It seems that most humans experience, to a greater or lesser degree, momentary or ongoing ambivalence about their bodies.
Children seem to be hardwired to delight in burps and farts. We giggle in fifth grade biology when teachers outline the basics of human sexuality, but the actual onset of puberty often brings with it humiliations and unfamiliar feelings. Many of us never settle comfortably into our adult bodies, always wishing for a different shape or better health or greater ability. Illness and disability, broken sexuality and abuse, shame and obsession plague us, striking at the core of how we feel about our very selves. It’s safe to say that few of us feel entirely comfortable in our own skin.
In his latest book, What God Has to Say About Our Bodies (Crossway, 2021), Sam Allberry develops an accessible theology of embodiment for the church. Starting with the reality that God created us to image himself in the world, Allberry assures us of the fundamental goodness of God’s design for human bodies. From that foundation, he offers truth from God’s word that helps us think biblically about issues ranging from eating disorders to gender dysphoria to gluttony to chronic illness to death. Allberry’s tone is unfailingly compassionate; he knows that so many suffer within and because of their bodies, and that anguish can be physical, psychological, and emotional, or all three at once. This slim, accessible volume is an excellent resource for parents and youth ministers looking for ways to talk to teenagers about accepting and caring for the bodies that God graciously gave us for this life, while anticipating the glorious perfected bodies we will enjoy in the life to come.
Because Allberry has said it all better than I could, here are a few quotes from What God Has to Say About Our Bodies:
On male and female:
It is not that we each comprise half of what it means to be made in God’s image, and the combination of male and female together makes up one image. No. Each individual human being, male and female, is fully made in God’s image. Instead, what Genesis 1 is showing us is that male and female need each other to better image God. There is something about the interplay between the two that enriches us. (p. 67)
All of us experience something of the shame of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. All of us feel the need for covering. All of us have some degree of self-consciousness. In many cases, the brokenness is not so much the body itself, but how our experience has taught us to view the body. The brokenness of our culture, our family, our friendship circle, our own distorted view of who we are meant to be and what we are meant to look like – all these things interact and contribute to our sense of shame. (p.99)
On talking with a man with gender dysphoria:
… though I couldn’t claim to know his experience, I could show him we are all in this together. Romans 8 puts us in the same boat – we’re all making our way as fallen people through life in a fallen creation. However alien his experience might seem to me, we are definitely part of the same tragically broken species. At that more fundamental level I could identify with him… my understanding of our shared humanity meant that there was no reason for me to feel superior or look down on him or to be in any way judgmental. It’s not as if I am gliding through life unscathed by the fall. (p. 121)
On Jesus’ body, broken for us:
The problems we experience with our body were never ultimately going to be solved by our body. We may be able to ameliorate some aspects of our bodily brokenness—we can cure some ills and ease some pains. But we cannot fix what has been broken. The only hope for us is the body of Jesus, broken fully and finally for us. And by looking at his broken body we find true hope for our own. (p.134)
On aging and death:
Death is no longer the threat it once was. It has been defeated in Christ. The signs of aging are no longer a threat but a promise. Gray hair and deepening lines on my face don’t need to speak to me of a past I can’t recover but of a future I can barely conceive. The real glory days are not behind but ahead. (p.185)