The Shack


William P. Young

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Independence from God Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Independence from God Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Grief and Emotion Theme Icon
The Nature of God Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Shack, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Independence from God Theme Icon

The Shack tells the story of Mackenzie Allen “Mack” Phillips, who, after his daughter Missy is brutally murdered on a family camping trip, bitterly turns away from God. Everything changes when Mack eventually returns to the shack where his daughter was killed and finds himself face to face with three surprising manifestations of the Christian Trinity: God is a black woman named Papa, the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman named Sarayu, and Jesus is a Middle-Eastern carpenter in keeping with biblical tradition. Together, Sarayu, Papa, and Jesus teach Mack that one of the core reasons he cannot trust God or understand His ways is because all of humanity has chosen independence from God. This choice, the novel argues—to center their own judgments and rules instead of trusting in God’s—has come at a great cost to human beings: they can no longer see the purpose behind anything they perceive as bad or evil, and, it follows, can no longer trust that God is able to create purpose from everything.

In the novel, God has given human beings the choice of whether or not to trust his love because love of God is only meaningful if it comes freely. Evil and suffering, Papa tells Mack, exist specifically because of this independence—they arise when humans actively choose to turn away from God’s plan. For example, Papa didn’t cause Missy to die—that was a choice her killer made. Papa has helped Mack to learn much as a result of Missy’s death, but Papa explains that just because she is able to create purpose out of tragedy does not mean that she causes or wants these things to happen.

Sophia, a manifestation of God’s wisdom, then challenges Mack’s judgment of evil by asking how far back the punishment of Missy’s killer should go: should it extend to the killer’s father, and his father before him, all the way back to Adam and even back to God? It follows that judgments of evil are actually judgments of God for creating and not intervening in human life. Furthermore, Sarayu, Papa, and Jesus teach Mack that the judgments he has used to determine good and evil in his own life are predicated on subjective beliefs. Making these judgments is just another way of choosing independence from God, the novel argues, because it puts humans in a position of authority over one another—an authority that should be reserved for God.

The human ideas of rights, laws, and even the rules of the scripture are all human-created and human-enforced laws created in response to evil, which nonetheless divide people and keep them from trusting judgment to God alone. Judgments make people feel superior and justified in violence towards others. Relying on these rules, then, allows humans to judge and punish one another with impunity. Mack, for example, determines right and wrong based on his own internal value system and how things affect him personally. In this way, humans who try to judge right and wrong for themselves instead of leaving that judgment to God make themselves arbiters of good and evil.

Ultimately The Shack argues that because people must be able to freely choose to love God, they also have the option to commit evil acts. It is important to recognize, however, that such acts are not part of God’s plan. And although humans may create rules and exact judgment to cope with such evil, these are simply another way of declaring dangerous independence from God. This sense of independence keeps humans from trusting that God is present in dark times and will find a sense of purpose in tragedies, even those he does not cause. God, ironically, has given people the choice for independence so that they may actively choose to put their entire faith in God.

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Independence from God ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Independence from God appears in each chapter of The Shack. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Independence from God Quotes in The Shack

Below you will find the important quotes in The Shack related to the theme of Independence from God.
Chapter 6 Quotes

“Oh”—now Jesus was serious—“don’t go because you feel obligated. That won’t get you any points around here. Go because it’s what you want to do.”

Related Characters: Jesus (speaker), Mackenzie Allen Phillips, Papa/Elousia
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

“There is a lot to be mad about in the mess my kids have made and in the mess they're in. I don't like a lot of the choices they make, but that anger—especially for me—is an expression of love all the same. I love

the ones I am angry with just as much as those I'm not.”

“But—” Mack paused. “What about your wrath?”

Related Characters: Mackenzie Allen Phillips (speaker), Papa/Elousia (speaker)
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

“What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us.”

Related Characters: Sarayu (speaker), Mackenzie Allen Phillips, Papa/Elousia, Jesus
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

“Your question presumes that poison is bad, that such creations have no purpose. Many of these so-called bad plants, like this one, contain incredible properties for healing or are necessary for some of the most magnificent sonders when combined with something else. Humans have a great capacity for declaring something good or evil, without truly knowing.”

Related Characters: Sarayu (speaker), Mackenzie Allen Phillips
Related Symbols: Gardens
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

“To be honest,” said Mack, “I tend to sound justifiably angry when somebody is threatening my ‘good,’ you know, what I think I deserve. But I’m not really sure I have any logical ground for deciding what is actually good or evil, except how something or someone affects me.”

Related Characters: Mackenzie Allen Phillips (speaker), Sarayu
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

“It is your desperate attempt to get some control over something you can’t It is impossible for you to take power over the future because it isn’t even real, nor will it ever be real. You try to play God, imagining the evil that you fear becoming reality, and then you try to make plans and contingencies to avoid what you fear.”

Related Characters: Jesus (speaker), Mackenzie Allen Phillips
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

“The world is broken because in Eden you abandoned relationship with us in order to assert your own independence. Most men have expressed it by turning to the work of their hands and the sweat of their brows to find their identity, value, and security.”

Related Characters: Jesus (speaker), Mackenzie Allen Phillips
Related Symbols: Gardens
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

“Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver,” answered Papa, “to release you from something that will eat you alive, that will destroy your joy and your ability to love fully and openly. Do you think this man cares about the pain and torment you have gone through?”

Related Characters: Papa/Elousia (speaker), Mackenzie Allen Phillips, Missy
Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis: