Live from Catalyst: Day 2 Color Commentary
The Shack and Its Aftershocks

Skye is offering a terrific play by play. Let me offer a word of commentary on one entry he mentioned.

One of the people I was most interested to meet at Catalyst was William Paul Young, the author of "The Shack," the self-published novel that was given a spectacular endorsement by Eugene Peterson, got amazing word-of-mouth distribution and rocked the publishing world, selling millions and sparking a heated blogosphere debate among Christians over whether the book is heretical in its depiction of God or whether it's a helpful and clarifying portrayal of God's three-in-one character.

Today Paul (he goes by his middle name) was interviewed on the main stage. At yesterday's Catalyst lab, Paul explained to a mostly supportive audience the origin of the novel. He said it was NOT written to make a statement about the Trinity. Instead, he said, it was written to be given to family members to help them better grasp issues of God and gender! To work through the pain of earthly fathers who are distant or absent during times of Great Sadness.

Oh, my, I thought. If anything is more volatile than the Trinity, issues of gender would be on a fairly short list of things guaranteed to be impossible to address without offending a whole lot of people. The intricacies of describing the Trinity will offend the theologically trained, but the suggesting God has gender issues will disturb just about everyone.

"God is spirit," Paul reminded us, "not male or female." But to describe God's relationship to people, the Bible describes God with both male and female terms. Paul pointed for example to "El Shaddai," a Hebrew term he explained as "from the same word as ?breast,' referring to God as nurturer and provider and one who would give her life for her child." Instead of "the Lord of Breasts," the King James Bible translates the term "Lord of Hosts," which Paul said he considered a bit ironic.

And I thought the Bible's calling God a "living stone" and "mother hen" were problematic. Silly me. So Paul Young portrays two persons of the Godhead as female and one as male in perfect unity.

Paul explained his primary purpose in "The Shack" was to show that God is not an absent Father, but is in "The Shack" with us, in our Great Sadness, usually showing up in a way we do not expect.

His explanation certainly won't pacify his critics, but it's still helpful to see a novel in its larger context.

October 09, 2008

Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

John Rutter

October 13, 2008  12:17pm

I spent longer than I should have looking Shaddai up myself in HALOT. I'm not a fantastic scholar of Hebrew, but from what I saw, the correlation of "Shaddai" with "breasts" (shaddayim) is mostly conjecture based on the observation that the words are similar. It's one of those words whose etymology isn't that clear. And of course, a word's history doesn't equal a word's meaning. There's an interesting write up on wikipedia on this word, though I haven't checked the scholarship behind it: Note that I'm not saying it would be bad or wrong if Shaddai did have a strong connection with "breasts", just that Paul Young's confident connection between the two does not appear to be shared by the scholarly community.

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Matt Dabbs

October 10, 2008  2:13pm

I guess the Tyndale Unicode Hebrew font doesn't work. I guess "?" is a good substitute for Hebrew.

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Matt Dabbs

October 09, 2008  12:50pm

That is an interesting etymology that I didn't realize. I just checked Brown-Driver-Briggs and there seems to be some connection there with the word breast. The KJV translates El Shaddai as "Lord Almight" as does the NIV. The term "Lord of hosts" is not used for El Shaddai. That phrase comes from the Hebrew "Yahweh Tshabaoth which is more like military terminology. You find this in places like Isa 6:3. Hebrew = ???? ?????? So I am not sure how he made that connection.

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