Our theology needs to be a theology that includes body
Sarah Bucy Klingler
By Sarah Bucy Klingler, an MANT student at Northern Seminary
I often wonder if Christians would truly concur with this statement. I know we believe spiritual lives matter but what about embodied lives, flesh-and-blood lives? We might say bodies matter when we discuss being pro-life and babies being “knit together in their mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13), and rightly so. We might say bodies matter when we discuss Jesus, fully God, fully man, beaten bloody, wearing a crown of thorns, hung on the cross for the redemption and liberation of all who would claim him as Lord, and rightly so. But are those the only instances in which embodied lives matter?
How about when children and other vulnerable persons have their bodies used and abused by church leaders? Does it matter that their bodies, which were created in the image of the triune God, were violated? If so, why do we let wolves in sheep’s clothing, wicked perpetrators, off the hook so easily? Why do we allow them to feign sorrow and a false repentance and then move them along to the next sheep pasture, only to once again devour those in the pew? It absolutely matters that victims face physical, emotional, and spiritual ramifications from hideous abuse at the hands of supposed men or women of God. We cannot expect them to heal by simply providing spiritual platitudes and “thoughts and prayers.” Full, holistic healing of their bodies matters. It matters to God, and it should matter to his people.
How about when girls and young women are taught their bodies are shameful, that they should cover up and hide their feminine bodies, lest they provide temptation for lustful young men? Does it matter that, “In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”? (Gen. 1:27b) Are female bodies by nature bad and evil? Are women by default seductresses and men unable to control their sexual desires? I wonder how much harm has been done and how many have walked away from the Church because they were shamed into believing their sexual experiences in their bodies somehow put them outside the reach of God’s grace and mercy. I know the “chewed gum” and the “plucked petals from a flower” metaphors have been used to scare many into remaining virgins until marriage or likewise from hiding their struggles for fear of being labeled and condemned. Is a woman’s virgin body somehow the “greatest gift she can give her husband?” Is a woman’s body only valuable when it bears a child? Or does the Creator of the Universe love each person single or married, male or female, those with children and those without.
How about when black and brown bodies have been beaten, lynched, caged, and oppressed, simply for the fact that they are of a darker hue than white bodies? Does it matter that true freedom for all never came in the founding of our nation or even with the Emancipation Proclamation or the Civil Rights Act? Does God see color? Did he create the beautiful kaleidoscope of colors we see in the image bearers around us? This is not a political statement, but I do wonder when exactly America was great for all Americans? Does even saying that reflect a desire to go back to a time when white bodies easily controlled the narrative, the history, and even the statues which were placed in town squares? When brown and black bodies could be enslaved, used, and discarded so white bodies could be comfortable, well-fed, well-dressed, well-housed, and so forth. Of course all lives matter to God, but sometimes we need to emphasize how a certain overlooked or abused or minimalized or marginalized group matters to him. Black Lives Matter.
When I look at Jesus, our true example of all it means to be an embodied human, I see God, who took on human flesh, and became one of us. Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, felt deep emotions; he loved; he got angry; he wept; he felt pain; he developed friendships; he loved those whom others despised. This tells me our bodies are not inherently bad, wicked, evil, vile, or whatever other degrading adjective you want to toss around. Human beings were created “very good.” (Gen. 1:31) Yes, sin taints, divides, dehumanizes, and shames. But, Christ came to show us our way back to the Garden, when human bodiesmale and femalewere created very good, for a purpose, to serve, create, live in harmony and on mission, with one another and with the God who made us.
The Kingdom way says our bodies matter. They matter to God, and they should matter to us, his people. People and their bodies are not projects. Once a “soul is saved,” we don’t discard the person and leave them on their own, simply counting them as a number on some tally board in our church narthex. And if people don’t desire to come to faith in Christ, we love them anyways. We care for them and befriend them and believe they still matter, even if we don’t share a common faith.
Yes, of course, we continue to witness to the good news of the gospel. Yes, we pray people are drawn to choose the hope, peace, and redemption found in Jesus. But, we are not just spiritual beings. We also are called to care for the whole person, as Jesus did. Why else would he have taken on human flesh? Why else did he make it his life’s mission to, “…bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners…” (Isaiah 61:1b) Why else was he raised from the dead? Raised in a body! Certainly it was a renewed body, but when he appeared to his disciples, they recognized him. They felt his nail prints. He ate with them. That Jesus is forevermore the Son of God, Son of Man, matters.
May we live an embodied faith. May we glorify God fully in our bodies. May we care about what happens to people’s bodies in this life, not simply see them as spiritual beings fit for heaven only. May we love people, in their distinct beauty and uniqueness. May we be a people who acknowledge, repent of, and turn away from ways in which we have shamed, harmed, and oppressed our brothers’ and sisters’ bodies, whether individually or systemically. May we be the hands and feet of Christ in a world where people need to know they matter.