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Chasing Freedom

Theology of the Body – Part 1

The following comes from a sermon given at Open Door Fellowship in Phoenix, Arizona. This is part one of a two-part series. (Read Part 2)

David Crowder has a song called “Everything Glorious”. The lyrics read, “You make everything glorious and I am yours. What does that make me?”

Have you ever considered that your body is glorious? Have you ever considered that your body is made for glory and that is vital in the expression of your identity in Christ?

We all have bodies…. and we live our lives through them every day. Yet most of us think of our physical self in very limited ways. Mostly we consider our appearance, our weight, and whether or not our clothes fit.

Every year Americans spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $80 billon a year on diets, surgeries and other products to enhance our appearance that essentially don’t work. For example, the majority of people who go on diets regain the weight regain that they lost, plus more within two years. Other products do change the body but leave the heart untouched. One study showed that despite the billions spent every year, 8 out of 10 women still don’t like what they see in the mirror.

We have created a society that has stores full of food shopped by women starving themselves. Meanwhile, across the world 20-25,000 children die every day of hunger.

The beliefs that we have about our body keep us from experiencing the freedom that trusting God brings. And our beliefs about the body impact the world.

We need to make a shift in our thinking. We also need to make a shift in how we use our resources. One practical way we are doing that with the True Campaign is a project called true:shift. Through this partnership with Food for the Hungry you can take some of the money you would otherwise spend on appearance and sponsor a needy child. These are the kinds of shifts we need to make in order to impact the world.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that misunderstands the body. We both overvalue the body and undervalue it at the same time. What do I mean?

Overvaluing the Body

We overvalue the body in at least two ways:

First we place too much emphasis on our appearance, hoping that by improving our body we will categorically improve our lives. Stand in any grocery check out lane and you will find that flatter abs, slimmer thighs, broader shoulders, less cellulite, bigger breast and firmer arms will advance your career, improve your self-esteem, boost your sex life and give you that body you have always wanted.

Unfortunately, this overvaluing of the body leads us to treat it as a possession, a tool or even a weapon. We show it off like we would our new iPhone or dining room set. We use it to seduce, intimidate or keep others away. Or we treat it with contempt as we berate ourselves for our inability to loose that last five pounds. If the body is disconnected from the self I can use it (mine or others) sexually and then dispose of it with no regard for the person who inhabits it. If it is my possession rather than a whole person we have the “right” to do with it whatever we like.

No wonder we covet what others have and feel shame about our own.

Secondly, we overvalue the body when we treat our bodies as playgrounds. We believe we should do what feels good and indulge our fantasies because, after all, if you want it you should have it. You deserve it. It is your right to achieve your dreams!

But this leads to a nation obsessed with fast food, bigger houses, little self-control and casual sex. We are indulgent with food, sex and pleasure, all the the detriment of our relationships and ability to give and receive freely.

To overvalue the body and treat it as either a possession or a playground leads to a splintering of the whole person.

Undervaluing the Body

Interestingly enough, this also leads to a diminishing of the whole person.

As a reaction to the materialism and a shallow view of beauty, this thinking is often voiced in religious language. We think we are being more spiritual if we somehow deny, discipline or disregard the body.
The following comes from a blog I found online. It appears to be the discussion of an average Christian woman writing to her friends:

So here’s my question. If our body is a tent, why do we spend so much effort to decorate it? 2 Corinthians 5:1: “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” I’m not pointing fingers. I suffer with my tent. I’m self-absorbed and I admit it. During Bible study last week, I interrupted the discussion to ask if I should get bangs. Can you imagine? (My dear sweet friends even took the time to discuss the bang/no-bang dilemma with me! The conclusion? Side bangs, to show more of my face… Recently someone came up to my car and told me that I was wearing the wrong sweater. December 25th is the Statue of Limitations for a snowman sweater. I evoked the Snow Clause but was shot down. You can’t wear snowmen after Christmas … even if it’s snowing. My bad. Bangs are a tent issue. Sweaters are a tent issue. Why are we consumed with our tent? It’s temporary. Disposable, even. Only our inside layer–our soul–survives. So, help me understand. Why do we decorate our tents?

This woman is rightly confused. If the body is temporary, why worry about it? But if you take this to it’s logical end, you have to ask, “Why bathe? Why exercise? Why eat?”

Undervaluing the body results in guilt, shame and also demotes the status of the body to that of a possession or something worse, something evil.

It has its roots in the Platonic and Gnostic view that the human person is “trapped in an evil body” and results in separating oneself from the physical world that God has made.

As long as we believe that our bodies are bad, or temporary just a possession that is not the “real me” I will not experience contentment with my body nor will I value what I do with my body in a way that honors Christ.

We need a better theology of the body than we currently have. We need a view of the body that neither overvalues it and results in worship of the body but we need a view of the body that does not dismiss it resulting in shame and guilt. We need a biblical view of the body. That will be my topic for part two of this series.

(Read Part 2)

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