Review of Where the Light Fell by Philip Yancey

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Philip Yancey grew up in a religiously strict, fundamentalist home, raised by a single mother. Philip’s parents planned to be missionaries to Africa. While his parents prepared for the mission field, Philip and his brother Marshall were born. At age 23, Philip’s father developed polio and an iron lung took over his breathing. Not wanting a life of being paralyzed, Philip’s father checked himself out of the hospital against medical advice, and left the life-saving iron lung. Philip’s parents proclaimed God would heal him. He died two weeks later.

Comparing herself to Hannah, the mother of Samuel in the Bible, Philip’s mother dedicated her young sons to be missionaries to Africa, while prone upon her husband’s fresh grave.

The family struggled financially, living near Atlanta well below the poverty line. Philip’s maternal grandparents will not help, and this provides a clue to Philip’s mother’s harshness. Philip’s mother is moody, and a rift opens between her and her sons. Marshall and his mother never overcome this divide.

Philip explores the racism taught to him in church and in school, racism endemic to the Bible Belt and white southern culture. I didn’t grow up as far south as Philip, but I can easily relate to the same inculcation of injustice and easy use of the n-word.

Both boys are bright, even exceptional. One after the other they go off to Bible College in South Carolina. The college has sixty-some rules, and the atmosphere there seems like an extension of their legalistic church and home life. Marshall responds by turning from God, endeavoring to break every rule the school has.

Philip has a similar crisis of faith, yet in his skepticism God meets him in a life-changing encounter. This is where the light fell. Philip’s description of that event is one of the book’s highlights for me.

Marshall and Philip’s paths continued to diverge. Philip becomes a writer, well-known in Christian circles, while Marshall indulges in the excesses of the world and eschews belief in God. Philip contemplates how brothers raised in the same environment can come to such different lives.

If you’ve read any of Philip’s books, you’ll enjoy getting to know the man behind them.

@philipyancey #memoir