I tend to sympathize with the Gnostics most in the morning. It’s currently common to deride these early heretics for despising our physicality and rejecting the goodness of creation. But when I wake up and tenderly place my feet on the ground, breathing slowly as I sense which sore muscles and joints I need to stretch with care, I get it—my body does not greet me as my friend.
Truth be told, my body and I have had something of a strained relationship since I was 24 when, at the peak of my physical health, I developed severe tendonitis in both knees. Since that time, a series of related muscle and joint conditions have led me from one physical therapist to the next. I often joke that my body is one of those carpets with a perennial bump in it—smooth it out in one place and it pops up across the room. And every new bump hurts.
It’s taken me a while to realize how this alienation from my body impacts my walk with God.
In his recent work Embodied Hope, Kelly Kapic insightfully calls attention to the way pain—especially chronic pain—can cause sufferers to “think hard thoughts of God” (to use John Owen’s phrase). We wonder if God loves us, or if he’s punishing us. In the face of suffering, we even question the goodness of God’s gifts, like our bodies, when every inch of flesh can hold a thorn used by Satan to torment us (2 Cor. 12:7).
At some point, all of us will suffer or watch our loved ones suffer pain such that it leads us to question, “Is God the Father, maker of heaven and earth, really for us when our own cells seem to be against us?”
At moments like these, we must recall the gospel of Jesus Christ incarnate, crucified, and risen has a word to speak ...1