If you’re a doctrinally focused type (and I definitely deserve that descriptor), then picking a children’s Bible for bedtime reading can be a chore. Bad options abound, books that are either too twee or too serious. Too old-fashioned or too progressive. Too doctrinal or too loose with essentials. Too … well, you get the idea. Simply reading the Bible to your kids sounds like, you know, the ideal option, but have you ever tried to get through the twenty-third Psalm with a pair of wiggly tots? Little eyes start wandering before you get to still waters, let alone heads anointed with oil. That’s part of the reason why I find John Hendrix’s Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus so compelling. It doesn’t purport to be straight up retelling of the Gospels. Rather, it’s a creative redaction of biblical stories illustrated with such splashy verve that it’s sure to keep little ones glued to the proverbial page.
How? Well, Miracle Man opens with a decidedly mythic cast: “Ages ago, in a dry and dusty land, the people were in need. The land was a sick place, in need of healing. The land was a blind place, in need of sight. The land was a thirsty, place in need of water … the kind of living water that would last forever.” Now lest the word “mythic” throw you for a loop, remember how C.S. Lewis wrote to Arthur Greeves that “the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.” Hendrix gets this and also gets that popular society has stripped the transcendence away from the gospel narratives, making Jesus into an archaic, slightly backward moralist. So Miracle Man aims to put the majesty back into the story of Christ.
And how truly majestic it is.
While saying that Hendrix stitches together accounts of Jesus’ miraculous works into a cohesive whole is accurate enough, it doesn’t really give you the right impression of the title. This is a picture book that’s every bit as splashy as offerings from, say, JiHyeon Lee or Doug TenNapel (although it has its own distinct style). Hendrix makes familiar accounts explode onto the page, often shaping the scenery itself into the words of the story. When Jesus calms the storm over the Sea of Galilee, “be still” rips from his lips in stylized gusts of wind and bolts of lightning. The trees in the garden of Gethsemane twist themselves into Christ’s call for Peter to lay down his weapon. Most everything Jesus touches becomes saturated with color, bright touches amongst a drab, fallen tableau.
Striking stuff. Indeed, Hendrix’s art is so provocative that it might seem suspect at points until you realize that he’s drawing from a deep well of biblical imagery and metaphor. For example, why in the world should ethereal ebony snakes shudder out of the body of a leper when Jesus heals him? Remember, though, that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” who is “that ancient serpent,” and one of the ways he did this was by “taking our illnesses and bearing our diseases”—all of which Hendrix encapsulates in a single vivid image. The feeding of the five thousand and the last supper contain equally delicious theological allusions. True, some idiosyncratic choices push Miracle Man a bit beyond the text. Though Judas was certainly the son of perdition, the text never records him explicitly denying Jesus’ godhood as happens here, and the lame man let down through the roof gets transmuted into a little boy. But such variations matter little in the end. Miracle Man is marvelous—and true—mythmaking.
(Picture: Copyright 2016 by John Hendrix; used under fair use)