One of The Shack’s big surprises is that Papa (God the Father) is portrayed as a woman. Paul Young has his reasons, and I’m not terribly interested in arguing for or against it. But I want to mention how it affected my own writing process.
In my early attempts to paraphrase Bible passages in Shack language, it didn’t even occur to me to refer to Papa with feminine pronouns. But one day I noticed the disconnect between the book and the paraphrase, so I went through and changed the pronouns.
I was shocked at how much it changed the feel of the text. I wondered if it was perhaps TOO jarring, and I considered switching back to “he” and “his.” After all, gender is a prickly topic (in theology as much as everywhere else), and did I really want to give my potential critics such a big easy target?
After all, I do believe gender is theologically relevant. I’m not a body-denying dualist or a gnostic. Body and soul are one. My anatomy has something real to say about my personhood, my soul-deep identity. Besides, I’ve been a parent long enough to know that a father-child relationship is different from a mother-child relationship. It’s relevant that Jesus prayed to “Father” and not “Mother.” Gender is not a non-issue to me.
But in the end, I decided to keep the feminine pronouns. Why? Because the fact that it’s jarring is precisely the point. We have such deep mental ruts in our thinking about God, it is nearly impossible to get out of them. Seeing Papa as a woman is SUCH a big shift of mind, it forces us out of the ruts, forces us to start fresh and let go of our preconceptions of what our Papa is like.
That starting-fresh is possibly the most important thing The Shack had to accomplish. And if the female manifestation of Papa is what achieved it (and I think it really did), then I’m willing to stick with it in my paraphrase.