Philip Yancey previously served as editor-at-large for Christianity Today magazine. His books include “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” and “The Jesus I Never Knew.” He recently updated and combined two of his books into one, “Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image.” Co-authored with surgeon Dr. Paul Brand (now deceased), the book talks about the beauty of the human body and how it shows God’s fingerprints. Yancey lives with his wife, Janet, in Colorado.
How do modern culture and Scripture diverge in their definitions of image?
Many of us try to project the perfect image to those around us, and it’s only magnified through social media.
“We are in the middle of an election campaign, and one of the most important positions for every candidate is the ‘image-spinner’ and ‘image-maker,’” Yancey said. “So, if one of the candidates says something really stupid, he or she has these image people go, ‘Well, he really didn’t mean that. It was taken out of context.’ That almost means the opposite of the historical use of image. Image is supposed to be a likeness—something that reminds you of something else.”
Yancey said God took quite a risk to give humans the opportunity to represent and reflect His image.
“We say a baby is the spitting image of his father,” Yancey added. “If you look at that little baby, even though it’s 10 pounds and his father is 200 pounds, there’s something that reminds you of the father. That’s an accurate parallel to the image of God. We are supposed to reflect something of who God is so that when the rest of the world looks at us, ‘Oh, that’s the way God is and what He is like.’ Jesus gave us the exact image. We’re a very inexact image, but God trusted His reputation so that we could go around and show the world you don’t have to be full of violence, you can forgive and love your enemies.”
It’s easy to reflect the attributes of God—such as love and kindness—when people respond likewise, but Yancey said we should reflect God’s image in all situations.
Yancey once preached on the challenge of praying for those who persecute you. A U.S. Army colonel in the congregation took it to heart.
“He went back and said, ‘I’ve had tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I’ve tried to kill them, but never prayed for them,’” he said. “He started a website, www.atfp.org, Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer. It’s got all of these pictures of terrorists. These are bad, bad guys trying to kill Americans, and you sign up to pray for them. Well, his commanding officer wasn’t very enthralled with this. His response was, ‘Because that’s the only way they’ll know what your Father is like.’ That’s a stark illustration of what God is like. It is so counterintuitive and nonhuman.”
Yancey said what truly matters is bearing God’s image, not building up an imitation image.
“We live in such a competitive society,” Yancey said. “If you don’t get in the right school, get the right job or the right car, you feel like a failure. The question is, ‘Are you demonstrating the image of God?’ And if you do that, everything else takes second place.”
What would you say to someone who says humans are a product of evolution?
“If you take evolution to its extremity, you really have no reason why we should be any different than any other animal,” Yancey said. “Evolution is based on natural selection and the survival of the fittest. So why should we care about diseased people and old people? There are some philosophers who took that to its logical conclusion, ‘We shouldn’t care about them. They’re just holding us back.’ Hitler influenced by that, said, ‘Yea, let’s get rid of the people we don’t like.’”
What is the significance of the birth of Christ?
“What an amazing leap downward from Master of the universe to human being who got crucified. The poets just love this: ‘The One who made the cattle was laid in a feeding trough.’ ‘The One who created the universe is sucking at a woman’s breast.’ Just one thing after another shows that extraordinary act of humility.”
Yancey, who once interviewed President Jimmy Carter and visited his church, shared an example of Christian humility.
“When we went to the church that day, they had a sign-up sheet for people in the church and tasks that they would need volunteers. He (Carter) and Rosalynn signed up that week for cleaning the bathrooms. Isn’t that something? That’s an incredible example of when he was president, he was leading the greatest army in the world. But when he’s part of the Body of Christ in Plains, Georgia, the bathrooms need cleaning, ‘I can do that.’”