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 not only about reconciliation but about creation as well. Even more importantly, it speaks a word to us about the God of creation.
First, the gospel presumes a realistic portrait of life under the sun. Despite the glories of creation, which do proclaim the splendor of God’s handiwork (Ps. 19:1–6), not everything is as it should be or as it originally came from God’s hands (Gen. 2). After Adam’s sin follows God’s just curse upon it (Gen. 3:16–19), and creation itself is subject to corruption and futility (Rom. 8:20). We feel that curse in our bones.
Nevertheless, God is compassionate and faithful to his creatures, despite their faithlessness (2 Tim. 2:13), unwilling to abandon them to dissolution. Though infinite and transcendent of every limitation, God the Eternal Son who made and sustains all things (Heb. 1:2–3) takes up created matter. Fashioning for himself bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh, he subjects himself to the “common infirmities” of our humanity to heal it. Immortal life itself takes on mortality, to die our death and undo its curse and sting (1 Cor. 15:55).
There is a marvelous affirmation of the value of creation in this—God does not refuse embodiment to save us. God is for us, and our bodies are good gifts.
Jesus’ own “tabernacling” in the flesh (John 1:14) shows us God created it as our earthly dwelling (2 Cor. 5:1) where we can love him and our neighbors. His own embodied existence displays a way to live in the body—praising God with our lips, giving graciously and freely with our hands, running to aid our neighbors with our feet—that beautifully displays the glory of God (1 Cor. 6:20). His own sacrificial death in the flesh reveals our call and privilege of offering up our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1).
Not only that, Jesus’ resurrection as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20) assures us we will receive our bodies back, healed and resplendent with Christ’s glory (1 Cor. 15:49). Not only our bodies but all of creation with them (Rom. 8:19–23). In all this, Jesus reaffirms God’s verdict upon seeing all he had made: very good.
Most importantly, though, as the eternal Word of the Father, he testifies to the Triune God’s surpassing goodness in creation (John 1:18). He proves it is the very same generous power and for the very same loving purposes that God both “gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not” (Rom. 4:17).
And so, looking to Jesus, we have hope to walk (or limp) by faith (2 Cor. 5:7), trusting he is leading us to God our very good Maker.
Derek Rishmawy is a doctoral student in systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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