"Why Do Bad Things Happen?" and Other Tough Questions

If you haven’t read The Shack, you might want to seriously consider doing so… or at least buy the audiobook from iTunes, like I did, and listen to it. Whether you agree completely with Young’s theology, it does a very good job of addressing a lot of questions like:

  • Why do bad things happen?
  • What’s the deal with free will?
  • Why do we pray if you already know everything?
  • How can God be good and yet there still be evil in the world?
  • And more…
Apparently, Young wrote this book solely for his children — to give them a better understanding of his spiritual journey and give them a snapshot of who God is to him. Because of that it is full of very vivid metaphors that could easily be adapted when talking to children about some “difficult-to-explain” theological and philosophical concepts.

18 thoughts on “"Why Do Bad Things Happen?" and Other Tough Questions

  1. Steve Tanner says:

    Did not like this book one bit.

  2. henryjz says:

    Really? What about it did you not like?

  3. Desiree says:

    Admittedly, I haven’t actually read it. I have heard people talk about it and people who have read it told me about it because I asked them. But my question to you is, “Do you agree with Young’s theology?” and if you don’t, “Why would you teach theological and philosophical concepts from something that is “flawed”?” “Since the book is just a story and not a accurate theology book, shouldn’t we look to the Bible which is the ultimate theology book?” “The Bible must talk about these things right? So where? And why aren’t those ways sufficient?”
    I’m sure the intention of my questions probably won’t translate well over cyberspace. They are not meant to be confrontational but just asked out of curiosity because I am constantly analyzing the “answers” to those questions and how to get those answers. So bear with the the flawed way I asked the Q’s.

  4. Desiree says:

    I guess I will probably never read the book because I don’t tend to read those kind of books anyway but I thought about. I am even less inspired about it when I hear of some of the dialogue between the character and the Trinity because it isn’t Biblical. I think it is pointless and dangerous to fill our minds with theological concepts that prove to be false. Unless you are constantly discerning whether everything that is said is true or not, you could be changing your “theological DNA” without even realizing it. So that is why I am hesitant to learn from such a book and think it is better to step back and realize it is FICTION. I think too many times people want a short cut to enlightenment and so they seek answers to life’s questions in fictional books. But there isn’t a short cut outside of going to the source it’s self. It’s like people are bored with the Bible and so they want to find something new and “better”, without reading the Bible.

    I would have to disagree that all our attempts to understand God are flawed because that makes it sound like we cannot know truth. God gave the Bible writers truth and they wrote it down. Jesus came to earth to tell the truth. Yes, we do see things from our own lenses. Sometimes we don’t understand things in the way that God intended but it doesn’t that NOBODY has ever not understood that concept. Maybe “you” just didn’t at that particular time. As we study the Bible more, we will see more. Our vision may not be completely in focus but it doesn’t mean that nothing can be known.

    When you say that “all truth is God’s truth where ever it might be found”, What do you mean by that exactly and where have you found this to be true? What truths have you found in a “diverse set of belief systems” that you hadn’t known before?
    As for seeing the Bible from the view of Non-Christians, I’m not sure what you are saying exactly there because a Christian has the advantage over a non-believer. I think we can look at the way unbelievers view Christians and “Christianity” but they don’t teach us theological and philosophical truth.

    So back to the book…. I say it is just fiction. Like I said I haven’t read it and probably won’t for more than one reason. If you read it and think you understand the trinity (which so many are doing), you are fooling yourself. I definitely think you can use other resources to facilitate learning, but I wouldn’t get my understanding of Revelation by reading the Left Behind series. It’s FICTION and not necessarily accurate. I guess part of what I’m saying is that when you get a distorted idea of who God is, it will change how you live your life. Why put it up there?!

  5. henryjz says:


    I appreciate your questions, and I think I can understand why you are asking them. In answer to whether or not I agree with Young’s views on theology… I don’t agree with all of it, but he does have some interesting viewpoints and ways of seeing things that stretch my views. As to why I would look to something that is flawed… I think in someway all our attempts to understand God are flawed… probably in more ways than we know or care to admit. Erin had a theology professor tell her once that when we get to heaven, we’ll probably find out that most of what we think will be wrong 🙂 I also hold to the belief that “all truth is God’s truth” wherever it might be found. I don’t think that we should strictly stick to things that are “Christian” or things that agree with our viewpoints to gain broader and more full understandings of truth. That is why God loves to give us wisdom and discernment and why I’ve always adamantly encouraged parents that teaching their children discernment is more important than giving them a set of dogmatic rules to follow. We must be able to navigate through a diverse set of belief systems and be able to pull out what is true in them… not to justify them but to gain a better understanding of what truth is…

    Yes, the Bible is important and is key. It is possible to just read the Bible and get stuff from it at face value. The thing, though, about the Bible is that it was written by a bunch of different people to a bunch of different people in a bunch of different contexts throughout a bunch of different times. So, it’s got more layers of understanding available there than what is just at the surface. The Bible is simple and complex at the same time. Also, God does reveal himself to us in other ways than just the Bible. He reveals himself through creation, history, traditions, experiences… I’m not saying those replace the Bible because they don’t. What I am saying, though, is that it is possible to find truth in lots of places and see God’s word in a way you may not have thought of.

    We all read and interpret the Bible from our own set of glasses (opinions, beliefs, life experiences). It is good for us to step into the shoes of others (Christian and non-Christian alike) and see the Bible and truth from their perspectives in order to give us a greater appreciation and understanding of what God has done throughout history as well as what he is doing now all around us.

  6. henryjz says:

    Yes, it is fiction and yes there are people who will read it as otherwise as many will do with many other books until the end of time.

    Yes, the Bible needs to be central to our understanding of God. I’m not arguing at all with that. I just find it helpful (as many other people do) to see things from other lenses. That way I don’t become so narrow on my interpretation of what I read in the Bible. We’ve all heard and seen what very narrow interpretations of the Bible can do: the Crusades, the massacres of Anabatists during the Reformation, slavery and white supremacy, cults like the Branch Davidians and such… I’m not saying that just reading the Bible will cause you to become like these people. I’m just saying that it helps to see things from other lenses. We can disagree on which lenses may or may not be helpful, which is the beauty of being a part of the Body… we can agree to disagree on stuff like that. I do think that when being broad in studies, though, it does take a great deal of discernment and being even more familiar with the Bible. Instead of threatening my understanding of the Bible, for me, it helps to deepen my understanding of it. I don’t think that it is necessarily beneficial for everyone to do that, but at the same time I don’t think we should be fearful and “circle the wagons.”

    I am very excited that you are so passionate about studying the Bible and searching to know God more. I think we all need to do that. I also enjoy the interactions we’ve had through the blog.

  7. Rob says:

    I read the Shack about six months ago because someone told me about it. After I read it, I found out there was all this controversy about it.

    I felt like it challenged me to look at how I see God, not teach me about it. My wife and I had tons of conversations about the book and God. I think it is a great thing when that happens. I read it with the team I lead just so it would spark conversations that ultimately led us to God.

    Am I going to buy hundreds of copies and give them away as an outreach tool? Nope. But I do know an 70s + retired pastor who told me he feels it is the best fictional book he has seen in years to start spiritual conversations with.

  8. Desiree says:

    I’m not sure what Rob “learned” exactly so I can’t speak to that. Hopefully it was something good. What I can say is, it is what we believe about God that has an impact on our faith. You can learn all you want by being taught, but it’s what you absorb and believe that is what matters. I guess I do agree with it being able to spark conversation. I think the left behind series did the same. I just hope people will use discernment when reading it before changing their view of God. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the emotion of a story and just swallow the whole thing. When that happens it might as well be a theology book.

    I guess the reason I can sound so “preachy” when it comes to this topic is because I also had a very impacting experience when it came to my view of God. But it wasn’t by reading the Shack or some other book, it was by reading the Bible. And that’s not meant to be a jab but the truth. I so much believe the Bible alone can change lives and has for thousands of years. That doesn’t diminish people’s experience, but people’s experience should prove to make our foundation even stronger.

    Maybe since I haven’t read it and don’t plan to some people wouldn’t mind sharing what they have “learned”. And I’m sorry for talking about it when I haven’t read it. I’m sure that is probably a little annoying. I guess I’m just interested but have concerns.

  9. henryjz says:


    Thanks for your comments. I agree about The Shack sparking some good conversations among Christ-followers and unchurched alike. I like how you said that it challenged how you see God rather than it teach you about God… it is a work of fiction 🙂

  10. Desiree says:

    Ok, thanks Rob. I also appreciate your openness. I agree with you that Jesus did give fictional stories to help us. An observation I have is that he didn’t give us one on the trinity. I am wondering why that is?….Maybe it’s because there isn’t an instruction to live out? So was there any theology for you that made you think, “That’s not really Biblical, but oh well”?
    (I’m also posing this question to others besides Rob.)

  11. Rob says:


    I appreciate your honesty, openness and commitment to not being led astray. Here is just one thing I “learned.”

    There is nothing I can do to make God love me more, while at the same time there is nothing I can do to make God love me less.

    Understand, that I didn’t learn it from the book. I learned it as I looked at the truth of scripture compared to how I see God working in my life. The story in the book just challenged me to evaluate God’s love for me as I saw the characters doing the same. It was compelling because the characters often shared my incorrect view of God’s love for me.

    I think it is interesting that in Jesus’ ministry he told fictional stories that people could relate to and stories that challenged their thinking about God and how they should respond to Him. Then he connected that back to what the scriptures said.

    Just an observation.

  12. Desiree says:

    Maybe I just have the constant filter on :-). Not that it catches everything but I actually had one of those moments in the second Narnia movie. I thought, “That’s not Biblical. Is that supposed to be Biblical. Or is just to advance the story?” But when you put it that way, it’s easier to understand your frame of mind, which is part of what I was so curious about. I wondered HOW people were reading it.

    That’s a good point about the Holy Spirit not being there yet. I don’t know how Jesus would teach about the trinity. I don’t think he would use two women though, especially turning the Father into a woman. Hmm… maybe the Holy Spirit could be a woman :-). I don’t know, probably a family like what he started out with. Father, Son, Mother? I don’t know. The reason I say mother is because the Holy spirit helps us. But even still I don’t know that Jesus would go the female route. I don’t know that he wouldn’t. It’s hard to really say because I probably wouldn’t use such a lengthy analogy because of how in depth you have to go in a book. Part of the whole controversy is that it subscribes to Modalism. So the person reading the book needs to ask themselves if they believe in Modalism I guess.

  13. Rob says:

    I guess I really didn’t read the book from a theology perspective but instead just a story with Christian ideas. For me it was the same as reading CS Lewis’ Narnia books. I really didn’t evaluate how it jibed with theology.

    I know a bunch of people had a problem with how he represented the trinity. Many felt Young was saying that God was 2/3 female. I just didn’t see it like that. God (the father) interacted with the main character in the story in a way that challenged how that character saw God.

    I wonder if one of the reasons why Jesus didn’t “teach” about the trinity was because the gift of the Holy Spirit didn’t come to the believers until after the ascension. If Jesus was here now, I wonder how he would teach about the Holy Spirit and the trinity? What do you think?

  14. Desiree says:

    Ok, well this was my point of joining the conversation. I apologize for not reading the book. I realize that one should judge it after reading it, which is why I have clearly pointed out many times that I haven’t read it, so to be fair. I am interested in hearing people’s perspective because of that. I’m just interesting in the book because everyone is talking about it and curious of the controversy. All I can do is put out what I’ve heard and let people respond to that. So Rob, any comments?

  15. henryjz says:

    Actually, the book definitely does not subscribe to modalism. He makes a HUGE point of that when the main character is interacting with God. If that is what you’ve heard, then whoever you heard that from has misread the book… Another reason why it is not wise to base judgements of material that you haven’t really looked at or taken the time to do more research on.

    One thing that Young does do that is controversial is say that Jesus did all that he did on Earth out of his humanity… that he didn’t call on his divinity to do any of the miracles, etc. There are a number of theologians that subscribe to this line of thought. The reason being that Jesus said we would be able to do all that he did while he was on earth and more. It was because he was totally dependent on God, in his humanity, that he could do what he did…

    But modalistic, Young definitely was not. And as for God the Father appearing to the main character as a woman… there’s a good reason for that, too. It was the form in which the main character could actually relate with the Father. After his issues with his own earthly father were dealt with, God the Father did reveal himself as a male father figure because that is what the character needed.

    I think the book wouldn’t be so controversial if people on both sides simply read it as what it is, an allegory… a work of fiction…

  16. Rob says:


    Interesting that you brought up the humanity issue. I spent some time with Dann Spader while in Australia and he challenged my view on this. Here is a link to an article he wrote on the humanity of Jesus.


    I must say that the idea that Jesus would not dip into his diety so his humanity could be expressed makes me love him all the more.

    Your thoughts?

  17. Rob says:

    I have to be honest, I didn’t know what modalism was and had to go and look it up after you asked.

    In the story, the three characters representing the trinity existed together at the same time which seems to go against modalism. Several times they sit down to dinner with the main character and while they acted independantly there were times when the main character realizes that once he shares something with one part of the trinity, he has shared it with all three.

    This would illustrate one God in three persons – the trinity.

    I think the author did what you did in your previous post. You know from scripture and your own life probably that the HS is caring and exists to be an encourager. This is also in many ways how a mother is to her children so it would make sense to represent the HS that way in a fictional story. It wouldn’t mean that you are saying the HS is a woman but merely is a way to bring out the characteristic of the HS in the story.

    One of the things that came about from the book was realizing that I cannot judge God’s goodness by the circumstances in my life. This idea is all over scripture: Joseph, Jonah, Job, Stephen, Paul, etc. etc.

    And in Rob’s life 🙂

    The book helps bring it to life for me because I haven’t been with lions, in the belly of a fish, stoned to death, etc. But I have experienced the loss of a loved one.

    I hope that all makes sense.

  18. Desiree says:

    Hmm, ok. Thanks for your comments. I’ve definitely enjoyed the process of the discussion. I think it’s been a good one.

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