William P. Young leaned against the podium casually as he surveyed Wednesday’s convocation attendees. He laughed and shrugged his shoulders as he addressed his audience. “I’m in so over my head you have no idea he said.
Many may find Young’s statement difficult to believe. He is the author of best-selling novel, The Shack, which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. Despite his unquestionable success, it was Young’s humility that impressed members of the Pepperdine community. In his introductory speech, campus minister Thomas Fitzpatrick described Young as a simple man” that God has used “to deeply impact the culture of today.”
Young is a self-described “accidental author” who has never taken a writing class. Though he has never been formally trained he has a passion for storytelling.
“Stories have a way of penetrating to the heart Young said. It opens up space.”
He began writing The Shack at the request of his wife who wanted him to pen his thoughts on life as a gift to their six children.
Despite the astounding success of The Shack it was initially difficult for Young to find a publisher. He said he submitted the manuscript to 26 publishing houses both Christian and secular. It was rejected by every single one.
Too religious for secular publishers and not religious enough for Christian publishers Young’s book “got stuck between edgy and Jesus.” However by this point the book already had dedicated proponents. Committed to giving the public access to The Shack two of Young’s friends formed their own publishing company.
Young’s friends advertised The Shack through a podcast that reached over 150 countries. Through the podcast1000 copies of The Shack were pre-sold before being delivered from the printers. The response to the book was overwhelming; within two weeks Young had over 50000 emails sitting in his inbox hailing from countries across the globe.
So what is it about The Shack a book initially intended to serve only as a gift to Young’s children that so deeply touches the spirits of readers?
“The Shack is a building where we store our secrets Young said. The story of a man who is invited by God to return to the place where he believes his youngest daughter was murdered, Young dubs his book a true story that isn’t real.” The crux of The Shack is about discovering who God is in the midst of pain and suffering.
The physical shack that Young created within the pages of his book is representative of the secret memories addictions and grievances that Young believes we store deep within ourselves. Young said he believes that the root of this secrecy is the fear that we will not be accepted if people discover the deepest levels of our pain.
Despite his background as a missionary kid with a degree in religion Young said his knowledge of the Biblical God proved an insufficient remedy to the painful sickness of his childhood.
“Religion…never touched the damage in my heart he said. Religion never healed any of it. Never.”
Young’s heart damage was rooted in a dark pain that he harbored silently for years. Young faced continuous sexual abuse beginning at age four and up through his boarding school years. The cycle of abuse wracked him with shame.
“Shame is just self-hatred in another form he said. Relationship (with God) is what healed me but it wasn’t an easy process.”
Young’s recovery was rooted in the discovery of an intimate relationship with Christ that was not based on religious practices but on God’s “relentless” love. At the basis of Young’s book are the answers to two questions that he believes are fundamental: Who is God and what is His character?
To these self-imposed questions Young answers confidently “I am absolutely convinced that there is a God – Father Son and Holy Spirit – who is good all the time and there is a God who is involved in the details of our lives.” As to the nature of this God he says “Everything God does is motivated by his character which is undeniably love.”
Though some controversy has surrounded The Shack Young welcomes conflict as the pathway to conversation. While critics like Albert Mohler president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have gone as far as to call the book “undiluted heresy Young holds fast to the faith-based message of the The Shack.
In the writing of his book, Young’s earnest prayer was this: I do not want to be an old man looking back and wondering what would to have been like to take the risks involving faith.”