“Tell me what you are afraid of”

This is an excerpt from The Shack, an allegory. The setting is a dock, on a small lake, out by a secluded country cabin. Mack is the main character, a man struggling with some serious pain and injustice (more than most of us will ever know). Jesus, in simple human form, is chatting with him. He’s invited Mack to walk with him on the water.

“Tell me what you are afraid of, Mack.”

“Well, let me see. What am I afraid of?” Began Mack. “Well, I am afraid of looking like an idiot. I am afraid that you are making fun of me and that I will sink like a rock. I imagine that – ”

“Exactly,” Jesus interrupted. “You imagine. Such a powerful ability, the imagination! That power alone makes you so like us. But without wisdom, imagination is a cruel taskmaster. If I may prove my case, do you think humans were designed to live in the present or the past or the future?”

“Well,” said Mack, hesitating, “I think the most obvious answer is that we were designed to live in the present. Is that wrong?”

Jesus chuckled. “Relax, Mack; this is not a test, it’s a conversation. You are exactly correct, by the way. But now tell me, where do you spend most of your time in your mind, in your imagination, in the present, in the past, or in the future?”

Mack thought for a moment before answering. “I suppose I would have to say that I spend very little time in the present. For me, I spend a big piece in the past, but most of the rest of the time, I am trying to figure out the future.”

“Not unlike most people. When I dwell with you, I do so in the present – I live in the present. Not the past, although much can be remembered and learned by looking back, but only for a visit, not an extended stay. And for sure, I do not dwell in the future you visualize or imagine. Mack, do you realize that your imagination of the future, which is almost always dictated by fear of some kind, rarely, if ever, pictures me there with you?”

Again Mack stopped and thought. It was true. He spent a lot of time fretting and worrying about the future, and in his imaginations it was usually pretty gloomy and depressing, if not outright horrible. And Jesus was also correct in saying that in Mack’s imaginations of the future, God was always absent.