Acquiring a Taste

Michael Metzger

Verbs and nouns
“You don’t really have to eat, do you?” Mack asked. “We don’t have to eat anything,” Papa replied. “Then why do you eat?” Mack inquired. “To be with you, honey. You need to eat, so what better excuse to be together.”1 In this story, “Papa” is God – who is a big, black woman. If you find the picture of God as a female to be distasteful, you might not have acquired a taste for heaven. That’s because God might be a verb rather than a noun.

Mack’s conversation with Papa can be found in The Shack, written by William Young. It’s the story of Mackenzie (“Mack”) Allen Phillips, a devoted dad who takes his three younger children camping one weekend. Happiness turns to horror when their youngest, Missy, is murdered by a serial killer. Police only find Missy’s bloodied dress in a nearby shack. Her death extinguishes the flame of Mack’s faith. He grows indifferent about faith because God seemed to be indifferent about Missy’s fate. Yet the real problem is that Mack imagines God more as a noun.

“Nouns exist because there is a created universe and physical reality, but if the universe is only a mass of nouns, it is dead,” Papa tells Mack. Buckminster Fuller, never known for orthodoxy, suggested that God is a verb. He might have been on to something. “I am a verb,” Papa continues. “I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a being verb.” Okay, take a breath test: does this leave a bad taste in your mouth? If so, how do you think eternity ought to taste?

The problem here is that we’re finite beings imagining an infinite being that resides in eternity (whew, that’s easier to write than imagine). The fact is, “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Cor. 2:9). Our mental models of God and eternity are inevitably cramped. It is the contribution of faith that yields “a certain widening of the imagination,” Luci Shaw said.2 How does that happen? In Luke 24, it’s as simple as sharing a meal.

Luke starts the story when a few women came to Jesus’ tomb. They were expecting him to be dead as a doornail. The women were looking for a body, a noun. Two angels instead quiz them: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” Notice that the angels use verbs like living. The women tell the men, but they don’t get it (let’s not go there) “because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (24:11). The men imagine God as a noun. Later that day, Jesus comes alongside two of them going to Emmaus and the noun guys urge Jesus to stay with them. As they share a meal, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (24:31).

What was it about a meal that widened their imagination? If you read the Bible with a wide-angle lens, one of the most remarkable themes threaded from Genesis to Revelation is take and eat. In Genesis, God invites Adam and Eve to take and eat. The serpent corrupts this good setting by urging them to take and eat what was forbidden. In restoring creation, Jesus brought his followers together around a table and invited them to take and eat. In the new heavens and new earth, there is a grand feast where we take and eat (Mt. 22:1-14). So, what’s remarkable about take and eat? It’s this: God simply enjoys being with – with each other and with us. Period. When Mack asks Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu (a Middle Eastern laborer complete with tool belt and gloves – yes, the Holy Spirit) why they’re eating with him, Papa replies, “To be with you, honey. You need to eat, so what better excuse to be together.” To be with you…

“Heaven,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “is an acquired taste.”3 If God is a noun, then he’s a person. If he’s a person, then gender is worth wrangling over. This probably accounts for why some people are upset about God being a woman in The Shack. But Papa cautions Mack: “there is far more going on here than you have the ability to perceive. Let me assure you all of this is real, far more real than life as you’ve known it.” If eye has not seen nor has ear heard nor has it even entered our mind what eternity is like, then getting into a fender bender over God’s gender probably misses the entire point – just like the disciples in Luke 24. God is love. Love is a verb. God is a being. Being is a verb.

The best thing about The Shack is that it reminds us of a mind-blowing reality – that God enjoys “being with” – plain and simple. Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu take pleasure in hanging out with each other and with people like you and me. Put The Shack on your summer reading list along with Luke 24 and see whether you acquire more of a taste for heaven.

_____________
1 William Young, The Shack (Los Angeles, CA: Windblown Media, 2007).
2 C.f. Luci Shaw, “Art and Christian Spirituality: Companions in the Way,” Direction Journal, Fall 1998, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 109-122.
3 Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. W. H. Lewis (Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace, 1966), p. 164.

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6 thoughts on “Acquiring a Taste”

  1. I like the idea of God as including both male and female. Makes sense, given that when he made man in Genesis 1, he made him “male and female.” Seems to strongly imply a Father-Mother.

    I think that thinking of God as a verb as well as a noun gives an expanding sense of him as well.

    On another note, I read an article by a physicist once that suggested that “infinity” and “eternity” are most easily thought of as “here” and “now.”

    Another thought that’s helped me along this line is the idea of “equipoise.” I read once that “equipoise” meant that all of God’s power was present at every point of his presence. No matter where we are, we have all of God at hand. There’s no way some of him could be gone.

    Once I was trying to help a group of leaders overcome a sense of scarcity. I realized that there a number of very important things they could never be short of: smiles, compliments, encouraging words, good will, gratitude.

    In the same way, we are never short of numbers. They are all present at every point in the universe.

    God as Father-Mother, God as noun and verb, God as always here and now, all of God’s power is available at every point–these all help me feel closer to the divine presence.

  2. Eating together seems to be a dying habit for families overwhelmed with busyness. In a privileged moment for my wife & I, Os Guinness counseled us on the importance of being fully present. Among the many brilliant subtleties Young presents, “Papa” eating with Mack is a wonderful illustration of how our families ought to be.

    As the father of 4 girls, the Shack was very difficult for me to read – not quitting during the abduction was an act of discipline – enduring a nightmare. Young used the grip he had on me to stretch me beyond how I have imagined God and the metaphysical. Is The Shack a fact? I doubt it. But at the end of the story I felt reinvigorated for C.S. Lewis’ “scent of a flower” not yet seen.

  3. Did you happen to notice how Young’s portrayal of the Trinity also denoted the delight each part of the Trinity had in each other. In fact, I thought the interaction of the Trinity was the most fascinating part of the book. It sure got my imagination going.

  4. Jonathan Jones

    I have a friend who grew up on a reservation in South Dakota during the 50’s and early 60’s. His father had some type of government position there. His family was not Native American.

    Mike told me that is was common for members of the tribe to show up at 2 a.m. They would silently sit in the living drinking coffee with his father for up to an hour. Not a word was ever spoken.

    At some point they would rise and say, “Mr. Godsell, it has been nice being with you.” then turn and leave.

    This was an integral part of this tribe’s social interaction. It also shaped how Mike interacts with people.

  5. Dear Mike– I really like thinking of God as a verb. Most people hear, “I am that I am” as a noun. God is static, unchanging, a noun…But the person he IS in the revealed texts of the Old and New testaments is a very active, dynamic and relational God! So that makes a lot of sense to me.

    –Dan

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