October 11, 2018

The Inherent Dignity of the Body

Nancy Pearcey, an Evangelical scholar and the author of the new book Love Thy Body examined the inherent dignity of our bodies at the Family Research Council on October 3.  Her basic, yet insightful arguments lay grounded in the value of our physical bodies as created by God in His image.

Seriously considering the value and purpose of our bodies is a conversation that does not happen enough, even among Christians. But Pearcey’s latest book is an important conversation starter.

I know many people, including myself, who grew up with what Pearcey called an “inner fragmentation” of the body and mind. According to Pearcey, this means that we elevate the importance of our minds and hearts and end up viewing our bodies as insignificant or even worthless. She noted many of us are unaware of the telos (the Greek word for “purpose”) for which we were made, which is to bear the image of our heavenly Father and bring glory to His name.

As I left Pearcey’s event, I could not help but dwell on the goodness of God’s sovereignty. He knew exactly what He was doing when He made men and women in His image. He wanted us to be a reflection of himself here on this physical earth. So often men and women fall into the societal pressure to look a certain way or believe that one aspect of our humanity is more important than another. This leads us to devalue our bodies altogether.

Pearcey explained the idea that “the body is the prison house of the soul” and the belief that “salvation was defined as an escape from the material world” were teachings that began in the ancient church. This has had unfortunate effects on men and women today who struggle to love their bodies because of this (sometimes unintended) teaching. She said that we have come to a point where we believe that “our spirit is good and our body is bad.” This contradicts the Gospel message. Christ came down in the flesh to save us. He did not stay in heaven to save us. Christ, in his life on earth, reveals how much our physical life matters. He came to us, as Pearcey said, ultimately affirming the inherent dignity of our bodies.

Michael D. Williams writes in “Made for Mission,” his academic article for the Covenant Seminary Review, that “the biblical doctrines of creation, the incarnation of Christ and his bodily resurrection, our own resurrection upon the Lord’s return, and the promise of the restoration of all creation fund an emphasis on embodiment. We need to affirm not just soul or spirit, but the bodily and corporal as well.” Pearcey affirms this argument that our bodies have an incredible, biblical purpose. We cannot disassociate the mind, emotions, and soul from the body. We are made in entirety, with personhood and dignity.

So what do we do with this message that our bodies matter? Pearcey’s address was not a simple “love yourself” talk. Understanding the Gospel and human dignity is so much more than that, as she explained. Christians are called to work, to use our physical bodies for the glorification the Lord and cultivating the earth. The perception of our bodies should not be shaped by what we think of them, but rather in what God says about them.

Pearcey highlighted Genesis 1:31, which reads, “God saw everything he had made and it was very good.” We are free to love and rejoice in the way that the Lord has made us because we bear His image. It can be challenging when our culture tells us to listen to our feelings about our bodies rather than listening to the Creator of our bodies. We have been made with purpose and beauty and it is important to be reminded of that. We are made to cherish life, embrace our embodied nature, and be present in the place and time the Lord has given us. I am thankful that Nancy Pearcey is creating an environment for good conversations about the misconceptions of the body. I am hopeful that soon our society’s approach to the body will not be one of confusion and shame, but of respect and joy.

Katy Vanderkwaak is an IRD intern and Capital Fellow at McLean Presbyterian Church in McLean, Virginia. She is a recent graduate of the University of Alabama.

6 Responses to The Inherent Dignity of the Body

  1. David says:

    Were the Neanderthals and the mysterious Denisovans also created in the image of God?

  2. Carol Jensen says:

    Such good food for thought, Katy!

  3. Lynn Gilpin says:

    Well done, Katy! Loved reading your article.

  4. Skipper says:

    This is so pertinent for today! Seeing one’s body as “made in God’s image” gives us a responsibility to care for and protect what God has given us. “What sexuality do you feel like today?” is so very different from what the Bible has to say to us on this topic.

  5. Loren Golden says:

    Richard Doster, the editor of ByFaith, the online magazine of the PCA, recently published an excellent interview with Nancy Pearcy: http://byfaithonline.com/love-thy-body/

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