Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image (Updated and combined edition), Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.
Summary: A new edition combining two classic works exploring both the wonders of the human anatomy, the value and dignity of every human being, and parallels with the functioning of the body of Christ.
Thirty years ago Dr. Paul Brand and writer Philip Yancey teamed up on two books exploring the wonders of the human body, Brand’s medical practice and its affirmation of the human dignity of even some of the most physically unapproachable and parallels to the body of Christ. I never had a chance to read these works but every person I met who hand raved at the beauty of these works. Now, thirty years later, and having read a new edition combining these two works, I am ready to join the chorus of those who praise the fruit of this collaboration. This writing about how fearfully and wonderfully made is indeed wonderful.
Brand’s distinctive work up until his death in 2003 was his work among those with leprosy, and his critical insight that began with his first encounter with a leper that the insidious part of the disease was its destruction of nerve endings that transmit pressure and pain. Deformities, particularly in hands and feet result from repeated injuries that occur because people don’t feel the pain of fire, or wounds from tools or knives or implements, or even the turning of an ankle. Much of Brand’s work as an orthopedic surgeon was operating on misshapen hands and feet, eyelids, noses, and restoring function and form.
One of the beauties of this work was the power of treating those who suffered from these deformities as persons of great dignity. At one point the book describes an incident where Brand was assuring a leprosy patient that they could arrest the disease with medication and restore some movement. As he did so, he made what he thought a joke as he put his arm around the young man’s shoulder, and the young man began to sob. Brand discovered that the man was crying because no one had touched him for many years.
Another part of the beauty of this book lies in the descriptions of the wonders of the human body. He describes the incredible diversity of cells that make our bodies, and how they all share the same set of instructions on their chromosomes. He describes how normally functioning bodies distribute stress and adjust when tissues are expose to repeated stress. Lepers, who cannot feel, do not. He explores various bodily systems: skin, blood, respiration, bone, and muscle, sensory nerves and brain. So much that we are unaware of reflects incredibly complex and efficient systems to sustain, protect, and heal our bodies.
The third beauty of this book is the insights drawn from our physical anatomy to a parallel Body–the Body of Christ.Brand describes the primitive but effective techniques of vaccinating people using the lymph of previously vaccinated persons to vaccinate others, protecting them from and overcoming deadly illnesses like smallpox. Then follows a spiritual insight into what it means to overcome by the blood of the Lamb, blood that overcomes the infection, and effects of sin.
Descriptions of the wonder of human anatomy, the dignity of every human being and the healthy functioning of Christ’s body weave through this work. These lessons all have one end–to help us understand what it means both individually and collectively to be image bearers, the embodied representations of God and Christ to the world. I came away from reading this work with a profound sense of wonder and thankfulness for the function of my body in all its parts and its whole. The very act of typing these words is a wonder, involving thought, brain centers dedicated to each of my fingers, visual impulses from my eyes, all woven together. How wonderful it is when one works with a team of believers, using our various gifts and skills toward common goals, accomplishing far more together than any of us could individually. Brand and Yancey not only open my eyes with the wonders they describe and their spiritual parallels, they encourage me to look for these wonders in my own life and the world around me, fostering what an embryologist friend describes as doxological fascination, a rather fancy way of describing “fearfully and wonderfully.” That seems to me to be a rather wonderful way to live.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.