23 August 2010
Though I am working on a number of other books right now, I needed a small paperback to read while pacing at night with my newborn son. Having heard about this self-published religious book on the New York Times bestseller list for over two years, I was intrigued. And indeed, the novel was a rewarding experience that allowed me to examine traditional dogma about the godhead, judgment, repentance, and the afterlife. Young's simple writing style is effective at conveying difficult religious concepts, though it would be a bit of a stretch to claim the book lays out a coherent theology. Instead, the book, while fictional, seeks to describe God and religion in more personal terms that can be better grasped by all laypersons.
Following the brutal murder of his daughter Missy, Mack feels even more distant from his Creator. So God sends him a brief note (signed Papa) inviting Mack to meet with him at the very sight of the murder. What follows is a CS Lewis-esque dialectic enclosed in a symbolic weekend vacation getaway. Mack meets God, or rather the Godhead, who appear as a good-natured black woman, a Middle Eastern Jew, and an ethereal Asian young woman. God collectively effuses a mix of complex teleological competence, love, and forgiveness. And indeed, the context of Missy's death is a vivid foundation to discuss questions of suffering and the purpose of life.
"I am not who you think I am." So says God to Mack, the character around which the novel revolves. Indeed, that seems to be the real thrust of the entire novel. Tradition, culture, dogma, and religious institutions have shrouded the true nature of God and his personal relationship with man. The author's best writing comes out when he attempts to reorient our thinking about God, the afterlife, the role of the church, and the authorship of the scriptures, and the nature of the Godhead. The danger in such a style of writing is that it tends towards a shock-and-awe tone that may tend to be controversial for its own sake. The author does not engage too much in this, though the lack of a coherent worldview in the narrative seems to suggest that he sometimes just throws new ideas out there to see if they will stick.
I enjoyed the book and its thought-provoking ideas, but I cannot elevate it to a CS Lewis level-apologetic. The ending, while surprising, undermines some of the facets of the narrative. And as a work of fiction, the author appears to have taken a few too many creative liberties that negatively impacts his credibility. Still, for a middle-of-the-night-read with a baby in my arms, it was a lot of fun.