Your body can be a touchy subject (no pun intended). Is your body friend or foe to you? Many if not most of us have a love-hate relationship with our bodies, sometimes more hate than love. Humans are embodied beings; it’s how God made us. It’s not good to hate something God called good. So, what might it mean to see and treat your body as God does?
Ever since the time of Plato humankind has often seen the material body as something to be hated, despised, and “bad.” In Platonic philosophy the body is something to escape from. The real “you” is spiritual and immaterial, and your body is holding you back from your fullest existence.
You might think those last sentences are describing a New Testament view of the body, but they’re not. Platonic dualism, the attempt to demonize the body and elevate the immaterial “soul,” is from pagan philosophy, not the teachings and way of Jesus. The devil’s goal is to separate body and soul. As Christopher West poignantly comments, “there’s a fancy theological word for the separation of body and soul. Perhaps you’ve heard of it: death.”
Perhaps you feel like Paul, who also seemed to have a love-hate relationship with his body. “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). But he could also say, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Friends, it’s not cool to see or treat the temple of the Holy Spirit with contempt.
What to do?
Jesus and the Human Body
The incarnation, life, death, and bodily resurrection and ascension of Jesus forever changed the true message about the body. Jesus did not come to free us from our body but to redeem it, along with every other part of His creation. We too often forget how human and physical Jesus was on earth, and still is in glory today.
People who knew Jesus here on earth had no trouble believing He was fully human. His body seemed just like theirs; He got dirty and tired. He had sex organs and sex hormones. His brain had the same neurochemicals as ours does. He bled real blood. Their challenge was in coming to believe He was God.
For us today, our challenge is usually believing Jesus was fully human, that when He became a Man He took on our human bodily form in every respect.
Jesus’ resurrection did not free Him from a physical body. He did not enter an immaterial existence leaving His body in the tomb; the tomb is empty! His body was changed into a new glorious incorruptible body. After His resurrection He ate with His disciples and invited them to touch Him (Luke 24:41-43, John 20:27). And our eternal existence will not be as disembodied spirits; those who are saved will have a new glorious incorruptible body too (1 Corinthians 15:53-54).
Have you pondered what all that says about your body?
Your Relationship with Your Body
Take stock of your current relationship with your body. Do you see it as a friend or a foe? Can you stand in front of a mirror naked and bless each part of your body? What might it mean to fully embrace that your body, all of it, is the temple of the Holy Spirit?
And these days we’re talking especially about sexuality and intimacy. So how do you feel about the sexual parts of your body in particular? Some more detailed questions to consider:
- Imagine your body could talk to you. Would your body say you’re treating it as valuable? Are you listening to and leading your body well?
- Do you hate your body, perhaps for becoming aroused when you were sexually molested or abused? Or for being a focus of lust from another person?
- Do you use your body as a source of sexual power to get attention or validation from others or to exert domination over others?
- Have others’ remarks about your body made you view your body as dirty or ugly? Do you treat your body in ways to prevent others from seeing you, or in particular from seeing you as a sexual person?
- Is experiencing physical pleasure the driving force in how you interact with the world and with others? Have you idolized your body in some way?
- How are you dealing with your aging body when it doesn’t perform or respond as you wish, sexually or otherwise?
- Have you tried to split your body and soul apart? Have you excused how lust may drive your behaviors while minimizing the impact of those behaviors on your inner being?
- Do you look at your sexual desires, sex organs, femininity or masculinity, with contempt?
Seeing Your Body as a Foe
A school psychologist I talked with recently expressed how gender dysphoria is becoming an increasingly large issue especially for girls right at the time their bodies are going through puberty. There’s more to sexuality, gender, femininity, and masculinity than your body, but the way you see your body affects this greatly.
Isabelle doesn’t like living in her body. She struggles to care for her body with appropriate nutrition, rest, and care. She doesn’t like to present herself in any way that appears physically attractive, even to her husband. Being seen as attractive has come to mean danger to her.
George desperately wishes to be free from his body. He wonders why God doesn’t answer his repeated prayers to remove his sexual desires completely. Sexually explicit dreams frequently disturb his sleep. He feels enslaved to porn and to the sexual impulses in his body, and he hates it.
Those are examples of seeing your body as a foe. That’s not treating your body as the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Seeing Your Body as a Friend
Our physical bodies bring us face-to-face with our human limitations. You need water, food, and rest. Your aging body isn’t working or looking like it once did. Your body keeps the score in any trauma you’ve experienced. These are only a few of the ways listening to your body becomes important. You are not yet immortal.
At the same time your body makes a very ugly and destructive god (see Philippians 3:19). Your body must be listened to, but it also must be led. That’s being a friend to your body. You treat it kindly, but you don’t follow it as a guide.
The temple of the Holy Spirit, your body, requires tending and care. You don’t use the temple as a trash heap. A temple is not god, but your body as a temple points to God. This means you right-size your view of your body, neither idolizing nor patronizing it, nor treating it with contempt.
Let those big thoughts challenge your view of your body, and challenge you to become a friend to your body as the place where the Holy Spirit chooses to live. That’s a high calling!
Your Turn: Is your body friend or foe to you? Have you idolized your body, or have you treated it with contempt? What changes might you need to make? Leave a comment below.
Want More? In the podcast episode this week I talk with Jon and Brett Seidl about their experience as a married couple where one of them struggles with mental illness. Managing that has included caring for the body.
Tweetables: why not share this post?
- Do you see your body as a friend, or as a foe? Your body needs to be listened to and treated kindly, but it also needs to be led. Here’s some of what that looks like. Tweet that.
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