Several times recently it has been brought to my attention that I have what politely may be termed body image issues. These issues are not particularly rare in our society–they manifest themselves in issues as diverse as eating disorders and cutting and body modification. We tend to view our bodies in isolation, as well as whatever issues we have with them, and neglect the fact that our bodies are an important part of our worship and praise of God. There are a rather large number of laws relating to our care for the body, and a lot of concern taken for how we take care of our bodies in the epistles of Paul. There is, of course, a balance, in that we cannot regard our bodies too highly and neglect spiritual matters, but at the same time it all too easy to fall into the extreme of regarding intellectual or spiritual matters and not paying sufficient heed to the physical as well.
In talking about the body and its role in our spiritual lives, we must consider a few elements. The first is that the Bible makes an important point of the fact that Jesus Christ came in a human body, and that he actually took our form. For example, 2 John :7-11 reads: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” What John is saying here, in the main body of a very short letter, is that if someone denied that Jesus Christ actually lived his life as flesh and blood on earth, then a believer is not even supposed to greet them and welcome them as a brother. This is indeed serious business. Other parts of the Bible make a great point about the tangible nature of Jesus’ Christ’s body, even after the resurrection. As it is written in John 20:24-29: “Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.””
This is important to remember because if a physical body, with all of its limitations, is good enough for our Lord and Savior to dwell in, then it ought to be good enough for us to appreciate and take care of as well. After all, as Paul writes the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Here Paul deals with some very practical concerns, starting with some sayings that the brethren in Corinth used to justify a certain hedonistic approach, and comments that we will be held accountable for what we eat, how we use our bodies, and our sexual behavior. These are all areas of contemporary concern, as even people who are fairly righteous in general struggle with gluttony, even where they are not guilty of adultery or fornication or any other number of sins that are lamentably frequent among us. Our bodies are the house of the mind, the heart, and the spirit, and without a well-functioning body, our abilities to deal effectively in the rest of life is hindered. At times the body may be the source of trials and difficulties, but without it, we do not have life.
In the larger picture, though, our bodies are created in the image and likeness of God (see Genesis 1:26), whether we are male or female. One of the reasons that mankind is forbidden from making graven images of God, in whatever form we conceive of Him, is because we are His images. This is an immense blessing, and it is at least part of the context behind certain laws in the Bible dealing with body modification, like Leviticus 19:28: ” You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.” Because God made the body to reflect His image, He does not wish for anyone to mistreat the body or to deface that image . This is, as we might imagine, a serious issue in our times, as people tend to think of their bodies like a canvas for their own designs instead of something that has already been designed by God for His purposes. Recognizing the purposes of the Creator allows us to have respect for His creation, and to better understand God’s nature and plans by working out life from within our own bodies. Even the proper care of bodies after they are dead  is a matter of importance to God. Witness the concern of Abraham for Sarah’s burial in Genesis 23:1-3: “Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. So Sarah died in Kirjath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. Then Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, “I am a foreigner and a visitor among you. Give me property for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” And the sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, “Hear us, my lord: You are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places. None of us will withhold from you his burial place, that you may bury your dead.” Then Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. And he spoke with them, saying, “If it is your wish that I bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and meet with Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he has, which is at the end of his field. Let him give it to me at the full price, as property for a burial place among you.” Now Ephron dwelt among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the presence of the sons of Heth, all who entered at the gate of his city, saying, “No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field and the cave that is in it; I give it to you in the presence of the sons of my people. I give it to you. Bury your dead!” Then Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land; and he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, “If you will give it, please hear me. I will give you money for the field; take it from me and I will bury my dead there.”” Even after someone was dead, the proper treatment of their body was of immense importance to the people of God in scripture.
What does that mean for us, though? Clearly, we live in a context where the image of God is not well-respected by others. Those who survive abuse, for example, often find it difficult to respect and take care of the bodies that others have treated like worthless trash. Likewise, the combination of pressures and concerns regarding food and regarding our society’s continual and incessant reminders that our normal physical bodies must be touched up to look attractive all make it hard to properly regard our own bodies. And yet these bodies, in some form at least, will be ours for all eternity. If we cannot escape bodies, and if there is a point to us having the sort of forms that we do, even if they are certainly vulnerable (as everything else is) to life in a fallen world full of corruption and difficulty, then we had better learn to use our bodies to properly honor the God who made us, even if it is a difficult task, and even if our bodies often show the wear and tear from the sort of lives that we have lived. May our bodies bring us all pleasure and joy far beyond what some of us have known before.
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