Posted by: frroberts | October 10, 2017

Why do we have bodies?

Why do we have bodies?

This question might seem like a strange one, but it is one that is definitely worth asking.  Answering it will be very helpful as well!

As people of faith, we confess belief in what is seen and unseen, or, as the new translation of the Creed puts it, “things visible and invisible.”  God in Himself qualifies as a Being whose Existence lies outside our ability to see with the optic nerve.  We also profess the reality of bodiless spiritual persons called angels.We human beings are strange composites of body and spirit.  Unlike other animals, we possess immortal souls made in the image of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27).  Many Fathers of the Church understand image in terms of rationality, although the underlying Greek is logos, which has could be translated variously as Word, reason, logic or even spirit.  We are talking about more than just the ability to think when we talk about the image of God.  We are talking about what makes human more than just a complex series of chemical reactions.  At the same time, like animals, we maintain our persons by eating and drinking.  Human reproduction, while meant to be an icon of God’s faithful love for the human race and creation, looks basically the same as the reproduction of other animal species to the detached scientific observer.

My own experience is that all but the most dyed in the wool atheist recognizes some spiritual element in themselves.  Even Richard Dawkins aficionados seem to find something like spiritual joy in his rejection of the existence of the realm of the spirit.   At the same time, even the most deeply religious and spiritual people tend to focus an awful lot on finding happiness in our animal side: eating, drinking, sex and other sensual pleasures.  Ask a person of faith what they do when they need to decompress and the most spiritual response that one is likely to get is “watch TV.”  For myself, I can say that I turn to food for comfort far more than I would like to admit.

When I watch TV I can’t help but notice that advertising tries to take advantage of our sensuality in order to get us to open up our pocketbooks.  Eat fast food and you will feel better. You might get diabetes if you do it as often as we would like.  Drink plenty of hard liquor and all of your cares will go away. Buy enough to make our company more profitable and you might get cirrhosis.  And so on.

According to the dominant secular culture, why do we have bodies?  For pleasure.  Our bodies are instruments that we use to experience pleasure.  And the more pleasure we experience, the better we are using our bodies.

Our faith gives us a different answer.  We have bodies in order to participate in the Glory of God by using our them as a means of loving God and others…

Our dominant secular culture sees the body as an instrument for experiencing pleasure.  We Christians understand the body as the means by which we enter into loving relationships, the most important of which is with the Holy Trinity in prayer.

The vision of the body as an instrument to experience pleasure is hardly new.  Saint Paul encountered it throughout his apostolic ministry.  He notes in Philippians that:

For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct yourselves themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their end is destruction.  Their God is their stomach; their glory is their shame.  Their minds are occupied with earthly things. (3:18-19)

It is not clear to whom Paul refers, but we should not be surprised that there were people who lived in the flesh, even many Christians, then as now.  “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” has been a way of life since the Fall.   Rather than embracing the Cross as the way of love, they flee from it in order to seek merely sensual pleasures, even those that are shameful.  Far from experiencing this search for pleasure as freedom, they find themselves to be enslaved by it and can think of nothing else.  To use modern language, they are addicted.  These addictions to pleasures that fly in the face of the logic of the Cross will lead to their eternal spiritual destruction.  In common language, they are going to Hell unless they repent.

A Christian is not to use her body to live in the flesh, but for life in the spirit.  Thus the Apostle to the Gentiles explains:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He will change our lowly body to conform with His glorious body. (Phil 3:20-21).

The modern world gives us all sorts of schemes to have the perfect body.  We go to the gym.  We eat healthy diets.  Some of us even have cosmetic surgery in order to eliminate the signs of aging.

The first two are not bad in themselves.  There are some instances in which number three is morally permissible.  Most of the time I suspect that the money spent on plastic surgery would be better spent by helping the poor.  In the final analysis all of these strategies are just postponing the inevitable.  Our bodies will deteriorate and we will die, probably sooner than any of us would like.

In the Transfiguration Jesus reveals to us the true perfection of the human body, which comes only through prayer.

“While [Jesus] was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.”

During the Transfiguration we see Christ’s glorified humanity.  This transformation in the appearance of our Lord’s body is the revelation of the glory that lay hidden throughout His entire earthly life.  On one level, what happened on Mount Tabor is the special privilege of the divine nature  that is proper to Jesus’ person.  At the same time, we can become by adoption what Christ is by nature, which means that by grace we too can be participants in the divine nature (cf. 2 Pet. 1:4).  While there are many ways to experience this participation, prayer is among the most privileged.

Prayer is radical receptivity to God.  Our first parents sought to become godlike by grasping for it and were thus cast out of the garden of right relationship with the Lord.  They tried to take what God wanted them to receive freely.  Christ our Lord reopened the door to right relationship with God for us by obediently receiving the will of His heavenly Father that He should die on the Cross.

When Jesus conversed with Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration, He spoke with them of His approaching death on the Cross, or as Saint Luke calls it, the great “exodus that He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.”  The Father’s will is Jesus’ will, even if that union of wills means a brutal and gruesome death.  Here lies the center of true Christian prayer, participation in the divine nature realized through ever-deepening union with everything that pertains to God’s essence: His goodness, His will, His power and ultimately His knowledge.

The life of Christ is not a mere revelation of extraordinary spiritual experience but also the manifestation of the way of Love.  The glory that shone forth on Mount Tabor also shone forth on Mount Calvary.  We encounter God by using our bodies to pray, but in order for this encounter to be authentic we must use our bodies as instruments of disinterested love for others, especially our enemies.  Cross and Transfiguration go together.

Why do we have bodies?

To enter into union with a God who is love and to share that love with others.


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