If I were to ask you one thing you’d change about your body, chances are it wouldn’t take long to think of an answer. We all have things we dislike when we look in the mirror.
Somewhere between the acne and the wrinkles, the growing pains and the body aches, it can be all too easy to think of our bodies as a nuisance rather than a gift. No matter what age you are.
The bodies God gave us have purpose. And that purpose extends far beyond our physical fitness or outward appearance. Our bodies were prepared for us. They are part of who we are. “They are the means God has given for you to exist in His world.” (28)
In His book What God Has to Say about Our Bodies, Sam Allberry gives a broad overview of the many ways our bodies matter to God. Paul Tripp summarizes the main premise of the book in the foreword: “Your body––my body––is not just there, happening to exist. It means something to God. He knows it. He made it. He cares about it. And all that Christ has done in his death and resurrection is not in order for us one day to escape our body, but for him one day to redeem it.”
The book is divided into three parts: Created Bodies, Broken Bodies, and Redeemed Bodies. He uses this outline to show the way Creation, Fall, and Consummation affect a variety of issues, including gender dysphoria, gender roles, infertility, body image, chronic illness, aging, and death.
Thinking too much or too little about the body
From the beginning of the early church, Christians have had a bad habit of separating the spiritual from the physical, thinking too much or too little of our bodies. The Corinthian Church experienced both ends of this extreme: asceticism and licentiousness. Some Corinthians wrongly believed physical things were beneath them, abstaining from what they had the freedom to enjoy. Others foolishly worshipped pleasure, thinking what they did with their bodies had no consequence on their soul. Our bodies, however, are not an object to be used or an evil to be avoided, they are part of our very self that we offer to the Lord. “In the Bible it’s not just that you have a body; you are a body.” (41) In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, the word for “body” is used interchangeably to refer to your whole self, “Your body is a temple of the holy spirit within you, whom you have from God. You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” Though the body is broken, it can still be offered as a pleasing gift to God. (1 Corinthians 6:13).
The Created Body
In the first section on Creation, Allberry drives home the important truth that God created you with your body. We see this from the creation of the very first man. In fact, Adam’s physical body was created first, and only then was the breath of life breathed into him. Adam was more akin to “an animated body than an incarnated soul” (42). Our bodies cannot be neatly disconnected, sexually or otherwise, from the rest of our person. When our bodies experience something, we experience something. We can all sense this is true. When someone violates your body, they violate you. Murder. Rape. Abuse. Every physical assault that can be listed is a violation of the whole person.
Yet, our culture tends to treat our bodies as a receptacle for the “real you”, that our internal feelings are all that matter. “In our culture, the hero today is not the person who risks his body for the sake of others, but the person who lays aside anything and anyone for the sake of being authentic. We most esteem not self-sacrifice, but self-expression.” (51) We care more about being “true to who we truly are” than being like Christ. But who we truly are cannot be separated from the body. Being male or female, black or white, tall or short informs part of our identity. We were purposefully created with the bodies we have. Our bodies are not accidental. They were intentionally created. We are in the exact body God wanted us to have. And our biological, physical differences uniquely shape us. Why is it that feminists advocate for equal rights if women’s experiences aren’t unique to them? If “transwomen are women” as the LGBT activists cry, then there is nothing special about the bodily experience of a woman born female. This is wrong. And we know it. “A definitive maleness and femaleness that makes no reference to our physical bodies cannot be biblical” (58) Biology means something. While there is more to us than our biology, there is not less.
In perhaps his most controversial statement in the whole book, Allberry writes “Our gender identity is not something we search for in our feelings; it is something we find in our body.” (59) God created us male and female, and these biological distinctions were reiterated after the fall in Genesis 5:1-2 and in Jesus’ own words in Matthew 19:3-5. Intersex conditions are not a third gender but a biological irregularity. He goes on to speak about gender roles and our unique call as men and women. He highlights the way Genesis 2:24-25 shifts from the language of “male” and “female” which all species share, to “man” and “woman”. Sexual difference is not unique to humanity but our call to be men and women is. It means something. There is something beyond biology that creates our differences. So, what is it? “True biblical masculinity and true biblical femininity are what naturally emerges when men and women grow in Christ.” (64)
While I wish Allberry spent more time uncovering what exactly he finds these differences to be, he reminds us that we cannot say more or less than the Bible says. While the conservative circles I’m in like to restrict gender roles to a very specific set of rules, we must remember that we are more alike than we are different. After surveying all animals, Adam first recognized his similarity to Eve, not his difference (Genesis 2:23). On the other end of the spectrum, liberals like to stress men and women’s equality in everything, to the point that they lose any sense of what makes us unique. Allbery’s solution? Pursue God and you will become the men and women He created you to be. The whole of Scripture is written for men and women alike. Yet throughout Scripture, God addresses specific sin struggles men and women are more likely to face. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul’s letter highlights men’s propensity toward anger and women’s desire to draw attention to themselves. While this may not be “universally (all men, without exception), absolutely (all men to the same extent, with no variation), or exclusively (only men, as if women couldn’t be quarrelsome)” it is generally typical of male-female differences. He explained it in terms of varying degrees. Biologically, men and women share the same hormones – estrogen, progesterone, testosterone – but they exist in varying degrees. The same can be said of our emotional and psychological differences. We all struggle with sin. We are all called to bear fruit. But men and women generally differ in the ways they naturally do.
The Broken and Redeemed Body
Parts two and three focus on the Fall and Redemption of our broken bodies. Working in women’s ministry it can be easy to think of body image as a “woman’s problem” but reading his book made it obvious that men experience body shame too. Whether it is gender dysphoria or infertility, recognizing our shared brokenness should make us the most compassionate people on the planet. We are in this together.
Allberry’s answer for our brokenness was not a “quick-fix” but total surrender to God. “The problems we experience with our body are never ultimately going to be solved by our body. The only hope for us is in the body of Jesus, broken fully and finally for us.” (134) Through the Incarnation, Jesus Christ became flesh. Not only did Jesus live on this earth, He rose to life, ascended into heaven, and His bodily flesh now sits at the right hand of God. Although death is inevitable, it isn’t permanent. Colossians 1:22 tells us that Christ’s physical body reconciled us. He died and rose to life to redeem us, not only spiritually, but physically. Our bodies will be redeemed!
Until then, we cherish our bodies. We discipline our bodies (1 Corinthians 9:27) “Christian living is in response to what God has done for us (rather than an attempt to earn it). (165). Even our worship involves our bodies: lifting holy hands in prayer (Ps. 28:2), raising our eyes (Ps 121:12) kneeling (Ephesians 3:4), falling prostrate (Rev 1:17). Our bodies have a glorious purpose, and we must live like it, thanking Him for all He has given us. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,” 1 Timothy 4:3-4.
When we insult our bodies, we are insulting God. We are his handiwork, after all. When we are ungrateful, we fail to honor what God has created and given us. So, the next time you’re asked what you’d change about your body, take a short pause before you answer. Perhaps you can think instead about how to appreciate the body God has given you. Perhaps you can choose to honor Him with it.