Mockingbird’s newest resource, Eden and Afterward, by Will McDavid, is available now! With imagination and deep empathy, the book brings to life some of the Bible’s oldest stories, looking at them through the lens of narrative. The symbols, motifs, situations, and characters explore the murky depths of human love, envy, pride, and need for deliverance. It’s a Bible commentary with surprising imagination, intellectually grounded but always approachable, and a guide to familiar work that brings the unfamiliar to light. The book is available from our printer, Createspace, as well as Amazon. Mockingbird benefits more if you click the first – but each to his own. Excerpt from the introduction below:
There’s an old story of a Jewish rabbi who once attempted to heal a blind man. After rubbing saliva in the man’s eyes and laying hands on him, the rabbi asked if the cure had worked. “I can see people,” the man ventured, “but they look like trees, walking.” Then, as the account of this healing in the book of Mark puts it, “Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”
The most obvious way to look at the healing is as a partially botched job, the first time around, like when a character in the Harry Potter books tries to transfigure someone into a cat, but only succeeds in giving their human target whiskers and a tail. But the man’s fuzzy, only partially restored vision works as a potent metaphor for the way we view the world around us. We see other people through the lenses of expectations and grudges, biases and resentments. Or perhaps our lens is rose-colored, like the immovable love a parent has for a child.
These resentments and biases and blind spots impair our ability to live. The way we see the world deeply affects our ability to love and feel loved, to forgive others and forgive ourselves. Sin and self-justification often blind us to the way things truly are, and in so doing they damage our relationships with others and with God. Reconciliation in those relationships, giving and receiving mercy, and learning to love lie at the core of our desires as humans. These desires are frustrated by our blindness, so we pray, like another blind man, “My teacher, let me see again” (Mk 10:51).
Stories captivate us because the good ones sharpen our vision. They teach us about the world, about other people, and about ourselves. Good stories can be revisited over and over, throughout one’s entire life, and there is always more to see, more to take away. A good story’s reserve of truth is inexhaustible, because stories describe our ineffable human experience; we see the meanings of our lives and the things that happen to us blurrily—they appear like trees, walking. So as a story’s various images and characters and meanings come into focus ever more sharply, they simultaneously reveal how much meaning continues to elude us.
The stories contained in the book of Genesis are, at worst, brilliant bits of cultural mythology that endure, like the Greek myths, because they express an unspeakable something which lies near the essence of human experience. On the lowest estimation, Genesis has earned its place alongside such literary masterpieces as The Iliad, The Odyssey, or Othello. Like those works, Genesis has exercised an enduring power to shape one of the world’s oldest and most rich cultures, Judaism, to say nothing of its ongoing influence today. But on the highest estimation, Genesis presents something even greater: an exploration of the relationship between God and human beings, a work which cannot lead us astray because it is an authoritative revelation by God himself.
At its lowest common denominator, which is world-class literature, Genesis can be examined for how it works as a story, for its deep reservoir of truth about humanity and, just possibly, God. It can be appreciated by anyone as great literature, and yet it always resists being read as just great literature. To the three world religions which hold it in highest esteem, whenever we examine the literary merits of Genesis—just as we would with Faulkner or Hemingway—the book subtly prods us toward reading it as something more than just good literature. So although this companion to Genesis will focus upon the stories’ symbols, motifs, emotions and characters, the human experience distilled into these narratives will constantly raise new questions, questions of providence and blessing and judgment.
At the heart of these questions lies God’s relationship with Israel and, by extension, the way he relates to us today. But we must start with human experience, just as Christianity started with a series of concrete, grounded events, which doctrine then described. So the stories here must come before our ideas about them, must be allowed to shape those ideas rather than vice-versa. They ask us to imagine their sights, sounds and scents, placing us in their characters’ shoes and asking us to feel their emotions. When the Bible chooses to speak about God through story, imagination and empathy come first, and analysis comes second.
This companion to the stories of Genesis focuses on God’s gradual, messy, and often convoluted redemption of fallen humanity in history…