We live in a world that has a very low view of the human body. Our bodies are no longer important when our culture thinks about personhood. Instead, being a person is all about our feelings, emotions, and our cognitive abilities. These matters of the inner person – what the Christian might call ‘the soul’ – have become separated from the outer person. Not only are the inner and outer persons separated by our culture, but they are actually at odds with each other. The physical body is less than the inner person. What matters most is how you feel.
Consider how many pro-choice advocates argue for abortion today. Nobody disagrees that the fetus in the womb is a human being. Science has proven as much; children in the womb have a body, they can feel pain, and they have their own unique DNA code. They’re a human being. But abortion advocates tell us that the fetus isn’t a person because the fetus has little capacity for emotion and thought. One professor at Princeton University says it this way, “The life of a human organism begins in the womb, but the life of a person does not begin so early.” The prominent geneticist Francis Crick says that a newborn baby should have to pass certain tests on his or her ability to think and feel before they should be allowed to live. If the baby cannot pass those tests, the life should be terminated.
Or consider the act of sex itself. What we do with our bodies in sex doesn’t matter, because our bodies do not really matter. One Washington Post article suggested that it is healthy when teenage girls refuse to confuse love and sex, because there is no need for love and sex to coexist at the same time. The magazine Seventeen warns teenage girls to “keep their hearts under wraps” so that boys won’t find them “boring and clingy.” The magazine Cosmo advises women that if they really want to attract a man, they should be as emotionally detached from a sexual encounter as possible.
This low view of the body is especially apparent in the transgender movement. At the root of this movement is the belief that your biological gender and the gender you feel inside can be at odds with each other. If they are, then how you feel is more important than your biology. Jessica Savanao is a transgender activist who is making a documentary entitled “I am Not My Body.” The title speaks for itself.
While the popular culture may be anti-body, this couldn’t be further from the holistic and body-positive message of the Bible.
In all of these examples, what we see at their root is a very low view of the human body. The body does not matter to our authentic selves, what matters most is our inner person and sense of self. While the popular culture may be anti-body, this couldn’t be further from the holistic and body-positive message of the Bible.
Your Body is Good (Genesis 1:26-28)
The Bible begins by telling us that when God made human beings, he made us male and female, and we were created ‘very good.’ When God knelt down into the world, he took physical stuff -the dust of the earth – and he breathed into that dust a living soul. Together, body and soul, we became persons made in the image of God. The Bible does not say that the soul or the inner self was good while the body was not. It says that the whole person, body and soul, is very good.
If our bodies were created good, then what our bodies were created to be is also good. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes that male and female bodies are both very good and complement each other in very good ways. Both the male and female bodies are good, they are equal in value and equal in their distinctive differences.
There are many things that males and females can do equally well: mowing the lawn, playing basketball, or leading a Fortune 500 company. Something that our culture often gets wrong is when it assigns masculinity or femininity to things that really have no gender value. For example, is a woman who mows the lawn less feminine than a woman who does not? Is a woman who wears flannel less feminine than a woman who wears dresses? Is a man who likes art less masculine than a man who likes guns?
So much of our body confusion and shame in our society comes from this confusion of assigning gender value to things that really have no gender value.
God does not make mistakes.
What You Do What Your Body Matters to God (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
If our bodies were created good, then that means our bodies have a purpose. What we do with our bodies matters. Our bodies are important. God gave us good bodies for a reason.
Everything we do with our bodies matters to God. When we honor God with our bodies, it shows that we have respect for the body God has given to us. The body is a gift; life is a gift. What we do with that gift matters to the gift giver.
What we do with our body matters to God, because what we do with our bodies has eternal impact on our souls. Contrary to what the popular culture says, we cannot separate our inner and outer persons. If we harm our body, it is going to have an impact on our soul. For example, there is universal agreement that when we don’t get enough sleep, when we overwork ourselves, and when we eat poorly that we are much more likely to get depressed and anxious. What we do with our body matters.
One college educator laments that the two most prescribed drugs on her campus are anti-depressants and the birth control pill. Women are told that it is a good thing for them to separate sex from their emotions, that it is freeing to have unattached sex with men. Yet they often end up incredibly more depressed. Is sexual liberation worth deep shame and aching depression? What we do with our bodies matters.
This is precisely the point that the Apostle Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Much like our culture today, the Greco-Roman culture of Pau’s day had a very low view of the body. The body was thought of as being an obstacle to the spiritual ascent of the soul. Any kind of physical matter was thought to be a bad thing, especially our bodies. People could do whatever they wanted with their bodies – especially men. Many men had sex slaves who they could beat, abuse and do whatever they wanted with.
On account of this, author Nancy Pearcy rightly points out that whenever we see the New Testament talk about sexual immorality (translated from the Greek word porneia) – this is what is in view. The essence of sexual immorality is when we treat ourselves or another human being as an object rather than as a person (Love thy Body, p. 143). We treat our own or someone else’s body as if it doesn’t matter, as if what we do with our bodies and to their bodies does not matter to God.
What we do with our body matters to God, because what we do with our bodies has eternal impact on our souls.
What we do with our bodies matters. That’s why Paul is so strongly arguing that having sex with a prostitute is such a terrible thing. It’s impossible to tear the body away from the soul. Whenever we have sex with another person, it isn’t just a physical act of the body. Two souls become united on a deep level.
This is one of the reasons why pornography is so destructive to God’s intended purpose for our bodies. It treats other human beings like objects, rather than as people. Every time we watch pornography, we are actually training ourselves to treat other human beings like objects. Young men in particular who have been conditioned by pornography have a huge problem relating to women in real relationships now. They’ve trained themselves to only see women as objects to be mistreated, not as human beings to be loved.
Time magazine recently wrote in a report, “Many young men are simply unable to experience sexual intimacy with a real woman. They are only able to respond to pornography. In fact, many men have become conditioned to prefer pornography over real women.”
This is also what makes hookup culture so dangerous. In order to survive hookup culture, you have to numb yourself to the pain of uniting your soul to other people and then tearing it away the next day, on repeat, over and over again.
Trust God With Your Body (Colossians 2:20-23)
Your body was created good. It was made by the master artist. That means what you do with your body matters. And if he is the artist and you are the canvas, then the best way for you to love your body is to follow what God says is best for the body he has given you.
One of the sad realities of life after the fall is that there are some people who do not feel as if they were born into the right body. Unfortunately, the transgender movement is doing great harm to many people who are already suffering internally. If young people feel as if they are questioning their gender at all, they are strongly pushed by doctors and psychologists to go through gender transition through surgery and hormone procedures. Many people, having gone through surgery and ended up disappointed, have said that their doctors and counselors gave them no other option except gender transition procedures. The sad reality is, these painfully invasive surgeries do not satisfy the pain and longing of the soul.
This isn’t unique to our cultural moment. The early church dealt with it too. Did you notice the problem Paul was dealing with in Colossians 2? There were those who punished the body with severity with all kinds of regulations, thinking it would lead to holiness. But the Bible says that’s not going to work. It’s not going to make you holy, it’s not going to satisfy you. We can’t put our hope in the changing of our bodies to cure what ails us. Only Jesus can satisfy our deepest aches and longings.
The church has a unique role to play in caring for those who have been devastated by the anti-body rhetoric of our culture. We are to become a care center and hospital for those who have been wounded by the harmful messages of the culture. There is a wise saying which says that the church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. This is true. But as Nancy Pearcy says, to attract potential new patients, “people must be able to trust that churches will protect and nurture the bruised and broken parts of their lives” (Love Thy Body, p. 190).
The church has a unique role to play in caring for those who have been devastated by the anti-body rhetoric of our culture.
Part of our care is going to be continue to proclaim the unique message of the Bible, with its high view of our bodies. Pastor and author Sam Allberry has summarized the difference between our culture and the Bible like this:
Our culture says: Your thoughts and emotions are your sexual identity – let your body be conformed to them.
The Bible says: Your body is your sexual identity – let your mind be conformed to it.
In other words, your feelings don’t define you. This is so important for us to know. Our feelings never define us. When we are depressed and we feel as if the world is a hopeless place – our feelings don’t define us. When we feel as if we have no value to anyone and we aren’t loved – our feelings don’t define us. When we feel incredible guilt and as if God has abandoned us – our feelings don’t define us. When we feel as if our body doesn’t match the gender that we feel inside – our feelings don’t define us.
What God says about us is always true, and it is always good. The world isn’t a hopeless place, because we know that God is restoring the world through Jesus Christ. We are of great value, because we know we are of great value to God and he sent his Son into the world to save us so that we might know how much we matter to him (Ephesians 2:4). When we feel incredible guilt for something we’ve done, God declares us forgiven and loved (Colossians 1:13-14). When we feel as if our body doesn’t match our feelings, God says that our body is very good and that he doesn’t make mistakes (Genesis 1:26-28).
We can trust God with our bodies, because the Bible says the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, took a body to himself (John 1:14). He took on human flesh. He endured the suffering and the shame of this world. And even amidst all the humiliation and hardship of this life, he was given opportunities to abandon his mission. Remember when the Devil tempted him and said, just bow to me, and I will give you all things (Matthew 4:1-11)? Jesus could’ve said, ok, this is not my body. I give this up, I don’t want to go through with this. But instead he said, this is my body, broken for them (Luke 22:19). And so he suffered incredible punishment of his body, to the point of death. And when God raised him from the dead, he was raised in glory, with a perfect renewed body, the kind of body that one day you and I will share in (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).
We can trust that God knows what is best for our body, because he suffered in his body too. We can trust God knows what is best for our body, because he has shown us what kind of body awaits us. A beautiful, perfect, renewed body, one that is no longer subject to sin. A day is coming soon when Jesus will return and God will make all of us new. Will we have the faith to trust him and be obedient with our bodies until that day comes?
Most of the examples and research from this article came from Nancy Pearcy’s excellent book Love Thy Body. Read it and master it.