(This is a follow up to Travis’ previous post Theology of the Body – Part 1)
As I wrote in my previous post, there are a lot of cultural ideas about our bodies, including the over-value and under-valuing of it. But the Biblical view neither devalues the body nor sees it as our ultimate hope.
In this post, I’m suggesting three things the Bible teaches about the body:
- Our bodies are not evil but good gifts from the creator
- Our bodies are not disposable but eternal
- Our bodies are made for glory
To get started, let’s review this passage from 1 Corinthians 15:35-49…
“But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.”
First, our bodies are not evil but good gifts from the Creator.
In the passage above, Paul describes God creating bodies of all different kinds; animals, birds, fish, writing “God gives it a body as he has determined.” In God’s wisdom he choose to create us with bodies. Bodies that are specifically designed for the environment in which we live. To fish he gave bodies fit for the water. To birds he gave bodies fit for the air. To humans, he gives bodies fit for their purpose of bearing God’s image. And he declares these bodies as good, which brings us to Genesis, chapter one. In fact, throughout this passage are striking parallels to Genesis chapter one.
In reading this chapter there are two conclusions we must come to. First, God alone is creator. He is the one who creates and forms bodily creatures. The second is that everything that God creates is good. In fact, he declares this six times. The seventh time, after creating man and woman with physical bodies he declares it is “very good.”
So stop for a moment and realize…your body is good. No matter the shape, the size, the age or the condition of your body, it is a gift from God, created specifically for you and God calls it good. Can you trust what God says about your body?
Why is it that we struggle with calling our bodies good? No doubt we’ve been influenced by Greek philosophy which minimizes the body but I think it is mostly because we believe our bodies don’t match up to some sort of cultural standards.
If I were to take a survey of what we do not like about our bodies, the list might sound something like this:
My arms are flabby
My arms are too skinny
My chest is flat
My chest is hairy
My legs are too short
My legs are too long
My stomach is too big
My biceps are too small
My second toe is longer than my big toe
My eyelashes are too light
My eyebrows are too thick
My hair is too curly
My hair is too straight, or (in my case…)
I don’t have any hair on my head
When was the last time you stopped and thanked God that you could walk? That you could see? That your ears worked? That you can type a letter or write a poem or smell coffee in the morning? When was the last time you realized you can hug your child, or kiss your wife or taste ice cream BECAUSE of your body?
Your body is essential to you who are because without your body you cannot interact in the world that God has created.
Your body allows you to enjoy walking in the park while holding hands with your boyfriend. It allows you to feel the sun on your skin. Think about what it is like to touch the skin of a newborn, or for that matter, carry a child in your womb. I love the smell of a new book, or, even better, the smell of Barnes and Noble’s. Throwing a baseball with my son and smelling the leather of the glove. Screaming at the top of my lungs during a Nebraska football game. I absolutely relish experiencing The Lord of the Rings in glorious High Definition and 7.1 surround sound.
Imagine a wedding without the fragrances of the flowers, the taste of the champagne or the sight of the bride walking down the aisle. Or for that matter, the wedding night without your body …
To think biblically about our bodies is to recognize that our bodies are not our possession. Our bodies are US. We do not have bodies but rather we are humans expressed as bodies. For us to think any less of our bodily experience is an offense to God and a diminishment of his creation.
2. Our Bodies are not disposable but eternal.
Our bodies are made for glory – we will have our bodies forever. They are not disposable but eternal. Scripture teaches that our bodies will be transformed, not thrown away.
Look again at I Corinthians 15 and consider the metaphor of the seed. We have a body now – that is the seed. When a seed is planted it “dies” but it does not disappear, and it does not become something less substantial than the seed. Rather it is transformed into something greater than the seed.
In the same way, the bodies we have now will not be disposed of but be transformed into more substantial bodies. The body we have now is subject to weakness and shame. Our new bodies will have power and glory.
I know the language is confusing here, but when Paul writes in verse 44 that our body “is sown a natural body” and is “raised a spiritual body” he does NOT mean that when our physical body dies it only exists as a spirit. In fact, he clearly states that the body is raised.
Most scholars agree with N.T. Wright who says that a better understanding is that Paul is contrasting a body energized by natural human energy versus a body energized by God’s Spirit. In other words, he is not describing what kind of bodies we will have but what animates out bodies. What gives energy to our bodies. And further down, in verse 50 when we says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” he does not mean that we won’t have physical bodies in heaven but that the bodies we now have are not suited for eternity nor able to fully bear the glory of that place so they will be transformed into glorified bodies.
In Philippians 3:20-21 we read, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body … ”
And Romans 8:23 states, “Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
When we put these ideas together, along with other passages in Scripture, we begin to see that when Christ returns and we experience the resurrection of our bodies it will not be a transition into a non-physical, spiritual existence but rather a transformation of the bodies we have now into more glorious bodies suited for the New Heavens and the New Earth.
3. The human body is made for glory.
What does this mean? It means that our bodies are made for glory. Paul refers to this in I Corinthians Chapter six when he says that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. What was the function of the temple in the Old Testament? It was the dwelling place of God’s glory. We are made to bear his glory in our bodies.
The Hebrew word for glory is kabod which literally means “to be heavy”. Things that are full of glory are significant, they carry a lot of weight. They are solid. Or as you might have said in the 70′s, “Dude, that’s heavy.”
Paul says in II Corinthians 5 that our our bodies now are only like tents but our glorified bodies will be like buildings.. more solid, more significant. This language is a reference to the tabernacle and the temple of the Old Testament. The tabernacle (tent) that once held God’s glory was eventually replaced by the more solid and substantial temple.
In other words, as we are transformed into his glory, both now and at the resurrection, we will have bodies that express more of His presence. Bodies that express more of Christ.
One day my glorified body will fully express who I am in Christ and I will substantially and fully express “Christ in Travis Stewart.” But I don’t have to wait until that day to begin this. I am already “Christ in Travis Stewart” and he is already transforming me to express his glory.
As we know this glory firsthand it will release our hang-ups about our bodies and allow us to freely and fully express Christ in me in every aspect of our lives.
One final story…
A therapist at Remuda Ranch treatment center for eating disorders recalls the story of a married woman in treatment for anorexia. Of course, one of the most common struggles in an eating disorder is a distorted view of one’s body and weight. So when the patient’s husband came for a visit half way through treatment he was probably not surprised that during their weekend pass he found his wife standing in front of a mirror asking him, “Honey, do you think I’m fat?”
There are all kinds of ways this husband could have avoided or answered that question:
“Sweetie, you know the therapist says you shouldn’t think about yourself that way…”
“Darling, you look wonderful…”
“Please don’t make me answer that question…”
Instead he walked up behind her, put his hands on her arms and said, “Honey, I love your arms because with these arms you hold me.” He touched her legs, “I love your legs, because with these legs we get to walk together in the park.” And he put his hands on her belly and said, “I love your tummy because in your tummy you carried our children.”
This husband expressed what is most fully true about his wife and her body. He realized that a life lived is only fully expressed in the body and that it has nothing to do with meeting cultural standards for beauty. Instead he invited her to fully step into the glory that is Christ in her.
I hope we can consider this an invitation for us to do the same.