What Does the Body Say?
The Voice of God in Human Form
Christians have incredibly good news for a world full of body loathers and body idolaters. God made you, and that you includes your body.
The Creator of all things chose to image himself, to represent himself in this world, with embodied souls. It’s almost beyond comprehension. Why would God, who is spirit, create soul and body? Minds with thoughts attached to brains and neural pathways? Feelings connected to beating hearts and churning stomachs?
“God made you, and that you includes your body.”
I don’t know a complete answer, but I do know that the overflow of his goodness made him do it. I do know that bodies are not a cosmic bummer or an accident or something to refashion in the way that seems best to us. No, God made our bodies and called them “very good” (Genesis 1:31). He assigned each one of us the particular body we find ourselves in, with all of its uniquenesses and intricacies, as a part of a plan that extends into eternity.
For those in Christ, our bodies will last forever in the new heavens and new earth. Oh, they may take a detour in the grave; they may decompose beyond recognition. But the promised resurrection means that your hands, your feet, your body will be raised imperishable when Jesus says it’s time.
And in the meantime, God speaks to us through them.
Mind over Matter?
Much has been said about the similarities and differences of men and women, but perhaps much more still needs to be said, especially in regard to our bodies. When it comes to the positions Christians hold on the Bible’s view of men and women, egalitarians and complementarians usually agree that men and women have biological differences. Good-faith Christians stand together on this most obvious and observable fact. Yet I wonder how many have reckoned with the implications of that simple, large reality.
We live in a world steeped in its own version of Gnosticism, where physical bodies are, in the final analysis, irrelevant to our identity — where “mind over matter” is so universally accepted that entire generations of women (and men) grow up estranged from their own bodies, not sure what they’re for, and, if told, suspicious and often angry about it.
In such a world, we Christians who have agreed on the reality of biological differences have too often unwittingly assented to this same mindset. Those who hold that the differences between men and women are only biological seem to act as though biology is relatively inconsequential, just a small thing. It’s a little bit like, Of course there are biological differences, but why should that matter?
Bodies Speak — Are We Listening?
The implications of being made with male and female bodies reach far and wide. Those implications refuse to stay in any small, fenced-in area we might try to build. Why? Because our bodies go with us everywhere we do.
“What God has shaped and fashioned as male and female is an irrevocable statute.”
The existence of my female body is part of God’s communication to me. It tells me what I can and cannot do. It sets me on a trajectory in life. The ontological reality of my body makes some pursuits fitting and others unfitting. Because of my body, I can be wife, not husband; mother, not father; sister, not brother; daughter, not son. Because of my body, I have the potential to nurture and grow life inside of me and outside of me.
Our bodies speak commands, shalls and shall nots, as authoritative as the direct commands in Scripture from the mouth of God. The commands inherent in our bodies also come from God’s mouth, for it was God who formed and made our bodies — God who breathed life into them. What he has shaped and fashioned as male and female is an irrevocable statute. No matter how we might try to change our bodies, the deeper realities of chromosomes and DNA cannot lie. They speak what God tells them to speak.
The plain teaching of our bodies also extends into areas of oughtness. For example, men generally ought to physically protect women and children; women generally ought to take particular care for young ones. Why? Because men generally have larger and stronger bodies, and women generally have bodies made to nurture young life — and with the Creator’s design come emotional and psychological fittedness as well.
So, when Paul speaks his (in)famous commands to wives and husbands, we shouldn’t be surprised. Wives submitting to husbands and husbands loving wives fit in relation to our bodies. There is a design at work, and it is not arbitrary, but profoundly good. Peter explicitly makes biological differences the basis for why husbands must treat wives with honor: they are physically weaker, “the weaker vessel,” as well as co-heirs “of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7).
Instruments for Righteousness
You don’t have to be a Christian to acknowledge biological reality. But you do have to be a Christian to receive biological reality as through Christ and for Christ — which it certainly is (Colossians 1:16). You do have to be a Christian to understand that the body is made for the Lord, and the Lord for the body — that is to say, the body is meant to be holy, a place where the Spirit of the Lord dwells (1 Corinthians 6:13, 19).
What does holiness look like in our bodies? It looks like presenting the members of our bodies for righteousness. It means that we take our arms and legs, our minds and eyes and ears, our distinctly male and female bodies, and we offer them to the Lord to be used righteously (Romans 6:12–14). Exercising self-control empowered by the Holy Spirit, we tell our bodies what to do in order to love and serve the people around us. We spend them for Christ. Our bodies belong to him.
“No one has a purposeless body, despite disability or disease or dysfunction.”
What that will look like in each situation will vary. Mothers’ bodies are particularly surrendered for the sake of nourishing and nurturing the life of children. What a glorious privilege. But every body matters. No one has a purposeless body, despite disability or disease or dysfunction. My son’s feeding tube is not a hindrance to holiness. It cannot prevent God’s good purposes. Rather, God’s purposes shine forth through it. The pain of imperfect and malfunctioning bodies causes us to groan with all creation as we await our resurrected Lord.
Human Bodies in Heaven
Jesus took on human flesh in his mother’s womb, nursed at her side, grew through toddlerhood and puberty, used his hands as a carpenter and his legs to walk from village to village. He touched the unclean and diseased, extending healing to a broken and sinful world. His body was beaten, mocked, crucified, pierced, and killed.
Yet Jesus never sinned with his body. And on the third day, God raised his physical body from the dead. Jesus, in his physically resurrected body, is now seated in the heavenlies (Ephesians 1:20). He has promised to return to make us like him. “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). And with our lips and mouths and voices, we reply, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”
Our bodies are for the Lord, from the ordained praise of an infant’s mouth to the final sigh of the saint whose body has lost all function and ability. Our bodies are for the Lord, both now in our daily tasks on earth and in the future new heavens and new earth. Our bodies are for the Lord, as beautiful and living sacrifices of worship for now, but also as imperishable, immortal prizes to come.