Are bodies something we merely “have,” or are our bodies essential to who we are?
In an advertising video for a local fertility clinic, a doctor asks, “Are you ready to have children, but your body is not?” And then he goes on to describe the services on offer.
The question is an odd one. Even more, it’s downright misleading. Of course, the desire to have a child and not being able to conceive is a terrible experience. Still, the assumptions in that question—that we are somehow disconnected from our bodies, and that what we feel or want is superior to our physical realities—are dangerous indeed.
Versions of these same assumptions have permeated Western culture since its alignment with the ideas of the sexual revolution. For example, think of the man who after an affair says to his wife, “It just happened. She meant nothing to me.” As if his body’s desire, which meant everything during the act of adultery, wasn’t really his desire and was therefore not important. Or think of the young gender-confused Christian who says, “I prayed that God would make me feel like a boy, but he didn’t. Therefore, I must be a girl.” While God may not have changed the young man’s feelings, it’s important to note He also didn’t change the young man’s genitalia. So, why should a change of feelings be relevant to his identity but not a change of biological reality?
Or consider this example from an article authored by my Colson Center colleague Shane Morris of the Christian who justifies watching smutty movies or movie series with sex and nudity by saying, “They’re just actors” or “It advances the story.” Even a ridiculous amount of makeup cannot change the fact that a real body is on display and therefore a real person is being exposed.
These examples are just new expressions of an age-old heresy—one of the first heresies, in fact, dealt with and condemned as such in the early Church: gnosticism. Gnosticism divides reality between the physical and the spiritual. The spiritual is labeled good, while physical matter is labeled bad, or at least irrelevant. Gnostics within the Church taught that Jesus could not have really taken on physical flesh because the physical is bad. He only appeared to be a man.
But the Church fathers saw this for the heresy that it was. If Jesus did not really have a body, who was crucified? And who rose from the dead? And how could He really be one who, in every respect, has been tempted as we are, yet without sin as Scripture says? Didn’t Paul say if Christ has not risen from the dead, our faith is pointless, and we’re without hope?
Contrary to gnosticism, Christianity does not teach that reality is divided between physical and spiritual. Christianity divides reality between Creator and creation. Think of the creation of Adam. God forms man out of the dust of the ground—that’s physical—breathes into him the breath of life—that’s spiritual. And man becomes a living soul. We don’t have souls: We are souls. And to be a human soul is to be embodied. Our bodies are essential, not incidental, to our humanness.
For many of the ancient pagans, the most scandalous of Christian teachings was the resurrection of the body. Just as God raised Jesus’ body from the dead, He will someday raise our bodies, too. When Jesus says in John 6 that He will raise believers “up on the last day,” He’s talking about our bodies. How our glorified, resurrected bodies will resemble our current bodies is a mystery. But we do know the disciples recognized Jesus after the resurrection because of His body, including the wounds of His crucifixion. As Paul says, our bodies will be sown as perishable, but raised imperishable.
Or, to quote the late R.C. Sproul, “For the Christian, redemption is of the body, not from the body.”
It’s odd that after years of being accused by atheists and materialists of being trapped in our spiritual fantasies and ignoring the real world, Christians now find themselves as the ones saying that the physical world—especially the human body—matters, is real, and is of utmost significance. But here we are. If Christ came in the likeness of men, if He promised to redeem humanity, and if our humanity includes the body, then our bodies really do matter.
For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to breakpoint.org.
(This commentary originally aired February 22, 2017.)
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