A Biblical Perspective on the Body and the Apologetic of Body Care

There are countless fake quotes floating around the Internet, but one that irks me more than most is this one, which is misattributed to C.S. Lewis:

You don’t have a soul.

You are a soul.

You have a body.

Lewis never said this, and I’m certain he would have condemned such a statement as theologically erroneous. It smacks of Gnosticism, an ancient heretical worldview that includes the idea that the material stuff of the world is evil. In this view, human beings are spirits who are temporarily trapped in corrupting physical bodies that cause us to sin (Gnostics denied the incarnation of Jesus).

The orthodox Christian view of human beings is that we are an integration of body and soul, and that both substances (to use the word philosophers favor) are required for full humanity. In his and her original, pre-lapsarian state, mankind was declared good–unspoiled and pleasing to God. Humans were given bodies for work, pleasure, and procreation. Then, through human free will, sin entered the picture and caused corruption to both body and soul. Today, all of us bear the glory of God’s image, but we also bear the scar of sin, physically and spiritually.

In the Christian world today, the vast majority of discipleship centers upon the proper care and feeding of the soul. After all, salvation is a soul issue and our earthly bodies are mortal “tents” that, unlike the soul, will not endure past death. Teachings about our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit typically focus on what not to do with our bodies—sexual immorality, predominantly. Note 1 Corinthians 6:

18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 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, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

There is great theological depth to these verses, but what I’d like to point out here are two things. First, that the body is described as a temple, which should bring to mind the enormous care and reverence that went into the construction and maintenance of the temple built under Solomon’s kingship. Preventing defilement of the temple was certainly a major issue, but the construction and craftsmanship details themselves speak volumes about the importance of its physical integrity and what this would symbolize to those beholding it (see 1 Kings 6). Second, the command to glorify God in your body has positive connotation; in other words, it’s not just about refraining from a sinful physical action. Glorifying God with our bodies also includes actions.

If our bodies are created, visible temples of the Holy Spirit with which we are to glorify God, it stands to reason that excellent body care is a key part of stewarding what we’ve been given. After all, what good are our talents and spiritual gifts if our physical state hampers our ability to use them? When we are cognizant of good nutrition and adequate exercise, we (1) demonstrate our gratitude, (2) honor our God-designed human nature, which includes body and soul, and (3) we maximize our physical ability to care for and serve others. Thus, a well-maintained physical body is a kind of visible apologetic; it shows that we truly believe what Scripture tells us about the kind of beings we are, our inherent value as God’s creatures, and our desire to be fit for service to our fellow man.

I, myself, have been on a bit of a journey over the past couple of years concerning better body care. One of the delights (sarcasm alert) of reaching early middle age is that the metabolism slows down, muscle tissue and bone density begin to decrease, energy levels go down, the list could go on. Illness, injury, and mobility limitations increase as a result. Forgoing junk food and taking a few brisk walks each week no longer manage things as well as they used to. However, much can be done through diet and exercise to help maintain great health, so it makes me sad that many of my peers and those beyond my life stage passively accept a lot of physical decline that could be mitigated. (This is NOT to say that I don’t recognize the fact that many people struggle with health issues well beyond their control that mess up their metabolism and/or severely limit their ability to exercise.)

In my own case, I have discovered that cleaning up my diet and committing myself to regular cardiovascular and strength training has greatly improved my mental focus, physical energy, and how I feel in general. Moreover, some small ailments that had cropped up as a result of having to sit at a desk so much (fourth year PhD student–’nuff said), such as hand, wrist, and back aches, have entirely disappeared. Best of all, the physical improvements have positively affected my spiritual and emotional health.

Fresh_cut_fruits_and_vegetables
Wikimedia Commons

 

With all of that said, a word of caution: Without a doubt, body care can quickly and easily become an idol. When it begins to dominate your time and preoccupy your mind at the expense of your family and other important responsibilities, it has become an idol. In other words, if you’re spending more time researching, meal planning, shopping, and food prepping, meticulously analyzing, measuring, and weighing every morsel that passes your lips, compared to the time you devote to Bible study, prayer, family/friends, and kingdom service, that is a serious problem. When body care becomes more about trying to achieve the virtually unattainable cultural standards of beauty (think air-brushed fashion and celebrity magazines), it has become an idol. Having a balanced perspective is extremely important.

My encouragement to you is to consider how you might improve your body care, even if you start with just a few small measures. One day, we will put on the incorruptible resurrection body, but until then, we can glorify God and reflect his truths by taking good care of these earthly bodies, which we’ve been given for our work, creativity, marriages, and incarnational worship.

 

 

 

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