I have been thinking about Jacob a lot recently. I was commissioned to write a short story about genetic modification and chose to write about Jacob’s spotted-sheep breeding program (Gen. 30:37–43)—perhaps the oldest example of deliberate gene manipulation for profit.
Back in the mid-1990s I wrote a book on sin. Each of us knows sin experientially, of course, but few of us know it comprehensively even in that way because we are parochial even in our sinning. So I had to study sin. For a couple of years I read about sin in the Bible. I read commentaries on the Bible, theological encyclopedia articles and books on virtue and vice.
In late July the largest city in my state declared bankruptcy. In 1950, Detroit, Michigan, was the fifth largest city in the nation, roughly the same size as Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Booming automobile companies made middle-class citizens of people who worked in them.
Years later I still feel the shame. I was visiting a young man in a facility for people with severe brain injuries. He was agitated and eager to walk, so I joined him as he went from room to room and looked in each room as if he were searching for someone. Eventually we came to a big room that was not in use. At the far end a couple of janitors were at work buffing the floor.
On a wall in Stockholm’s cathedral hangs a huge 17th-century painting of the Last Judgment that depicts the falling bodies of the damned. On a recent visit to that church I gave the painting little more than a glance. A longer look might have found something of beauty or interest, but my reaction just then was to wish that it were not there.