by Reed Lessing
When I was a junior in high school, “teaching Reed to drive” fell to my mother. There we were in downtown Denver, I with my driver’s permit, my mother with her seat belt buckled and her life insurance policy paid up.
Then it happened. As I went to change lanes, I came within inches of another car. My mother, in her words, “had the big one!” From that point on, her litany to me was, “Reed Lessing, always remember you have a blind spot!”
You know what she meant, those areas on either side of a vehicle that you can’t see in the rearview or side-view mirrors. Many accidents happen because drivers forget about the blind spot.
In broader usage, blind spots are any issues in life that are easily overlooked.
One glaring blind spot in the lives of most Christians is our body. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Most Christians are outraged by sins against the body, homosexuality, lesbianism, prostitution, abortion, alcoholism, drug abuse, physical violence, and so on. But we are blind to a far more common sin, the abuse of our bodies with our poor diets and lack of regular exercise.
The results are in: obesity is the second-leading cause of preventable death in the United States; approximately 127 million adults are overweight; 60 million are obese; and nine million are severely obese.
Picture a wheel with a hub and five spokes. The hub, or center, is the Triune God’s baptismal gift. New life in Christ is both the glue that holds the five spokes together as well as the power that enables them to properly function. The five spokes are our emotional life, relationships with people, intellect, vocation, and physical health.
To be whole means to keep these spokes connected to Christ and in good order. If one spoke is neglected the whole will be out of balance.
At issue, then, is not only our physical health and fitness but every facet of our lives, for if one part is neglected, everything in life suffers.
Reject the Body
One approach toward our bodies is to reject them. Some elements of the New Age Movement embrace beliefs that demean and reject the body, teaching that human beings are mere souls animating dispensable bodies.
Sociologists estimate that more then 10 million Americans are participating in New Age activities that encourage them to turn inward toward their “psychic abilities” or “inner healing.” New Age spirituality often encourages followers to abandon their “evil bodies” and seek answers from the “god within” by means of mystical experiences.
But Holy Scripture promises us something different. In Baptism, God not only cleanses our conscience (1 Pet. 3:21), but also our bodies (Heb. 10:22). In Baptism both body and soul become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). And even though our body outwardly wastes away (2 Cor. 4:16), the Holy Spirit empowers us to accept our body, knowing that at the Second Advent of Christ we will receive a glorified body (Phil. 3:21).
Perfect the Body
A more popular current approach to the body is to perfect it. For many, physical perfection has almost become their god. Any degree of dedication, even the excess and abuse of performance enhancers, obsessive exercise, exorbitant investments in exercise equipment, is acceptable in achieving their goal. Most communities offer easy access to exfoliation, anti-oxidizing, moisturizing, revitalizing, toning, and tanning.
We have changed from a society of Ivory soap and VO-5 shampoo to one that must have mousse, gel, pomade, volumizers, buffers, bronzers, and polishers. Shower stalls look and smell more like the Amazon jungle! A quick look in many bathrooms will discover banana, lemon, and lime conditioners that are matched by mint, coconut, and herbal shampoo. “Americans have become self-obsessive, unable to see past their own gleaming white incisors and painted toes,” observed Anna Quindlen in her Newsweek article “Leg Waxing and Life Everlasting.”
And then there is cosmetic surgery. The demand for these procedures jumped 44 percent from 2003 to 2004 when almost 11.9 million cosmetic surgeries were performed in the United States. The cosmetic industry in America generates annual sales of almost $8 billion. Even a partial list of options is impressive: rhinoplasty (fixing the nose); dermabrasion, including acne scar removal; otoplasty (ear augmentation); breast augmentation; breast reduction; lip enhancement; and hair and tattoo removal. Liposuction remains the most popular surgical procedure for both men and women.
In fact, many segments of the medical field are driven by our incessant desire to perfect our body. For many, medicine is more powerful and pervasive than the church ever was. Doctors and hospitals, viewed in godlike fashion, function as insurance policies that give people a sense that they will never die. In this worldview the “high priests” are the doctors, the “worship assistants” are the medical technicians, “temples” are the hospitals, the “inspired text” is imparted by the medical community, and the ultimate destiny is to escape death.
Paul, however, writes in 1 Cor. 6:20, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” A temple is not an object of worship but a place of worship. In seeking to perfect their bodies, many Americans worship what is created rather than the Creator. Paul writes in Rom. 1:25, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.”
Paul reminds us that Holy Baptism empowers us to honor God with our bodies (Rom 6:1–14), implying that they are not to be our means to glorify ourselves. Medical care, eating healthy food, and exercising regularly are good, even godly habits (cf. 1 Tim. 4:8). These are to be practiced, however, so that our bodies may be “living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom 12:1).
Respect the Body
In a society that tempts us to reject or perfect our body, Christ empowers another approach: respect our body. His Word instructs us to steer a middle course between the New Age contempt and the pagan adoration of our bodies.
But how do we do this?
Most of us have had the experience of being out of shape. Zippers start ripping out, buttons pop off, the car leans dangerously to one side. “OK,” we determinedly say, “I’m going to thin down.”
In the fresh enthusiasm of zeal we purchase $100 running shoes, join a local health club, and blow off the dust of that diet book we bought five years ago. “I’m going to shave off 30 pounds!”
We hit the road, running like we’re on fire; we choke down dry toast, cottage cheese, sliced tomatoes, and boiled eggs. But then the holiday season rolls around and we fudge, and then we gorge. Finally, when we are prompted to take care of our bodies, we just lie down until the urge goes away.
This neglect of our bodies has come about, in large part, because the church has allowed Plato’s teachings to distort its message. Plato, a Greek philosopher from the fourth century B.C., taught that there are two worlds: the visible, material world, and the invisible, spiritual world. Because the material world is imperfect and a source of evil, it is inferior to the spiritual world.
Plato held a similar dualistic view of people. He likened the body to a prison for the soul. The immortal soul is incarcerated in a defective, crumbling body. Salvation, he claimed, comes at death when the soul escapes the body and soars heavenward to the invisible realm of the pure and eternal spirit.
Because of this influence, many Christians today believe the word “spiritual” means that the Christian life is a detachment from this world and a focus on heaven. This “spiritual” person is consumed with one agenda: “to win souls for Jesus.” All other activity, including keeping a healthy and fit body, is inferior and lacking in priority.
However, the Bible does not teach cosmological dualism or that the created world is evil. Genesis 2:7 states that the Lord God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Our souls are primarily our vitality, our life, not a separate part of our person. This means that we were created as whole living beings with a physical body and a soul.
We are not souls or spirits that now inhabit bodies but will, at death, forever desert them. None of the Hebrew terms translated as “soul” or “spirit” refers to the nonphysical part of a human being. In Hebraic thought, “soul” or “spirit” refers to the whole person . It stands for the person himself. We live as souls; we do not “have” souls. Any dichotomy between spirit and matter is not in agreement with the conceptual framework of the Bible.
Rather than disparaging creation, God remains active in it to restore it and bring about His new creation that ultimately is in Christ. That is to say, what God does in redemption is to serve His goal for His corrupted, dying creation. This means that redemption is God’s penultimate goal. A new creation is His ultimate goal, and this includes the perfect healing of our bodies that will occur at the final resurrection when God will also restore the entire inanimate universe (Rev. 21–22).
In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God declares his love for creation in His most profound way. The two natures in Christ, His divine nature from eternity and His human nature that He assumed when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, continue together. From the moment of His conception on, Jesus is, and will be forever, both true God and true man.
Creation cannot and should not be relegated as a second-class doctrine. Luther understood this. For example, in 1524, Andreas Karlstadt, one of his companions, opposed the reformer by teaching that Christians must detach themselves from earthly, created things. Karlstadt taught that the Eucharist did not give an objective assurance of the forgiveness of sins because, as a part of this creation, it is unable to touch the depth of the soul. Luther refuted this divorce between creation and redemption. He held that the Father works through the flesh of His Son to impart the Holy Spirit. And this new life includes a new body (1 Cor. 15:42–49).
Back to the blind spot
Let’s imagine that someone walks into your home, hands you the keys to a $75,000 Mercedes Benz and says, “Surprise, it’s all yours! Enjoy! One thing, though. It’s an engineering marvel with a very sophisticated engine. It won’t run on regular unleaded fuel. If you don’t fill it with super unleaded, you’ll eventually ruin the motor. Will you agree to use only the highest grade of fuel?”
I would agree. Wouldn’t you? It would be unthinkable to ruin the car by not taking proper care of it.
But this is exactly what many of us are doing with our bodies. Granted, most of us don’t intentionally reject our bodies, nor do we hope to perfect our bodies. But far too many of us neglect our bodies.
A renewed appreciation for creational theology will enable us to view ourselves as a body/soul unit rather than a soul that will one day forever shed its body. We will then embrace the fact that Christian piety is not only the nourishing of our soul. To be fully alive in Jesus Christ also means to respect our bodies.
Our blind spot is now in clear focus. God has engineered a marvelous body for us. Empowered by the Gospel, our goal is to be available for Jesus Christ for the longest amount of time; with the greatest amount of energy; and with the highest degree of emotional, relational, mental, and vocational faithfulness. And that means taking care of our bodies. Let’s get started!