I’ve been thinking a lot about who we are as a whole self — not just soul, but body. How is our physicality connected to who we authentically are? 21st century Christians are often brought up in the Neoplatonic school of thought that claims the physical is ephemeral and confining, something to be shed so the spiritual (which is supposedly the whole of our authentic self) can eventually shine forth in all its due prominence. Whether consciously or not, we’ve been brought up to denigrate the body in some way. If we’re not embracing the gnostic belief that the body is evil, at the very least we’re prioritizing the soul far above the body.
In Surprised by Hope, NT Wright counteracts this traditional Christian view by demonstrating that early Christian thought and orthodoxy held that the physical would be resurrected for eternity, that in the Heavenly afterlife we would be the perfected versions of our whole Earthly self: body + soul. He focuses his book on the perfected Earth that will be our forever home and what that means for our sense of hope now, but it has me thinking about what this doctrine means for how we view our bodies. Our physicality, it turns out, is inextricably intertwined with what we consider our selves (personalities, soul, emotions, etc.). We can trace our thoughts and emotions in the chemical reactions in our brains. A bad mood can be changed simply by eating something (I am quite prone to the hanger). We use our physical states to help clue us in to our own emotions and in to what that means for our current situation and beliefs. Physical health or illness can have a powerful influence on our psychical health or illness, which means we should take our bodies as seriously as we take our soul.
So what does the pursuit of Authenticity mean regarding our physicality? Our unique genetic code gives us a good reason to believe that our bodies are part of our deep, Heavenly Authenticity. How we look and how our bodies work is, in part, a direct result of how we were created. How we look and how our bodies work is also a result of the choices we make, choices reflecting what we find important or desirable in life (activities, number of children, geographic locations, foods, hobbies). There is no one Perfect body, of course, and we should outright reject comparing our bodies to the bodies of others. But I think we can use our bodies, if we can find a way to look at them objectively and graciously, to see what values we hold dear, what purpose we are living, and ways we might be resisting the perfecting of our character. This includes but goes far beyond appearance (we need loads of intentional grace when looking at our own appearance). If our bodies are meant to be Heavenly rather than discarded, what does that mean for how we treat our bodies now? What does that mean for the choices we make that affect our physicality? What does that mean for how we “see” or analyze our bodies? And how can we use our bodies to help us become more our Authentic selves and to learn about God in a deeper way? The answers will probably be as unique as the people answering them.