Paul Young isn’t insulted at the suggestion that the lead character in “Cross Roads” has a dark soul. To the contrary, the author of “The Shack” chuckles with delight.
“Thank you,” he said. “That is a compliment. … I’m a writer that likes to explore questions, and one of my questions is: ‘How does grace or transformation get into the heart of someone who is really lost? Who’s really isolated themselves from relationships?’”
Anthony Spencer’s desolation is crucial to Young’s latest exploration of man’s relationship with God. Tony’s not supposed to be likable. He has achieved many of the trappings of material success, including vast wealth and property, but his life is empty and he is alone.
“The Shack” explored the question of how can God allow awful things to happen to good people, and how can people forgive. “Cross Roads” considers how a man estranged from God reconnects. Young’s premise is that there is a God who loves every human being and with respect “climbs into the middle of our stuff.” What he’s trying to explore in “Cross Roads” is how that happens.
To accomplish this, Young cast Tony as a nearly empty and adrift vessel of humanity. Tony is such a creep that, after his marriage ends in divorce, he woos his ex-wife back because he was disappointed that things ended so genteelly. They remarry and he quickly files for divorce, and he’s pleased that this time around she is angry and scorned.
Tony reaches his crossroad when he suffers a cerebral hemorrhage. While lying comatose in the hospital, he encounters Jesus. Tony is left to examine the life he has led, as well as the consequences of his actions.
There are shades of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and C.S. Lewis’ “Great Divorce” in Tony’s journey through his life. Young said the idea of crossroads fascinates him because there are so many triggers that can prompt people to reflect. Tony has suffered loss in his life, loss that Young uses as a metaphor for belonging.
Young, whose parents were evangelical missionaries, speaks easily about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They are dear to him, and his affection and respect are sincere. “I really don’t want to be a ‘Christian’ writer,” Young said. “I’m a creative writer who explores questions of faith.”
He doesn’t deny his evangelical roots, but his writing isn’t meant as a platform for any particular religious group. “The Pharisees are my people, but I don’t want to be them. I don’t think it helps expand the conversation,” he said.
“I want every human being to believe that they matter. I want to begin to explore some of the depth, explore nuances and shades and hues of the magnificence of human creation and the relationship to God.”