from our sickness, like the princess.”

Related Characters: Mackenzie Allen Phillips (speaker), Papa/Elousia, Jesus, Missy
Related Symbols: Waterfalls
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

“Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I needed it to accomplish my purposes.”

Related Characters: Papa/Elousia (speaker), Mackenzie Allen Phillips
Related Symbols: Waterfalls
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:
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Waterfalls Symbol Timeline in The Shack

The timeline below shows where the symbol Waterfalls appears in The Shack. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: The Gathering Dark
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
The Nature of God Theme Icon
...daughter of a chief would have to voluntarily sacrifice her life by jumping from a waterfall in order to stop the sickness. When her betrothed fell ill, the Multnomah princess prayed... (full context)
Chapter 10: Wade in the Water
Independence from God Theme Icon
...the surface of the lake. Mack is delighted. On the other shore is a beautiful waterfall and meadow. Jesus says the earth would be even more beautiful if it weren’t for... (full context)
Independence from God Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...this hierarchy is unhealthy. Jesus tells Mack to head off on a path by the waterfall, where someone is waiting for him. (full context)
Chapter 11: Here Come Da Judge
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Grief and Emotion Theme Icon
...Mack a final hug and kiss. He sees Jesus give Missy a hug as a waterfall crashes down in front of him, obscuring his view. The cave has become a grotto... (full context)
Chapter 13: A Meeting of Hearts
Independence from God Theme Icon
The Nature of God Theme Icon
...thanks Papa for letting him see Missy, recalling the thought of his princess behind the waterfall. Reminded of the Multnomah legend, Mack asks if Missy had to die so Papa could... (full context)