Broken Body Theology

By Jennifer Durrett
In Formed
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I never thought much about my body until recently. It mostly did what it was supposed to do and looked how it was supposed to look, and so I haven’t had to pay it too much mind. Athletics weren’t my thing, which means my body’s physical abilities were never in the spotlight. I’ve of course fussed and fretted over my appearance like we all have, but mostly my body cooperated and came along for the ride.

More recently, though, my body insists on being noticed. I’ve had two babies (both of whom made themselves comfortable in my belly for much longer than they were welcome), I’m creeping closer to middle age, and my body doesn’t look or feel the way it always has. Things hurt. Some days, things hurt an annoying amount. Suddenly my body demands a little more attention and requires a little more care to work properly. Occasionally, it refuses to work properly regardless. For the first time in my life I notice my body every day, bringing a mixed bag of thankfulness and anger, awe and disgust.

The truth is, whether you think about your body constantly or almost not at all, what you believe about your body matters. As Christians, what we know about God should inform how we see the world. This means that our beliefs about ourselves are inextricably linked to our beliefs about God. The way we view, talk about, and care for our physical bodies reflects our spiritual theology, whether we want it to or not.

In the early centuries of the church, a group of people called Gnostics believed that their physical bodies didn’t matter at all and were simply a messy inconvenience to be either spurned or sated. This was, of course, heresy. Our bodies do matter. They were created in the very image of God, planted firmly in a physical creation that he deemed good, and will one day be redeemed by a Savior whose own body was wounded to the point of physical death. Our bodies do matter, and when we use something or someone other than God to inform how we see them, we shortchange not only our own faith but our witness to others.

So, what is your body theology? And what kind of god does it point to?

Having a daughter has made me keenly aware of the measures Satan will go to to put us at war with our bodies. I think my daughter is the most beautiful, strong, capable thing I’ve ever laid eyes on, but I know that the world will tell her otherwise. I know that the world will either tell her that her body is worth nothing - that it isn’t enough, and never will be - or that her body is the only thing she has worth anything. Either way, it will be a twisted lie. Like the Gnostics, our culture will try to convince her to separate body and soul, leaving her body to be either idolized or debased, controlled or ignored. The messages will be constant and sneaky, sometimes disguised as the path to love or success or even wellness. But none of them will reflect the truth God has to offer regarding the body he gave her.

Life with an imperfect body isn’t easy. When you add in a culture that leverages that brokenness to distort the truth regarding both myself and God, I can’t help but yearn for the renewal of heaven. However, these realities have also pushed me to assess my own body theology. And what I‘ve decided? My body, both broken and beautiful, is a tangible, unavoidable, annoyingly reliable reminder that I am not in control. My current body, while lovingly and painstakingly created, is imperfect and temporary. No amount of cardio or clean eating can change that. While I am tasked to care for it, human effort can never truly save it. My body, like my soul, has one savior and his name is Jesus Christ.

So what are we to do when we find ourselves surrounded by a world that has a lot to say about our bodies? I’m realizing that, like so many other things in life, the solution lies in reorienting our hearts and minds towards God. When my eyes are focused on him, the fuzzy truth about my own body starts to sharpen a bit as well.

One of the bigger “aha” moments I remember having in my life was when I realized I had humility all wrong. Humility is not viewing yourself as less (as I had thought), but rather viewing yourself accurately, grounded in the nature of God. The gift of a broken body is that, in the end, or maybe in moments throughout life, it demands to be seen accurately. It’s a sort of inescapable humility, one we can choose to fight, ignore, or embrace. As someone who’s spent time doing all three, I have to imagine that God’s desire for us is the latter.

When we see our bodies accurately, through humble eyes and measured against God, every imperfection is a reminder of God’s perfection. Every limitation points to God’s sovereignty. Every capability is the result of his unmerited favor. And every wrinkle is a reminder of the life he’s given us. Seeing ourselves as God does is not only good because it’s true, but because it’s an opportunity to experience the freedom that comes with holding ourselves in correct esteem: as fully loved, fully imperfect beings created and cared for by a loving and perfect God.

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