9 Things we know about the body from scripture

This is the companion chapter to Tilly’s chapter, “Borrowed Dust: The Envy of the Body.” It is an excerpt of Borrowed Glories: Envy, Inequality, and the Glory of God.

For the complete outline and other excerpts, CLICK HERE.

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Through God’s Eyes: 9 Things we know about the body from scripture

Justin:

502640791.epsWhat are our bodies for? Comparing? Disparaging? Exerting power? Boasting in? What is the chief end of our bodies? Why do we have them? Why do we lose them? Will we ever get them back? Why are some people’s bodies different from others’, and how ought we to respond to those differences?

My wife tells me that when you have a sore muscle, the best way to massage it is not by squeezing it directly, but by hitting all around it. I’ll take her word for it. At any rate, that’s what I want to do for body-envy in this section. Occasionally I’ll take a direct hit at it, but for the most part I plan to pound at the edges. I want to undermine body-envy by digging out the foundations that support it, and by laying biblical foundations on the ruins. In the Scriptural structure of teaching on the body, envy has no place. There’s simply no room for it. So that’s the house I want to build.

Or to change the metaphor and borrow from Calvin, I want to help remove the worldly cataracts from our eyes, and replace them with biblical glasses. God has given us the Bible as spectacles through which to look at the world, including the body. And when we look at the body–whether ours or our neighbors’–through these God-given glasses, we will see no cause for envy, but every cause for gratitude and hope.

So let us go to it. What does Scripture tell us about the body?

 

  1. God doesn’t have one

 

The historic confessions of the church remind us that God is “without body, passions, or parts.” He is invisible (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17; Heb. 11:27) and intangible. He is omnipresent and fills all things, but not like a solid, liquid, or gas. For example, God’s omnipresence fills the room where I am typing right now, but it doesn’t displace my couch or table the way my body displaces water when I hop into a bathtub.

Why not? Because God doesn’t have a body. In the words of Jesus, “God is spirit.” As embodied beings, we have no experience of what that’s like. We can hardly imagine what it’s like to be in two places at once, much less all places at once. Your body limits you to one place–it localizes you. But God is not localized. Envy that, if you will. Or better yet, worship it.

 

  1. Nevertheless, our bodies still image God

 

Scripture speaks of us as being “made in the image of God.” But since God doesn’t have a body, this can’t mean that we “look like” God–as though the invisible God were a hairless biped. At the same time, the powers that we exercise in our bodies are analogous to God’s powers. Think about it. Though God doesn’t have eyeballs with retinas attached, he can still see. Though he doesn’t have an ear canals that house eardrums, he can still hear. Though he doesn’t have a physical right hand with fingers and opposable thumbs, he can still act in power. The Psalmist says as much.

He who formed the eye, does he not see?

He who planted the ear, does he not hear?

(Psalm 94:9, ESV)

I think you know the answer.

This means that we image the invisible God with our bodies, not just with our minds. When we see, we image the God who sees. When we hear, we image the God who hears. And when we sing (amazingly enough), we image the God who sings (Zeph. 3:17).

Now of course, God is infinite, and we are finite; he sees and hears everything, while we see and hear comparatively little. But that’s all right. We’re the image of God, not God himself. We image God with our bodies by seeing, hearing, singing, etc. in our limited creaturely way. Ours is a borrowed glory, remember. But a glory nonetheless.

Why allow your neighbor’s body to be an occasion for envy when it can be an occasion for worship instead? The world is like a hall of mirrors imaging God! This is why idolatry is so foolish. Why waste your time creating dead images of God when billions of living images already exist? Smother envy with worship–not by worshipping your neighbor’s body (you do that by envying it) but by worshipping the God whom their body images. Follow the beam back to the Sun. Trace the stream back to the fountain, and drink.

 

  1. It’s good for us to have bodies–God made us that way

 

Perhaps God could have made us pure spirits like himself. Apparently he doesn’t object to the idea, since he created millions of them (they’re called angels). But when it came to human beings, pure spirit wasn’t gonna cut it. God wanted more. He wanted a double combo of soul and body. Something that could contemplate the cosmos and cast a shadow. A being that could ponder the ocean depths and displace water.

I have sometimes heard Christians say things like, “You’re not a body who has a soul. Rather, you’re a soul who lives in a body.” The idea behind this statement seems to be that the soul somehow takes priority over the body, with the body playing second fiddle. Well, there is just enough truth in this statement to make it plausible. It’s true that when our bodies die, our spirits continue to exist in either heaven or hell. And for Christians, it’s true that “though our outward self is perishing, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). This is why we should never sacrifice our souls in order to save our bodies (Matt. 10:28). The soul does seem to have a kind of priority in the sense that, unlike the body, it never perishes, even temporarily.

Nevertheless, this statement is fundamentally misleading, because it fails to capture the whole Biblical picture of the body. Perhaps surprisingly, when Genesis 2:7 describes the creation of Adam as both body and soul, it tells us that Adam’s body was actually created first. God formed Adam (i.e. his body) out of the dust of the ground, and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (i.e. his soul). Now of course, this doesn’t mean that Adam’s body was more important than his soul. But it does tell us that his body was not an afterthought–a mere disposable shell for an already perfect soul.

What Gen. 2:7 does teach is that, from the beginning, the human body and soul were meant to go together. Adam was not meant to be another angel. Without his soul, his body was dead. But without his body, God would’ve had nothing to breathe the breath of life into.

God meant for us to be embodied creatures. We’re not failed angels, nor is the body a prison for the soul (though in a fallen world it will often feel like one). The body is good. Eyes and ears, hands and hair, breasts and bones, lungs and livers, tongues and toes. They’re all good. Being visible, tangible, audible, and smellable (if that’s even a word) is good. It is a privilege to be able to use one’s body for the glory of God: to comb one’s hair, to stir a risotto, to swing a bat, to run a 5K, to dance a waltz, to clothe oneself (modestly). It’s good to be embodied–to be…human.

When dealing with body-envy–i.e. the worship of your neighbor’s body and ingratitude for your own–it can be tempting to respond by denigrating the body as though it were incidental to being human. You may try to swing from the body as all-important to the body as completely unimportant. But this is a false move. You can’t cure envy by replacing it with scorn. And it’s no good trading a materialist idolatry of the body for a gnostic idolatry of the spirit.

It’s glorious to have a body. Glorious and natural. God meant for it to be that way.

 

  1. In fact, it’s so unnatural for us not to have bodies that God is going to make sure we get them back

 

Just as all human beings (i.e. Adam and Eve) had bodies in the beginning, Scripture teaches that all human beings will have bodies in the end. Together with the catholic church through the ages, we confess, “We believe in the resurrection of the body.” More importantly, in submission to the Holy Scriptures we confess that “there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15). In the words of our Lord (who was echoing words he had previously moved the prophet Daniel to speak, Dan. 12:2), we confess that

…an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

(John 5:28-29 ESV)

Just as all human beings had bodies in the beginning, so all human beings will have bodies in the end and throughout all eternity, for better or worse.

The only reason that the saying “You’re not a body who has a soul, but a soul who lives in a body” has any semblance of truth is because of what happened between the beginning and the end: namely, the Fall. It’s only because of Adam’s sin in Eden that death ever entered the world (Rom. 5:12; Gen. 3:17-19). Were it not for the Fall, the human soul would never have been separated from the body, not even for a moment. Adam’s disobedience is the reason that ‘our outward self is perishing,’ and our bodies are ‘mortal bodies’ (Rom. 8:11). Given the Fall, death is natural, just as sin is natural (1 Cor. 2:14). But when we look at the grand sweep of the biblical story from creation to new creation, it becomes clear that death is unnatural–which means that the current disembodied state of the saints in heaven is unnatural.

Not unhappy, mind you. Living in a sinless, disembodied state with the risen Lord is “far better” than living in a sin-cursed body away from the Lord, at least according to the Apostle Paul (Phil. 1:21-24; 2 Cor. 5:8). And he should know: he may well have visited Paradise in an ‘out-of-the-body-experience’ (2 Cor. 12:1-4), and on top of that, he was inspired (2 Pet. 3:15-16; cf. 2 Tim. 3:16).  In a very real sense, we should long to take our place among the “spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). But not because the body is bad. Rather, because of the two options currently available to us, being away from the body and present with the Lord is better than being in the body and away from the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6-7). So with regard to the saints now in heaven, their disembodied state is not unhappy, but it is unnatural. The body without the spirit is dead (Jam. 2:26), but the spirit without the body is naked (2 Cor. 5:2-3).

We’ll speak more about the future of our bodies later.

 

  1. Some bodily inequalities are clearly the result of the Fall, while some are not

 

In the fallen world we live in, not all bodies are created equal. Nevertheless, neither are all bodily inequalities created equal. Some are clearly evils stemming from the Fall, while others are clearly something less than that. There’s a world of difference between being unable to walk and being unable to make the track-team, between having a withered hand and being ‘all thumbs.’ It’s one thing to be deaf, and another to have big ears (like I do); one thing to have no legs, and another to have two left feet; one thing to have breast cancer, and another to be flat-chested.

To quote Tilly, “There’s a stark difference between my arthritic friend’s grueling contentment in her constant pain and my little ‘I wish I were more attractive’ complaints.” None of these bodily inequalities is easy to deal with, and none of them justifies envy, but they are two different animals that require different responses.

And though the line between the two categories can be fuzzy, it is still real. To help you see the line more clearly, ask yourself questions like, “Can I imagine Jesus walking around Galilee ‘healing’ people who were unhappy with the size of their noses? How do I think Jesus have responded to a man who asked Jesus to make him 6’5” instead of 5’5”? Would Paradise have meant the absence of all that I currently dislike about my body, or would it have meant the absence of all my insecure, comparison-driven, discontented feelings toward my body?”

So first, some bodily inequalities are clearly a result of the Fall. In the beginning, the human body was perfectly healthy and probationally immortal (though capable of becoming mortal). In the end, the redeemed human body will once again be perfectly healthy and this time permanently immortal. But we live between the beginning and the end, when sin has brought a curse upon all of creation, including our bodies. We inhabit a broken world in which there are painful and tragic physical inequalities.

Of course, there is one tragic equality in which everyone’s body shares: death. Unless Jesus returns first, everyone reading this book is going to die. Christian and non-Christian. Our bodies are either going to run down gradually or be cut off suddenly. It may be gruelling or painless, accidental or inflicted. But death will come for us all, after which our loved ones will place us in a box and plant us in the ground. People often say that death is the great equalizer, and in this sense it is. As a result of the Fall, everyone dies. This is one way in which our bodies are all equal.

But during our time on earth, there are countless ways in which the Fall affects different bodies unequally.

Take eyesight. Some are born blind (John 9:1), and some lose their eyesight in old age (Gen. 27:1). Multitudes have to wear glasses, and multitudes more lived and died before glasses were invented. Others have 20/20 vision all their life. “Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated.” (Deuteronomy 34:7, ESV). At the moment, I’m 31 years old and I’ve never had to squint to read words on a page. Furthermore, these differing degrees of sight are usually not a result of personal choice or prudence. I doubt that Moses kept his eyesight because he wore sunglasses, and we know that the man born blind in John 9 wasn’t to blame for his blindness (Jesus says so, John 9:2-3). And given the fact that both my parents and two of my siblings wear glasses, I’m quite sure that my perfect eyesight stems from sheer grace. There is no room for pride or envy here.

Same with hearing. Some (like Helen Keller) are born deaf, some go deaf in old age, and most experience at least some hearing loss as they grow older. And while some hearing loss may be the result of unwise choices (e.g. spending too much time at heavy metal concerts), most lose their hearing for less culpable reasons (e.g. they worked in loud jobs, they were involved in accidents, or they just got old).

The list could go on. We can scan the New Testament and see people who are deaf, mute, blind, lame, and paralyzed.  We can look around us today and see people with arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia, Down’s Syndrome, dementia, multiple sclerosis, etc.

Now we must biblically insist that even for people who suffer from deprivations such as these, envy is not a God-honoring option. On the contrary, the greater the ailment, the less you should ever wish it on anyone. Everyone recognizes that it would be wicked for a cancer patient to envy his neighbor’s health such as to wish cancer on him, or (perhaps more realistically) for the spouse of a cancer-victim to envy the spouse of a cancer-survivor. (“I wish she knew how it felt to be me!”) Christians under such crosses must recognize the sovereign hand of God in ordaining such inequalities as his wisdom sees fit. As the slow-tongued Moses found out:

But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (Exodus 4:10-11, ESV)

At the same time, we must also insist that in cases such as these, the biblical answer is not simply “Be content with your lot and pretend nothing’s wrong.” A blind person’s attitude toward his blindness need not be the same as a short person’s attitude toward his shortness. Because blindness is an evil in a way that shortness isn’t.

A blind person can rest in God’s sovereignty over his blindness and still recognize that blindness is an evil, that he would rather be able to see, and that, in Christ, one day he will (Isa. 35). When blind men came to Jesus for sight, he didn’t rebuke them for discontent. Nor did he mock them with the relativistic notion that blindness and sight are equally valid lifestyles. No. He opened their eyes, because he knew that seeing was what our eyes were created to do, and blindness an intruder.

Same goes with all the other maladies listed above. We don’t fight envy against these inequalities by pretending that health is no better than handicap. It wouldn’t work if we tried, because we know better. Such inequalities are the result of the Fall, and require trust in God’s sovereignty (Rom. 8:28-30; Exod. 4:10-11) and hope in God’s promises of future glory.

Nevertheless, not all bodily inequalities fit this tragic category. Many of our differences are natural, and reflect the variety of God’s creation. With these inequalities, the “problem” is not so much in our bodies as in our hearts.

Take height. Most men are taller than most women. This is the norm. Even feminists don’t seem too upset about it. Where envy often comes in is in the cases of the tall woman and the short man. It’s the classic case of the tall girl who resents being taller than most of the boys. Or the short guy who envies the ‘normal’ sized guys who don’t have to gaze up into the eyes of their date.

Such annoyance is understandable. At the same time, barring exceptional cases that stem from real genetic problems, there is nothing contrary to nature about being tall or short. I know we don’t have a lot of explicit biblical data to draw on here, but are we really to believe that every man in Eden would have been the same height? That God will one day wipe away all height differences from our stature? If such an idea sounds silly, I think it’s because we instinctively recognize that it’s wrong to ‘being short’ in the same category as ‘being blind.’ We might not choose either of them for ourselves, but they are inequalities of a different sort, with different ultimate solutions. In the mean time, both are essentially unfixable. Normally, a blind person can’t regain her sight by taking medicine. And as Jesus said, “Worrying won’t add one cubit to your stature.” (Matt. 6:27, my paraphrase)

The solution to height-envy is not to wish that everyone were brought down or up to your size. Nor is it to look forward to the day when all height-inequality will be thrown into the lake of fire. Rather, the solution is to recognize God’s sovereign hand in your height, and stop comparing yourself with others.

The same things hold true with qualities like athleticism. Some people can run faster, jump higher, and swing a bat better than others can. Some have the hand-eye coordination necessary to make it in Major League Baseball, but most don’t. Some have the height and build necessary to make it in the NBA or the NFL and some don’t.  As Tim Keller remarked,

A five-foot-four, 125-pound young adult male should not set his heart on becoming an NFL lineman. All the discipline and effort in the world will only frustrate and crush him (literally). He is banging his head against a physical reality–he simply does not have the potential.

We ‘have-nots’ (and I’m using the ‘royal we’ this time) could burn with envy against the ‘haves’ over our lifelong fate as bench warmers. But why not just watch the game and be awed by the borrowed glory of the ‘have’s’?  Why not rejoice that Major League Baseball isn’t populated by players as crummy as we are? Why not admire the varied graces and glories that a sovereign God has poured out on the few? This is what makes athletic talent so spellbinding. Crowds don’t fill stadiums in order to watch people walk, because the ability to walk is such a common glory. They fill stadiums to watch people run at speeds that very few people can run, and play games at a level of skill that very few possess. If everyone could hit .300 off Justin Verlander, there would be nothing remarkable about it. If everyone could run 4-minute miles, we wouldn’t hand out trophies for it. In the words of Dash Parr, son of Mr. Incredible, “If everyone is super, no one is.”

It’s the unequal distribution of such gifts that keeps life from being flat and boring. (Imagine a story in which all the characters were the same.) We should be overjoyed that so many different people are good at so many different things. These inequalities are glorious gifts from God, and ought to be seen as such by those who have them (thus slaying pride) and by those who don’t (thus killing envy).

One final bodily inequality that (in my judgment) is a natural feature of God’s world and not a result of the Fall is the unequal distribution of physical beauty. But this is such an involved subject that it requires its own section.

 

  1. Beauty is real and unevenly distributed

 

I want to be brief here because Tilly has already discussed this in greater detail. I also want to be general because I am not an expert in aesthetics, and I realize that standards of beauty vary quite a bit between different cultures and different times.

Having said that, however, I find it hard to sign off on popular slogans like ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ or ‘Everyone is beautiful in their own way.’

First, in my judgment, they seem to contradict what everyone knows to be true. Everyone knows that some people are better looking than others. That’s why they envy them. The plain girl who gets told that ‘Everyone is beautiful in their own way’ will likely suspect that you are just trying to make her feel better. Such lame slogans only heal the wound of envious people lightly (This language is a conscious echo of Jer. 6:14; 8:11).

Second, such slogans seem to contradict Scriptural testimony. There’s a difference between putting outward beauty in its proper place (which Scripture does do) and leveling the beauty field altogether (which Scripture does not do). Rather than ignoring outward beauty, the authors of Scripture frequently describe certain women as beautiful, sometimes even in contrast to others.

Sarah was “beautiful in appearance” (Gen. 12:11-14), Vashti was “lovely to look at” (Esth. 1:11), Rebekkah was “attractive in appearance” (Gen. 26:7), Esther “had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at” (Esth. 2:7), and Rachel was “beautiful in form and appearance,” unlike her sister Leah, whose “eyes were weak” (Gen. 29:17).

Although less frequently, Scripture also remarks on the handsomeness of some men: Joseph “was handsome in form and appearance” (Gen. 39:6), David was “ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome” (1 Sam. 16:12), and of Saul it was said, “there was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he” (1 Sam. 9:2).

These texts all take note of how physically attractive some people were. They make no apology for it. Nor do the authors simply mean that these people were beautiful in the same sense that everyone around them was beautiful. If that were the case, it would make no more sense for Moses to mention Sarah’s beauty than it would be for him to mention that she had ten fingers.

I’m afraid we must accept the hard truth. The Scripture writers are simply confirming what all of us know to be true when we’re not playing dumb or chewing on sour grapes: some people are just better looking than others. The borrowed, fading glory of outward beauty is real, and it is not equally distributed.

Which brings me to my final reason for being suspicious of slogans like “Everyone is beautiful in their own way.” I cannot help but think that such statements are themselves reflections of envy–as though instead of chopping off the tall stalks in order to make them all equal, we pretended that there were no tall stalks. But such pretense requires a conspiracy of faux ignorance, and most people aren’t fooled by it. To repeat the words of C.S. Lewis’s demon Screwtape,

No man who says I’m as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce…nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept. And therefore resents.

Outward beauty is real. It’s a borrowed glory, and some people have more of it than others. But…

 

  1. Beauty is also vain and fleeting

Having noted how the biblical writers recognize the existence of both beauty and plainness, we must point out that they weigh the value of outward beauty very differently than the world does.

In a chapter discussing the qualities of a virtuous woman, the wisdom-writer notes that “charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain” (Prov. 31:30). It’s a nice quality for a woman to have, but it’s much better to be a “woman who fears the LORD.” It’s not that charm and beauty are inherently bad, it’s just that they’re both easily abused and overrated by the world.

The inner person of the heart is to be valued more than outward appearance. Listen to what the Apostle Peter says to Christian wives:

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
(1 Pet. 3: ESV)

Notice why inner beauty is so precious: because unlike outward beauty, it is imperishable. Outward beauty perishes as our bodies age and run down. But inner beauty has eternal significance. The Apostle Paul reasons in a similar way about bodily exercise and training:

…rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
(1 Tim. 4:7-8)

Notice that Paul doesn’t completely pooh-pooh all bodily training, he simply puts it in its proper place. The same thing is true of outward beauty: Scripture doesn’t completely dismiss it, it simply assigns it an ordinate value. That’s the difference between the Bible’s view of outward beauty and the world’s view: the world places an inordinate value on outward beauty. It ranks it higher than it should. It turns the apostles’ counsel on its head, urging people to focus solely on the beauty that won’t even last through this life, much less the life to come.

I concluded the previous section by saying that outward beauty is real and some people have more of it than others. If this is a hard pill for us to swallow, I submit that this is only because we have already swallowed the world’s inordinate view of beauty. The more value we place on something, the worse we feel if we don’t have it and the more envious we feel of those who do.

Why do we get so uncomfortable at the thought of being plain Janes or regular Joes? Do we think that being attractive is an indispensable part of being human, like having a soul? If people regarded you as a sub-human creature without a soul (as the Nazis regarded the Jews), then you would have just cause for being upset, and protesting, “I, too, am a man/woman.”

But being unattractive or plain does not make you less than human. On the contrary–the greatest, most truly human person who ever lived was lacking in this very gift. Using the same Hebrew words that Moses had used to describe Rachel (Gen. 29:17), Isaiah said of our Lord Jesus,

He had no form nor majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
(Isa. 53:2)

Jesus wasn’t attractive. Those of you who are, think about this when you are tempted in your vanity to overvalue your looks, as though physical beauty were the be all and end all of human existence. Those of you who aren’t, think about this when you are tempted in your self-pity to undervalue your body because it isn’t as beautiful as other peoples.’ Jesus knows what it’s like. He knows how it feels to have no beauty that anyone should desire him. You don’t have a high priest who is unable to be touched with the feeling of your infirmity. He has identified with you in your plainness, just as he has identified with the poor in their poverty.

If we allow the Scripture to refocus our vision; if we pull the goddess beauty down from its idolatrous pedestal and set it in its proper place among the biblical values, then we will find that body-envy has no soil to thrive in. If we find that God has given us relatively little of this particular glory, then we will be content to make the most of the talent he has given us. And we will be able to respond properly to the greater glory he has given others–not by envying it or resenting it or denying it or lusting after it, but by recognizing and admiring it, just as the writers of Scripture did.

  1. God the Son has taken a body, and in doing so, has redeemed ours

 

Earlier we discussed how even though God doesn’t have a body, nevertheless our bodies still image God in real ways. But as Christians, we shouldn’t be able to hear such talk for very long without remembering that one member of the Godhead has actually taken a body. The eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). From the Incarnation onward, the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) is an embodied Son of Adam. And when we remember that he planned the Incarnation before he created the earth, should we not marvel at the thought of God the Son forming Adam from the dust of the ground, knowing that he was forming the kind of creature that he would one day become? If creation itself were not proof enough that God is not anti-matter, the Incarnation seals the deal.

To the ancient gnostics who regarded physical matter as intrinsically evil and inferior to the intangible spirit-world, the idea of God creating physical matter was repulsive. How could a holy God dirty his hands and stoop so low? But Christianity smites gnosticism under the fifth rib. Indeed, not only has God dirtied his hands by creating a physical cosmos, he has made himself viler still by clothing himself in human flesh!

The embodiment of God’s Son means that redemption cannot be separated from the human body. Why? Because it was a human body that was born of the Virgin, a human body that lived a sinless life in 1st century Palestine, a human body that was nailed to the cross, a human body that was raised on the third day, a human body that ascended into heaven, a human body that now sits at God’s right hand on the throne of the universe, and a human body that will one day return to judge the world.

Not surprisingly, redemption cannot be separated from our bodies either. The eternal Word did not remain pure spirit in order to make us pure spirits. He became flesh in order to glorify our flesh. And because he was raised, he  will never cease to be flesh. His bodily resurrection is only the beginning. When he returns, our bodies will be resurrected and transformed just like his. In the words of Paul, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21, ESV)

When that happens, all bodily inequalities that result from the Fall will be removed.

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

and the ears of the deaf unstopped,

then shall the lame man leap like a dear,

and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

(Isa. 35:5-6)

As for other the other bodily inequalities we talked about, I am less certain. The relationship between our future glorified bodies and our present lowly bodies is not entirely clear in Scripture. It is clear, however, that there will be continuity between the two. God is not going to annihilate and replace your lowly body, but rather liberate and transform it (Rom. 8:18-25; Phil. 3:21).

What that means for all the things you dislike about your current body and envy in other people’s, I am not entirely sure. But here’s my biblically-informed hunch. The Bible pictures the new earth as involving the complete removal of sin and its effects from creation, including you and me. Since Scripture also affirms that some inequalities existed prior to the Fall and are intrinsically good (e.g. the hierarchies of God over human beings, human beings over nature, husband over wife, parents over children), there is no necessary reason to think that the new age will require the leveling of all inequalities in order to make everything perfect. After all, some inequalities are only evils because our thinking makes it so. So it is our thinking that needs to be changed.

While it may seem appealing to think of your new body as the “body of your dreams” or the “body you’ve always wanted,” this presumes that your dreams are untainted by sin and that what you want=what is best. But whatever else may be true, you can be sure of this: if your new body turns out to be shorter or slower or less athletic than someone else’s, you won’t mind in the least, because you will finally be free of all traces of envy, and filled with all the fullness of Christ. You will then drink a drought of contentment that you have only sipped from here. You will finally be free of your self-absorption and free to enjoy the stunning glory of those around you. To adapt a line from C.S. Lewis, the dullest, most physically unattractive Christian you know  (even if it’s you) will “one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”

In short: corruption will put on in-corruption, the natural will put on the spiritual, and envy will be swallowed up in glory. Maranatha!

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