As I re-engage with this blog, I find myself wanting to give greater attention to anthropology and a practical focus on Christian physicality. This is the first of a number of planned posts on the subject.
Christian theology has had –- at best –- a very ambivalent relationship with the body over the centuries. When Nietszche sneered at “despisers of the body,” his arrow did not fly wide of the mark. What makes this so pathetic is that the ambivalence, and downright antipathy, are completely unjustifiable.
God made Adam and Eve (with bodies!), then looked back at all He had made and saw that it was “very good.” No exception clause for the bodies, I notice…
Of course, the historical comeback is that creation is all well and good, but that was before the Fall. The dissenters have a point here, sort of. After the Fall, the body is dead. However, that fact, as important as it is, doesn’t seem to affect the inherent dignity of the body. When David praises God because he is “fearfully and wonderfully made,” he’s not talking about some prelapsarian state, but his own personal experience; when Solomon writes his Song, he takes a downright exuberant view of the pleasures of the flesh. (Ecclesiastes too: depressive commentators notwithstanding, the book is about how to enjoy earthly pleasures without worshiping — and thereby ruining — them.)
When we come to Jesus, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” All by itself, that single sentence goes a long way toward vindicating the body. In an instant, it sweeps away all gnostic and Platonic denigration of matter in general, and the body in particular. Even better, the physical resurrection of Christ (as the prototype of our resurrection) carries the body, redeemed and perfected, into eternity. The closing chapters of the Bible describe the bright vision that God always intended for His creation: a perfected, corporeal humanity ruling a recreated, perfected earth as vassal kings under the King of Kings, in perfect harmony with God and each other.
That is not the end of history. In many ways, it’s only the beginning. Genesis 1:28-30 describes God’s design for the world He made. Genesis 3 describes our rebellion against our design parameters. Everything from Genesis 4 to Revelation 20 is about fixing that. When it’s fixed, then — and only then — does human history begin to move in the direction that God set forth in Genesis 1.
Another way of putting it: Revelation 21-22 is “the end of the world,” but it is no more the end of history than Genesis 6-9. As in the days of Noah, the existing world will perish, and the new world awaits. As Noah and his family founded civilization as we know it today, so we — God’s elect — will join with Christ in founding the civilization of the world to come. Obviously, the founding of it is only the beginning.
And it’s all gloriously corporeal.
A biblical view of history portrays the body as part and parcel of being human, every bit as bound up in human destiny as the soul and spirit. That viewoffers no shelter whatsoever to the notion that the body is a prison, or an impediment that will one day be cast aside for the purity of life as a disembodied spirit. Centuries of dyspeptic and flabby theologians have heaped abuse, insult, and degradation upon the body, and there’s just no excuse for it.
A slightly less demeaning, and more subtle, form of that error talks of the body as if it is the “earth suit” that the “real person” — i.e., the immaterial man — wears temporarily. Proponents of this error will point to Paul’s reference to the mortal body as “this tent” in 2 Corinthians 5:4. They should read the whole passage, in which Paul describes the disembodied state as nakedness, and makes it quite clear that his earnest desire is not to shed this body, but to be clothed with the resurrection body (which, by the way, is made of this one — see 1 Corinthians 15:51-54).
Operating on that foundation, the believer has every reason to regard the body as a gift to be enjoyed to the hilt; fallen and imperfect to be sure, but those problems are only temporary. God made our bodies to move, and to enjoy being moved well. The proper way to honor that gift is to move well, and eat well, and sleep well on luxuriant sheets with a ridiculously high thread count, and while we’re on the subject of things you do in bed [THIS PORTION CENSORED FOR THE SAKE OF CHILDREN AND PRESBYTERIANS] –and to enjoy it all!