Sunday, December 13, 2009

Body Image

I've been hearing the term "body image" since junior high. The topic is usually heavily stressed to girls as a preventative measure against depression and promiscuity. The idea is this: a healthy body image propels one toward continued health, but an unhealthy body image leads to a self-perpetuating destructive cycle. If I feel ugly, I will act as though I feel ugly, which is an unattractive quality to all but two types of people: sexual predators, who will gladly exchange compliments for copulation, and advertisers, who will quickly trade capsules for currency. Since we want to avoid these destroyers of intimacy, we give our young girls axioms to ingest which we hope will reinforce positive body image, thus averting damage and affirming health.

I guess because we're a fragmented and compartmentalized culture, it never occurred me to apply this paradigm more broadly. If Scripture uses the body as a metaphor in a variety of ways, which bodily principles transfer with it? Does "body image" effect the Church's health? I think so, and I'd like to begin excavating this as far as I can, offering some scripture-based axioms which I believe apply broadly to the bodies of individuals, families, and the church:
  1. Loving heads maintain their bodies with precision care. We start with an obvious one. Paul does all the work for us in Ephesians 5 when he ties this analogous principle of the individual to the marriage and to the church as well. "28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body." Both excess and neglect are slow and painful murderers. Moderate intake is vital and the quantities vary significantly. The body's survival is of utmost importance to the head, so one must get to know his body's needs and treat her "according to knowledge."
  2. Vanity is a vapor and oblivion a void. We want to be able to examine our bodies in such a way that we can evade narcissism (both positive and negative) and still be reflective enough to know where we need improvement. Those who are oblivious about their appearances are usually, let's just be honest, disgusting. But there's no such thing as an unbiased mirror. The person looking into the mirror must interpret the data, and is never objective in his or her conclusion because said viewer has a vested interest in the outcome. Physically, one must depend upon the dual effort of good mirrors and true friends. Reliable mirrors give us meaningful data, and true friends help us interpret that data in constructive ways. Families are an ideal situation for this both physically and spiritually. Spiritually, we must lean wholly upon Scripture as our mirror, but, since interpretation can be skewed, one must consider the historical church one's friend and family. Obviously, since this is a sticky subject for most people (who is truly satisfied with their body?!), this takes some serious trust and humility both on the part of the examined and the examiner. This is why Jesus encourages us to remove the plank in our own eye so that we may see clearly to remove the speck out of our brother's eye.
  3. Bodies are only equipped with one mind. Jesus says it this way: "Man cannot serve two masters." Individually, we can take this simply to mean that we are to cultivate pure hearts so that we are not divided in our pursuits. In marriage, it gets a even more difficult. God makes the two into one, telling them to be of one mind. Not easy when we're not even wholly united within our individual selves. He calls the woman the body and the man the head. Seems like a good argument for complementarian marriage, and it probably is, but I'm not sure Hebrews were as black and white about the physical location of the mind as we are. It might be good just to explore this cave for a while in your own marriage. The Church, as God's body, is entreated to pray in submission to her Sacred Head's will, and He is covenant-bound to hearing her requests and laying His life down for her needs. It's pretty beautiful when you allow the paradigm to work itself all the way out.
  4. The female body is designed to nurture new life. The female body has a uterus and mammary glands which are functionally useless to her. They are present for the benefit of an entirely unique person. Within a family, this is very obvious. Within the family of God, the Church plays the female role, which means a prominent part of her profession is the procreation of progeny: making and nurturing spiritual children. I just think that's so huge and special. 
  5. She's a one-man woman. I haven't figured out exactly where to put this one yet, but since I already mentioned the principle briefly in the introduction, I'll cut straight to the chase. The Church has no business altering her body to attain to an ideal that pleases someone other than her loving and non-perverted Husband. We need to be really careful to avoid marketing and to ensure that our "seeker-sensitivity" doesn't detract from the things that our Husband finds pure and attractive. As our Pursuer, He's the true Seeker to whom we should be sensitive. He's the one who presents us to Himself as a pure and holy bride. Don't dirty yourself up for another man. That's called whoring and He doesn't like it.
I think if the body can hold these truths dear to her heart and truly believe them, her body image will promote healthy function in individuals, families, local congregations, and the church universal. I love analogies, and I feel like we might be missing some serious exegetical goldmines here by ignoring the clearly rewarding hermeneutic spelunking this particular analogy offers us. I keep thinking of more axioms, but this is getting too long. I might just spend some time outlining a book on this.

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