THERE are books you are conscious of reading open-mouthed at the discoveries you are making. They lift a cloud. Dr Paul Brand was a ground-breaking orthopaedic surgeon whose work with leprosy sufferers in India gave him a unique insight into how the body functions. This book combines two classics, Fearfully and Wonderfully and In His image, edited together and updated by Philip Yancey, whose spiritual journey was greatly influenced by Brand at a time of disillusion with the Church.
Brand takes Paul’s analogy in 1 Corinthians 12 of the Church and the human body, reliant for flourishing on all its parts. In leprosy patients, the millions of healthy cells in a hand or foot, or the rod and cone cells in the eye, can be rendered useless owing to the breakdown of nerve cells. Cells, the basic unit of an organism, are Brand’s passion, and we see them through his microscope: “lazy and leaden” fat cells; “sleek and supple” muscle cells; skin cells “arranging themselves in undulating patterns of softness and texture’; nerve cells with their “aura of wisdom and complexity”.
These hidden parts combine their efforts to give richness to life, but also teach something about larger organisms — families, groups, communities, nations and especially the Church. It’s safe to assume, he says, that God enjoys diversity and not just at the cellular level: the basis for unity begins “not with our similarity but with our diversity.”
The medical insights are awesome. Brand analyses what come into play in the three seconds he avoids running over an animal in the road: heart, muscles, vision, bronchial tunes, blood vessels, sweat glands all acting with each other to avert catastrophe. He watches fireflies and concludes that heart cells and fireflies both sense “an innate rightness about playing the same note at the same time”. He studies the crayfish, which relies exclusively on its outside armour for protection, and relates it to the Pharisees, reflecting that legalism spells out exactly what a person must do in order to arrive at a state of moral superiority.
Jesus didn’t leave behind a book or a doctrinal statement or a system of thought, he concludes. He left a visible community to embody him and represent God to the world. The book is a delight and a wonder.
Fearfully and Wonderfully: The marvel of bearing God’s image
Paul Brand and Philip Yancey
Hodder & Stoughton £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50