For many Christians today, the body is a hot topic. Mostly due to changing sexual mores, we are concerned that our culture is teaching us more and more that our bodies don’t matter; emphasizing that only our minds or souls matter. After all, my body is just a shell or vehicle for the “real” me, right? I was reminded that the Christian view of the body has understood (and should continue to understand) the body as much more than a shell or vehicle. The body is so important that the second Person of the Godhead felt it necessary to obtain one for His plan of redemption.
A few days ago, my 4-year-old son who is, to put it lightly, injury-prone, lost a fight with a stationary wooden chair and ended up with a sizable laceration on his lip. My daughters are very sensitive to the ailments of their younger brother, and my oldest was severely affected by the sight of such a vicious wound. What’s more interesting is that her mind began rejecting the idea of the Body. For her, the body seemed so fragile, and the potential for pain and suffering so unbearable, that it would be better if we didn’t have them at all (very profound thoughts for a 10-year-old).
Is she right? Are our bodies just a crutch; a weakness with no benefit? In many belief systems, such as those of the Gnostics or in some Eastern religions, this is the view of the body; that we can only be good when we are removed from the body and that we are better off without them. Even the Bible uses a term like “flesh” that seems to suggest our bodies are more trouble than they are worth.
The reality is that our bodies are a most precious gift.
Our Own Incarnations
Although the Christian is to be primarily concerned with the soul1 as the center of one’s existence, the body is intimately connected with the soul. Think of how our minds and feelings are affected by lack of sleep, exercise, or proper nutrition. Our bodies are the primary means in which we instantiate ourselves in this world. We impress our being upon reality — people, things, history — by way of our physical body. So, like it or not, our bodies play a very important role in our experience as humans.
Furthermore, while its fragile and corrupt nature makes us susceptible to pain and trauma, which in turn affects our souls, it is also susceptible to experiencing beauty and grace, which also strikes the deepest chords of our souls. Think of how our minds are affected by our bodily senses experiencing beauty and grace — the sounds of a newborn’s first cry, the familiar smells of home or church, the warmth of a hug from a friend or family member. Our body connects us with a world that God pronounced “good” at creation and it allows us to express goodness and beauty toward one another.
The body is so important that God felt it necessary to have one Himself. From the beginning of God’s dealing with His people, he had promised them he would “dwell in your midst”. This occurred in its fullest form in the Incarnation of Christ Jesus; Immanuel 2, “God with us”. God donned human flesh and fulfilled the promise of connectedness in the physical world our bodies participate in.
The Consequence of our Body is Inescapable
There will always be questions about how distinct our bodies are from our minds. But, as we have seen, it is impossible to say that the body is of no consequence to the mind. This is one of the best arguments against a gender theory that says we should be able to choose the sex we “identify” with.
Many people profess that gender is a social construct; something culture just invented, rather than something built into our humanity. In other words, the body doesn’t matter, only the mind. But these same people accept a person’s right to change their body to match the gender their mind tells them they are.
For example, a person born a girl thinks she is a boy, so she takes hormones and has surgery performed on her to give her male features. In other words, she wants her body to match what her mind tells her she is.
So it appears the body matters after all, even to those who think it does not.
A Theology of the Body
It is important that the Christian understands that modern culture only cares for the individual’s right to be and do whatever it wants. Any religious ideology that stands in the way of that is public enemy number one.
That’s you, dear Christian.
We know that confusing the significance of the body has disastrous effects. Just look at any statistic of the mental health and social issues of the LGBT community (and don’t blame it on discrimination). The sexual revolution has brought an increase of abortions, broken families, sexual assaults, and mental health issues by teaching that we can do whatever we want with our bodies.
I encourage Christians to understand a theology of the body. John Paul II’s treatment of this theology set the bar, but was lengthy and technical. I recommend a resource like J. Budziszewski’s On The Meaning of Sex (see my recommendation here) to get the same essential treatment of human sexuality that is a bit more understandable.
I encourage this because without working these issues out from a biblical and logical point of view, we are susceptible to simply accepting the status quo. When our friends, families, and especially our children, see our culture praising ideas the body means nothing and that we are free to do whatever we want with it, we must be prepared to defend the Christian perspective on what our bodies mean and their importance in living out the faith.