I don’t know what it is in me that makes me skeptical about popular books. Maybe it’s the plethora of Nora Roberts’ titles that sell (and in the interest of fairness, I must admit I’ve never read Ms. Roberts’ work); maybe it’s that I just think myself a bit out of the mainstream. Typically, I balk at popular titles, including The Shack by William Paul Young.

All I had heard about this book before I read it was that God was depicted as an African-American woman and that there was some “controversy” over that depiction; plus, someone at a Bible study once mentioned that she had some qualms with the theology. Of course, these are just the kinds of comments that temper my anti-bestseller mindset, so maybe this is how I came to read the book.

The novel tells the story of Mack, a man whose daughter has been brutally murdered by serial killer. Mack becomes ferociously angry with God and is, in many ways, unable to continue living life fully. On a snowy day, he receives a note that invites him to the shack where his daughter was killed; the note is signed “Papa,” the term Mack’s wife uses for God. In the end, Mack ends up going to the shack and meeting with God, who is not only a black woman, but also a black man, an Asian woman, and a Middle Eastern man (in flannel). The bulk of the novel tells of the weekend Mack spends with God and how he begins to break down his pain and find healing.

Maybe it’s just that I needed to be reminded of God’s infinite love and grace at this space in my life; maybe it’s that Young captured something of God’s character that I knew but never thought about articulating; maybe it’s just that this depiction of God is so wonderful – like the world’s biggest down pillow. Whatever it is, I really loved this book. It helped shift some stuff around in me that I really needed to have realigned.

The writing is kind of clunky, and some of the descriptions and dialogue are a little hokey (although there’s a wry humor in these elements, too), but the idea of the book – that God would invite us to God to give us safety, and healing and peace – that idea is deeply true in ways I had not even imagined.

Even if you’re not a believer in the “triune God” (as I was taught in Sunday School), even if you just need to believe in something absolutely hopeful and optimistic and beautiful, even if you need to see God as all we are promised God to be, read this book. You’ll find some peace there.

Cover of The ShackThe Shack by William Paul Young