I can’t stop thinking about how our bodies truly matter. Most recently I’ve been pondering how a poor theological understanding of God as a predominantly wrathful, angry being contributes to a gnostic view of our bodies and our embodied lives. Instead of focusing on the fact that we were created out of the loving relationship of the triune God, that we were made “…a little lower than the angels, crowned… with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5), many times we view ourselves first and foremost as vile, wretched people who live in sinful body suits. Only our spiritual selves seem to actually matter and what happens in our bodies must be fleshly and sinful. Even though we’re saved by grace, if we don’t live up to the often-times unwritten expectations of “What Christians Do and Don’t Do 101,” there is a strange and scary tendency to believe God will zap us, punishing us until we fall back into line.
We don’t hesitate to sing worship songs about God as a “Good, Good Father,” but juxtaposed to this Good, Good Father is a not-so-good father who views us not as his beloved children but as juvenile delinquents who deserve whatever comes our way. Yet, the truth of the matter is, the love of God is so vast he calls us his own. He claims us as his children. It’s a love so incomprehensible he stooped low to be with us, to become one of us, to die a criminal's death on a cross in pursuit of us.
As I think about my own children, of course I recognize there are times they have disappointed me. There have been times when I’ve been frustrated and even angry with them. However, I first and foremost think of the fierce motherly love I have for them, which is like no other. I would go to the ends of the earth for them. I would scale the highest mountain and ford the widest river for them. I love them to the very core of my being. I don’t compartmentalize my love for them, picking and choosing which parts to love. When I say I love, I love the totality of who they are. Imagine how God the Father feels about us, his children. His love for us goes beyond simply the spirit part of who we are and encompasses the full person he created us to be.
Perhaps you’re looking for proof of this deep and abiding love of the Father. Perhaps when you look in the mirror you still see a reviled sinner instead of a cherished one. I could fill page-upon-page with examples from Scripture but why not start with one of the first verses many of us learned in Sunday School? John 3:16 starts out, “For God so LOVED the world…” Not “For God so loathed the world” or “For God was so angry with the world.” He loved the world. Full stop. The Psalms also sing of God’s great love. He is compassionate (Psalm 103:13), a refuge (18:30), the bearer of our burdens (68:19), close to the brokenhearted (34:18), faithful (89:1) … I could go on, but I’ll finish with Psalm 86:15, which in The Message says, “But you, O God, are both tender and kind, not easily angered, immense in love, and you never, never quit.”
I am no longer here for the "vile, wretched sinner" takes. For far too long we have attempted to scare people into the Kingdom with talk of fire and brimstone and a “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” posture. As if talking of an embodied suffering is a loving means of drawing people to embrace a beautiful Savior. Perhaps one of the only times we stress our bodies matter.
Please hear what I am NOT saying. I am not saying sin doesn’t matter. What we do, say, and think in our bodies has the capacity to hurt others as well as ourselves. Sometimes, I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve hurt others very deeply with my selfish words and ways. I have at times done the opposite of contributing to the flourishing of my community and the Way of Christ. There are ramifications and consequences for sinful actions. The breaking of Shalom in our world moves us away from the reconciliation God desires to have with us and the reconciliation he desires we have with others.
As a member of the new-covenant family, God’s grace should compel me to live both rightly with God and rightly with my neighbor. It goes without saying, then, if my neighbor is loved by God, am I not also compelled to view them through the eyes of love? A kind of love which is not merely about their spiritual well-being but about their physical well-being, also. A kind of love which looks beyond political differences, religious differences, or any other thing which might separate us as embodied people, things which may cause me to see them as “other.”
I am so thankful my sin does not define me, and it is not first and foremost how God sees me. Knowing I'm loved deeply by the God of the Universe makes all the difference. I’m loved in the totality of who I am. God knit me together (Psalm 139:13) and knows me intimately, which means he cares about the intricacies of what makes me, mebody, mind, and spirit. Perhaps this theological reframing can help you today. And perhaps it is a needed reminder as we look at others, as well. You are loved!