In a sense, this sort of starts as a book review and ends as a blog post…
I first read this book quite some time ago. It is by Paul Brand (and Philip Yancey – my impression is that Paul provides the knowledge of the body, while Philip provides the knowledge of words). Paul Brand is one of my heroes. The book Ten Fingers for God will get a review at some point – it’s biographical. To sum up his life, Paul Brand was an absolute giant in his field. A hand surgeon and leprosy specialist, this man knew a thing or two about the human body. He also know a lot about pain, even writing another book, Pain: the Gift Nobody Wants.
But this book is about the body. The human body, and the body of Christ. Noting that the Bible makes much of the metaphor of the church as a body, Paul Brand decided to run with it, and reached some wonderful conclusions. The book is split into four sections: Cells, Bones, Skin and Motion. Each of these sections is then divided into chapters, each covering a different aspect. For example, the section on Bones is split into: A Frame, Hardness, Freedom, Growth, Adapting, Inside-Out.
Each of these chapters then explores how our knowledge of the human body can help us to consider what the church is like, or should be like. Brand’s enviable knowledge of the body gives us fascinating insight into the metaphor, and adds layers of meaning that I’d previously not considered.
Read this book if you want to be awed by the human body. Its complexity and intricacies are staggering. Read this book if you want to be challenged about what the church should look like, and how it should work.
Here are a couple of snippets that made me think:
Seventy separate muscles contribute to hand movements. I could fill a room with surgery manuals suggesting various ways to repair hands that have been injured. But in forty years of study I have never read a technique that has succeeded in improving a normal, healthy hand.
Funny to think that we can repair our bodies, but can’t improve them. I don’t mean exercise, obviously – that’s not an improvement of the body, that’s just better use of it!
And then there was this bit. Bear in mind this is written by a man who knows the value of touch; a man whose life’s work has been devoted to those who have deadened physical sensations. It illustrates well his blurring of the lines between the human body and the body of the church.
Every week my mailbox bulges with appeals for help from Christian organizations involved in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoners, healing the sick. They describe to me that horrible condition of a hurting world and request my money to help relieve the pain. Often I give, because I have lived and worked among the world’s suffering and because I know most of these organizations conscientiously shed love and compassion abroad. But it saddens me that the only thread connecting millions of giving Christians to that world is the distant, frail medium of direct mail. Ink stamped on paper, stories formula-edited to achieve the best results – there is no skin involved, no sense of touch.
What a lament – sorrow that we can’t touch the pain of others in far-flung countries. A sadness that our response is not skin-to-skin. He carries on:
If I only express love vicariously through a check [cheque, if you’re a Brit!], I will miss the incredible richness of response that a tactile loving summons up. Not all of us can serve in the Third World where human needs abound. But all of us can visit prisoners, take meals to shut-ins, and minister to unwed mothers or foster children. If we choose to love only in a long-distance way, we will be deprived, for skin requires regular contact if it is to remain sensitive and responsive.
I can’t claim we’re doing a particularly good job of things, but one of the reasons we moved church was because we wanted to be present in the community we live in. There’s something meaningful somehow about doing church here in our community. Of course, that’s not a pattern that everyone has to follow, but it was certainly part of our call here.
And then he goes on:
Again, the best illustration of this truth is Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God living on this planet. The Book of Hebrews sums up his experience on earth by declaring that we now have a leader who can be touched with the feelings of our weakness (Hebrews 4:15). God saw the need to come alongside us … God dwelt among us and touched us.
Immanuel. God with us. Touching, moving, hearing, healing, speaking, feeling. His body is able to do all these things. Are we honouring Him with our bodies? Are we honouring Him with His body?