Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fellow pilgrim

Sometime in the '70s the high school where I was teaching inaugurated a reading period every day. During that time everyone in the classroom, including the teacher, was supposed to read something - anything. The idea was simply to encourage reading. But the period was only ten minutes long. I looked for something with short chapters that could be read more or less independently. I found Fearfully and Wonderfully Made by Philip Yancey and Paul Brand. That was my introduction to Philip Yancey and it was a timely introduction for me.

Christianity Today provides a profile of Yancey by Tim Stafford. Stafford:
All Philip's best writing is marked by sharp observation and caution in jumping to conclusions. His general stance is, "I didn't understand this [prayer, pain, the seeming absence of God], it was a problem to me, so I decided to try to learn from it. And now as a fellow pilgrim, I am going to offer you what I learned, to see if it helps you too."
He certainly helped me. Probably his most important book for me has been Disappointment with God, in which he approaches the questions about the silence or seeming unfairness of God in the face of suffering and pain. It, along with Ben Patterson's Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent, are surely among the best on this subject - at least for laymen. They are among the books I give away.

Yancey writes about suffering and pain without sentimentality and without the easy, pat, false comfort that can come so easily to the lips. His early co-author, Paul Brand, was a medical doctor who had worked with patients with leprosy. Stafford identifies one reason for their affinity:
... Brand had participated in the discovery that most of leprosy's terrible toll on lives began with numbness to pain. The loss of pain was at the heart of his patients' problems. In this scientific fact, Philip saw a spiritual metaphor. And he somehow felt his way to the realization—I say felt because I doubt that it was a conscious process—that pain would be the subject of his life. Dr. Brand gave him a way to start writing about pain without being too direct or too obvious.

Philip used to say that he was an odd candidate to write about suffering, since he had never suffered. I disagree. True, he had never been starved or tortured, nor did he suffer from a terrible disease. But he was a little boy who grew up without a father, a boy sensitive to the deprivations of his childhood, and a man who, despite his rational exterior, experienced life very deeply. As long as I have known Philip, he has been drawn to suffering people—to their written accounts, to their experiences shared in letters and conversations. Somehow people recognize this sensitivity in him: he started receiving an extraordinary deluge of confessions, even before he was a well-known author. People seek him out to tell him about their pain.
The article is informative and good. It should point more people toward Yancey's work - and that would be a good thing.

The Healing Pen | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

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