Once upon a time, long, long ago, I read books. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that long ago, but it’s been a smooth minute since I’d actually picked up a book — like a legit, hardbound one with real pages on the inside — and read it from cover to cover. That was until recently, when I finally dusted the cobwebs off this one book that had been sitting idle in my room for the past however-many years. A book called The Shack by William Paul Young. I don’t remember when or how I got it or where it came from, but this book was definitely a Godsend, for reasons that would probably take me a lifetime to explain.
It would probably be a lot easier if you just read it yourself to understand exactly where I’m coming from, but just to give you a little teaser (and I promise I won’t ruin it for you if you haven’t read it already): A man named Mackenzie Allen Phillips endures a tragic event that alters his entire perception of life, the world, and his faith in God. One day, Mackenzie receives a mysterious note in the mail — with no return address — asking him to go to “the shack,” a traumatizing place from his past that he had never intended to visit again. It is this note that sparks Mackenzie’s curiosity, hope, and the little bit of faith he has left in God.
The Shack convicted me in ways that I’ve never been before, particularly in regards to relationships and religion. I literally felt like God was speaking directly to me through this book.
One thing about me is that I am a very spiritual person — notice I said spiritual and not religious. There is a difference. Yes, I believe in God; yes, I go to church; yes, I pray and read my Bible (still a work in progress). But for me, it goes much deeper than doing those things just to “get to Heaven” one day (which is a whole n’other subject for another day). If that were all God required of us, there would be no need or purpose for having a relationship with Him or anyone else for that matter.
There is a clear and distinct difference between being religious and having a relationship with God. Religion is binding, while true relationship brings freedom. Religion is composed of rules, routines, and rituals that many people believe determine our entry into some form of Heaven or Hell. We oftentimes use this limited way of thinking to point the finger at others, rather than first looking at ourselves, aka taking the plank out of our own eye (Matt. 7:5), and tapping into God’s true purpose and power for our lives, which is to gain wisdom from our experiences with one another, and to spread love and truth — not hatred and hypocrisy.
On the other hand, having a true relationship with God requires love, trust, respect, peace, selflessness and humility. It is the fundamental foundation for the relationships we form with one another, which explains why so many of them are failing. Think about it. Many of us have the wrong idea of what love is (as it is often confused with infatuation, lust and/or abuse), so we have a hard time trusting and respecting one another because we have such a prideful, self-serving, and defensive nature. Why? Because many of us don’t know God — and God IS love.
Our true purpose for existing — to live in pure, unconditional relationship with God and one another — somehow got lost in our “need” for rules, routine and religion — all of which are main contributors to the massive amount of destruction that has carried on throughout history and present-day society. Breaking our rules and daily routines ultimately causes chaos and confusion for us, while religion ultimately divides us. Meanwhile, all God wanted — and still wants — for us is to experience true, genuine relationship.
“It’s one reason why experiencing true relationship is so difficult for you… Once you have a hierarchy you need rules to protect and administer it, and then you need law and the enforcement of the rules, and you end up with some kind of chain of command or a system of order that destroys relationship rather than promotes it. You rarely see or experience relationship apart from power. Hierarchy imposes laws and rules and you end up missing the wonder of relationship that we intended for you.” — The Shack
Many of you may be thinking, but God technically created the law. True, but the law was fulfilled through the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And now we have free will, which gives us the freedom to choose how we want to live. That means that God doesn’t have to step in and intervene every time we make a mistake — we bring our own judgment, or consequences, on ourselves through the choices we make and the actions we take in life. So we either learn from our mistakes, gain wisdom and better ourselves, or we continue making the same mistakes, become addicted to them, and remain captive to their outcomes. The only key to freeing ourselves from our own faults is to develop and maintain a genuine relationship with God — not by just going to church, shouting and crying out for forgiveness every Sunday at the alter. And certainly not by blaming others for our own shortcomings.
Ever wonder why we learn so much about ourselves from past and present relationships? Because that was God’s purpose for creating us in the first place — to love, learn and grow from one another. Now imagine how much more we would be able to love, learn and grow if we were to pursue and develop a relationship with the One who actually created us. I’ll let that marinate for a minute.
In the meantime, I encourage you to read The Shack, if you haven’t already done so. And if you have, please share your thoughts! I’m more than happy to discuss this amazing read.