Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

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Tag Archives: love

Heresies in The Shack, Part 3 – Justification, Forgiveness (and Jesus)

Jesus is a character in the movie, depicted as one member of the Trinity whom Mack meets at the titular shack.  Through their conversation he evasively explains that he is indeed human and also God, perpetuating the theme of God’s unknowableness.  He is presented as the one who created the stars, the face of God’s revelation, and the focus of man’s faith.  There is even reference to his death on the cross.  But the question that every moviegoer should ask is, “Why did Jesus die?”  Our Lutheran Confessions pronounce the Scriptural doctrine of justification in these terms:

The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, ‘was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification’ (Rom. 4:25).  He alone is ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). ‘God has laid upon him the iniquities of us all’ (Isa. 53:6). Moreover, ‘all have sinned,’ and ‘they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, by his blood’ (Rom. 3:23-25).[i]

As opposed to this, The Shack never gives a direct answer to the question.  Whereas Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus’ death was vicarious (in our place), meaning that he took on himself the wrath that God, in his justice, must exact against sin—“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by [Jesus’] blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:9-10); “Christ Jesus…gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 4:5-6)—Papa of The Shack responds to Mack’s mention of God’s wrath by saying, “You lost me there.”  The God of this film has no wrath over sin, but instead preaches, “Sin is its own punishment.”  This is demonstrated, too, in the way Papa brushes off Mack’s offense against the Second Commandment (when he proclaims “Oh, my God!” at the delicious food, then promptly apologizes).  Papa does not offer forgiveness, but instead implies that the outburst wasn’t a sin anyway.

Ultimately, according to the theology of The Shack, Jesus’ death is meaningless.  Whereas Scripture teaches that God took our “record of debt” and “set [it] aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:14), Papa of The Shack seems helpless to do anything about sin, refuses to be a just God (which means that he would punish sin), and instead propounds the “I love you anyway” theology of Gospel Reductionism.

Papa states clearly that he is pained by the sin and evil in the world, but implies that it is not because it goes contrary to his will or goodness.  Instead the pain Papa feels over sin is at seeing his creation suffer.  The prophet Nahum proclaimed: “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.  The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty” (Nah. 1:2-3).  Scripture is full of statements of God’s wrath against sin.  But here the God of The Shack is directly contradictory to the God of Scripture.

And if God’s wrath against sin is belittled, then the salvation Christ brought is also belittled.  Recall that occasion when Papa told Mack that he was suffering with Jesus on the cross, presenting scars on the Father that matched the scars on the Son.  Besides the heresy of Patripassianism, which teaches that the Father suffered and died as well as the Son (a heresy which has been condemned in the church since it arose in the 2nd century), this brief picture denies the Scriptural doctrine that God punished sin in Christ: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Gal. 3:13).

This, in turn, belittles forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a major theme in the movie, as through Mack’s journey he learns to forgive his daughter’s murderer, his abusive and drunkard father, and himself.  But forgiveness from what?  Papa makes the statement that, when kind deeds are done, “the universe changes for the better.”  The narrator, Mack’s friend and neighbor, states near the end of the film, “The great sadness is gone.”  Likewise, when Papa hears a confession of Mack’s sin, her response is, “It’s okay.  It’s in the past.”  Mack echoes this sentiment to his guilt-stricken daughter later on, telling her that they shouldn’t think about the past anymore.  Forgiveness is always spoken in terms of overlooking sin, or forgetting sin.  Sin and guilt eat away at the protagonist and his family, and forgiveness, ultimately, is an emotional release.  Forgiveness is not a removal of our guilt and sin “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12), but a removal of our bad feelings about sin.  Redemption, justification, and forgiveness in The Shack is all to do with this world and with our “Subjective Feelings.”

Take, for example, Jesus’ discussion in which he rejects “religion,” stating, “I don’t want slaves, but friends”: “I don’t care what you call them [my followers].  I just want to see people changed by knowing Papa, to know what it’s like to feel truly loved.”  The Jesus of The Shack doesn’t want to save people from sin, death, and hell.  He wants to save them from bad feelings.

[i] SA I.1-3, The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 292.

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Love and St. Valentine

valentines
Cupid on a Vintage Valentine

For a little more than 1500 years, February 14th has been known as St. Valentine’s Day.  Pope St. Gelasius I (Pope from 492-496) is the likely founder of this day as the commemoration of St. Valentine, understanding February 14th as the day on which St. Valentine died.  However, there are possibly three different Ss. Valentine who died on this date in different years: St. Valentine of Terni, St. Valentine of Africa, and St. Valentine of Rome.  However, none of these three men have any reliable legends regarding love or marriage.  Somewhere between the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. there was an expansion made to the life of St. Valentine of Rome, assigning to him the miracle of healing the daughter of his jailer of her blindness.  However, this is not presented as a love story.

A number of other legends were recorded between A.D. 1260 and 1493, adding new ideas of one of the Ss. Valentine performing miracles or standing up against unjust rulers, all in the name of love or marriage.  Besides this, in the 1750s many secular critics began to have the idea that the choice of day for St. Valentine’s commemoration was due to the fact that the Romans had a number of festivals for their pagan gods around the same time, especially festivals for the dead or other obscure ideas.

The point is, there are a lot of ideas about what Valentine’s Day means, all invented and added sometime after A.D. 500.  Pope St. Gelasius I may be the only one remembered in history for having pure motives to observe St. Valentine’s Day.  Even today, the motives are hardly pure.  Valentine’s Day conjures in the mind every possible shade of pink and red, boxes of chocolate, flowers, and romantic exploits.  To put it bluntly, Valentine’s Day is, to the secular world at large, a festival to the Greek god Eros (Roman: Cupid).

Eros is one of three Greek words for “Love.”  Eros is romantic or sexual love, the sort of love that is embodied exclusively in desire and want.  Compare this with the two other Greek words for “Love”: Philos, which is brotherly love or affection and care and friendship.  It is the sort of love that is motivated by the enjoyment one feels in another’s company.  And the last love is Agape, which we may briefly define as undeserved love.  Agape is the kind of love mentioned in John 3:16, love that is not motivated by anything someone feels or wants to gain.  Agape love is love offered because one simply wishes to give.

Keeping in mind the nature of one who is truly a Saint, that is, one who has been clothed in the robes of Christ, which of these three loves should be the focus of St. Valentine’s Day?  Evangelical Lutheran Synod  pastor Rev. Joseph Abrahamson notices, looking at the three Ss. Valentine: “As far as we have records these Sts. Valentine are examples of men who did not love their life unto death, but considered everything in this world, including their own lives as nothing compared to the gift of the resurrection in Jesus Christ.”

Ask yourself this question on Valentine’s Day: should we focus on romantic love, the love we feel for people we find attractive for one reason or another, or should the focus be selfless love, Agape love, undeserved love, which we have received from God, who loved us even though we were his bitterest enemies, loved us even so that he would die for us to save us, love which he asks us to embody and perpetuate to others?

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:4-7)

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another….  We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:7-11, 19)

Thou sacred Love, grace on us bestow,
Set our hearts with heav’nly fire aglow
That with hearts united we love each other,
Of one mind, in peace with ev’ry brother.
Lord, have mercy! (ELH #33:3)

-Rev. Michael G. Lilienthal