I have started reading Wm Paul Young's The Shack with two groups at Prairie Hill. In anticipation of our time together, I am putting together a little study / discussion guide to give shape to our conversation. While I did look at other guides out there, ultimately I decided to just write my own questions.
Welcome! This study guide is written to help you get the most out of your reading of The Shack by William P. Young, and to facilitate our discussions together.
A couple of thoughts before you get started. First, The Shack is a work of fiction. It is not a statement of theological doctrine, nor is it inspired Scripture. I have personally found the book to be helpful and insightful – and I certainly hope that you will, too – just be sure to check that insight with what we know to be true about God as made known to us in the Bible. Or, you may find that you greatly disagree with this book, that’s ok too.
Then the man said to Jacob, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have
wrestled with God and with humans and have prevailed.” ~~Genesis 32:28
But Mack had already left the room to wrestle with his dreams; maybe tonight there would be
no nightmares, only visions. ~~ p. 23
A we read the story of Mack’s wrestling match with God I pray that you will find your own shack, a space in your life where you can fully encounter God, experience the reality of what God desires for your life, and wrestle with the God who called you as his own.
* The author admits that the story that follows is fantastic, unproven, and even difficult to believe. In life, are there important truths that you cannot “prove”?
* How do you decide that some one is reliable or credible?
* The author describes Mack’s early, very bad experiences in the church (and the horrible experiences at the hands of his “church-going” father). Are we (the church) responsible when people experience the church in this way? How can the church share the Gospel with people who have experiences like this?
* Despite the experiences of his early life, Mack is a pretty ordinary guy – living in the world we know, working a job, spending time with friends and family. What do you like or dislike about Mack as he is described here? How can you relate with him?
* Mack and the author seem to be quite good friends. Who are those friends that you talk about everything with? Do you have friends that you talk about your faith with?
Chapter 1: A Confluence of Paths
* Have you ever wished you could hit the “pause” button on life? What do you do to slow your life down when it gets going too fast?
* When your life gets busy, are you able to hear God’s voice?
* To get his attention, God sends Mack a letter. How does God get your attention? Is it gentle, or jarring? Obvious or subtle? How do you verify that the message is from God, and not from Tony the mailman?
* “There it was. Papa was Nan’s favorite name for God and it expressed her delight in the intimate friendship she had with him.” How is the similar or different from the way that Jesus addresses God (c.f. Mark 14:36)? Is it acceptable to use our own language/names to talk to God? How do you picture God in your mind when you pray or worship?
* Nan talks about wishing that God would hurry up with the answer to her prayer. When we pray for God’s will to be done, do you think we really mean it? Are we content with God’s schedule, or do we try to put God on the schedule of our busy lives?
* Can you see how – despite her impatience and without her knowledge – God was already answering her prayer? How can we learn to trust in God’s will, instead of our schedules?
Chapter 2: The Gathering Dark
* Mack describes “The Great Sadness.” Have you experienced a “Great Sadness” in your life?
* Mack & his family have many traditions, including telling stories. What traditions does your family have?
* What are the similarities between the story of the Indian Princess and Jesus? Missy asks about the truth of the story of the Indian Princess. Does it matter if the story is true?
* Missy & Mack talk about the similarities between “Papa” and the “Great Spirit.” How do you understand the relationship between our God and other religions?
* So is Jesus dying a legend? How do we share the faith so that our children know the difference between the legends of childhood (Santa, Easter Bunny, etc) and the Gospel?
* Missy has many questions, about the legend and about Jesus. What questions do you have about God and faith? Is it ok to have doubts?
* Will God ask me jump off the cliff to prove my love? How would you answer a child like Missy’s question? What if an adult asked that question?
* He was a rich man, he thought to himself, in all the ways that mattered …He prayed a silent thanks to God. At the end of a hard day, what can you thank God for? Do you?
Chapter 3: The Tipping Point
* Mack, his children, and their new friends all seem to be drawn closer by their shared experiences on this trip. It is often outside of “everyday life” that we are most able to connect with others and God. What are some experiences in your life that have drawn you closer to friends and family?
* As Mack describes Nan to his new friends, she seems like Super Woman, without any flaws. Do you think we most often seem the positive or negative traits in our family and friends? What about coworkers? What about those we have conflict with? How do you think those same people would describe you? Which way would you want to be described?
* In many places, Scripture uses the analogy of family to talk about our relationships with God and one another. Mack points out that this is difficult for those who came from difficult family experiences. Do any of the biblical ways of speaking of God give you difficulty? Should the church change how we talk about God for the sake of those who have trouble with it? Why or why not?
* Overnight, things went from great to rotten for Mack. Life often changes suddenly, and tragic most often comes in an instant. How do you prepare yourself for the sudden changes of life?
* In the canoe, Josh’s panicked struggle to save himself almost prevented Mack from being able to rescue him. How do we try to save ourselves? How does it prevent God from saving us?
* After the incident with the canoe, Emil apologizes repeatedly to Mack. Was he in any way responsible for what had happened?
Chapter 4: The Great Sadness
* This is a difficult chapter to read. Give yourself time to read it, and really absorb it.
* The “if-only” game (p.64) is a common response by the survivors of tragic events. Do Mack’s if-only questions help him in any way? Why do you think we spend so much time asking ourselves “What if …”?
* Mack asks God how this could have happened (p. 53). Implied in that question is how / why did God let this happen? If you were Mack’s friend, how would you answer his questions?
* Missy’s siblings respond very differently to the tragedy, almost becoming the opposite of their normal personalities: Josh becomes more emotional, Kate becomes more in control. How would you have responded? How do you prepare for something like this? Why do you think people respond so differently in crises?
* Life would never be normal again, if any time is ever normal (p. 65). Think about what is “normal” in your life; How has it changed from the “normal” of your life ten years ago?
* God’s voice had been reduced to paper … Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book (p. 65-66) Mack was taught that God no longer speaks directly to us, but only through the Bible. What do you think? Does God write notes? How does God speak to us today?
* Even as he grows further from God, Mack wants more from God – and that more is not what he sees in church – the little religious social clubs that didn’t seem to make any real difference. What do you think of Mack’s opinion of the church? Do you share it? Do you think others do?
* Have you experienced God’s voice in your life? How?