I have recently started leading a book study of Nancy Pearcey’s newest book Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality. As the subtitle suggests, the book addresses a number of culturally sensitive subjects such as abortion, homosexuality, and transgenderism. And there were a bunch of reasons I chose this book for our group to study: the prevailing cultural ethos, the lack of sophistication in Christian responses to these hot-button issues, to name a couple. But, as I told the group who gathered to study the book with me, it wasn’t the cultural issues that initially grabbed my attention and it wasn’t those issues that became the primary determiner of choosing this book to study. Rather it was the title of the book that captivated my attention. “Love Thy Body.”
I am concerned that there is a prevailing hatred of the body…in the church.
The thesis of the book is that all of the deviations dealt with in the book stem from a hatred of the body. That is, whether people can articulate it or not, there is a disconnect between the real person and the body. In other words, the real you is located somewhere outside of and apart from the physical body that clumsily clamors about in this material world. Thus gender is fluid. Sexual encounters are unrelated to physical parts. The killing of an unborn child is merely a discarding of physical parts not the termination of a person, etc.
I told the group that one of the reasons I chose the book was because I am concerned that there is a prevailing hatred of the body…in the church. That’s right. While not necessarily embracing the ethical implications of body hatred as sketched in the book, I am afraid that many Christians operate with the same world view. The body is bad. The goal for many Christians is to get deliverance from it. If only there was some way we could escape this body we’re trapped in. This, of course, is turbulent air, so turbulent that when it manifested itself in the early church under the name of Gnosticism, the church deemed it a heresy. Gnosticism is the belief that matter is bad and to be escaped and that we are to seek the spiritual and to rise above all that is early. There is Gnosticism in the air—in the culture and in the church.
Some of this comes from the unfortunate translation of the Greek word sarx, often translated using the English word flesh. You remember the passages about the flesh v. the spirit? But the word sarx has a more robust meaning than just flesh. It takes up our fallen nature—all of it—including our bodies and our minds and emotions and all that makes us human.
In the Christian worldview the body is who we are. It is the real us. Our person is not hidden away elsewhere. To be sure, there is more to us than just our body, but there is not less. In fact, there is a magical and mystical dance that exists between the body and soul that makes us who we are.
One of the ways the church can be counter-cultural is by countering this body hatred and by embracing the ethos and ethic of loving the body; by embracing an acceptance of all that is good and true and beautiful. We need to remember that God did not forbid all the fruit from the trees, just one tree. Ours is a bodily existence now. Get used to it because we will be embodied for all eternity with our dwelling in the new heavens and new earth. This is what it means to be human and human is what we will always be. Love your body.