Dust by God—The Matter of the Body (Part 2)

The amazing art of Rima Staines (click on picture to link to her site)

In part one of The Matter of the Body I shared that a great deal of the disdain Christians sometimes show towards all things physical is rooted, not in the robust spirituality offered in Christ, but in a perversion of that spirituality, which exalts the spirit and denigrates the physical realm.  This has its roots more in Plato than Jesus, and as a result of it, sitting and praying viewed as more valuable than climbing a rock or playing soccer.  Eating industrial food shot through with hormones and antibiotics is fine because its cheap and our bodies will become dust anyway so who cares?

God cares, that’s who—and you should, too.  But I’ve already made that point in the previous post, so start there, with part one.  Now it’s time for a little balance:

If the danger among Christ followers is that we ignore the body, the danger in our materialist western culture is that we idolize it, reducing the richness of a whole life to nothing more than the pursuit of physical prowess, sexual satisfaction, and a culturally defined standard of beauty.  Tim Ferris’ most recent best-seller The 4 Hour Body feeds right into this lust.  Ever the pragmatist, Ferris calls his disciples to a complex regime of vitamins, herbs, and chemicals, coupled with rather strict exercise regimes, all with a view towards maximizing strength and enjoying the youthfulness and beauty that comes with it.  He’s “planning on living to 120…”

Maybe—but is that really the point?  While our enjoyment and stewardship of the body is important, the pursuit of our culture’s “youth and beauty” fixation is terribly unhealthy.  Eating disorders, exercise addiction, and a host of body image issues stem from our pursuit of perfectionist ideals.  And we’ve not even begun talking about the depression rises in those who, for whatever reason, lose their health.  We like to shut people away, out of the limelight, when they lose their luster, and as a result, our treatment of the elderly in our culture is abysmal, in spite of the fact that Bible tells us that gray hair is badge of honor.  The highest office in the church is called “elder” for a reason.

So we need a paradigm that enables us to enjoy and care for our bodies without falling prey to the idolization of youth and beauty.  Here are some truths that can keep this whole thing in balance:

1. The Universe is One. There’s no physical realm/spiritual realm.  There’s a universe, and all of it belongs to God.  But if the point of Part 1 was to suggest that body belongs to God, the point of Part 2 is to suggest that spirit belongs to God also.  The Bible takes it even further, not by creating a dualism, but by explaining that our body will first decay and then be transformed, so that we can consider ourselves warned about the decay part and not panic when we creak upon rising at the age of 65 (or less…or more).  Our spirit, on the other hand, can grow stronger and stronger in this life.  That’s why Paul says spiritual discipline is so valuable.  That’s why some of you reading this who run triathlons need to spend a little time each day reading your Bible, keeping a prayer journal, practicing solitude, even walking slowly instead of running so that you can absorb what God is teaching you through creation.  Need help?  I wrote about this here.

2. Our bodies are dust. This isn’t intended to lead to fatalism and neglect of the body.  Instead, it’s intended to give body stewardship a sense of proportion by pointing out that people who exercise, eat well, sleep well, drink good pure water, have a strong social network, get their omega-3s, and do everything else right still die.  Our organs carry lots of excess capacity and that capacity diminishes with use, so that eventually the one that gets weakest fastest fails.  Good care of one’s body means we’re increasing our odds of living more days, and that that days were given, we’ll be more likely to be enjoy them.  But something will happen—someday, that will bring down the curtain.  We’re fools if we either believe otherwise, or fail to live today in the light of that reality.

3. Our world is fallen. It’s sad to say that in this fallen world, the right things don’t always lead to right outcome. My dad ran track, played basketball and baseball, never touched a cigarette or a drop of alcohol in his life, and died at the age of 53 of pneumonia, brought on by chronic lung disease.  People would say to me, “Poor guy must have been a smoker eh?” and I wanted to hit them.  Their comment reveals our obsession with formulas, how we like to believe that we can build a pain free world by just doing the right thing.  I address that in this sermon, pointing out that formulaic living is a fantasy produced by our obsession with cause and affect. Stuff happens—and the good news is we have the tools to deal with it.

4. Our scars are OK. I have scars, physical, emotional, spiritual.  You might too (might—hahaha).  The older I get the more I’ve moved from loathing the scars, to accepting the scars to finally, agreeing with Paul, that our weakness, our scars, are creating a strength in us we wouldn’t otherwise have.  That’s more than OK, that’s something to be celebrated.

How have you learned to make peace with your body and enjoy it, without idolizing it?  I welcome your thoughts.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • http://intothehermitage.blogspot.com Rima Staines

    Hello Richard, thank you for your kind comment on my blog and for your kind appreciation of my work too.
    But I just wanted to ask that you please put credit under my painting – my name and link back to my blog. I prefer people to ask before using my work on their sites. I almost always say yes, but feel a little uncomfortable about my work illustrating posts here that preach a faith that is not mine.
    I have read this post and the previous, and realise you meant no harm using my work and I like your open minded approach to the fantastical and the wild. I don’t have any pre-decided aversion to any spirituality, and find nuggets of beauty and truth in many faiths, but I also heartily dislike the walls that are built by calling oneself a this or a that, by venerating the words in one book, and by using just one paradigm to map out this astounding existence.
    This is just my personal opinion and I respect that we all have different views. I only point it out here because the paintings I made, that came from my soul and view of the world are being used to illustrate a point of view that isn’t mine.
    I hope you understand, and I send you good wishes
    Rima

  • Wayne Bays

    At 53 years of age, I was pretty pleased with the preservation of my, more or less, youthfull look. But the day before I turned 54, I was painting off a roof, about 20 feet up and slipped and fell. I landed on a concrete step, head first and back next. I woke up in a hospital not knowing what happened or the extreme change my life was about to make. About a month later, I asked the doctor who worked on repairing me if I’d ever use my legs again. He said, “Unless a miracle happens, no, and I’m not in the miracle business. I said I knew One Who IS and thank you for your honesty.
    Realizing then what I might be facing, I began praying and reciting, to myself, Scripture from memory. The first was Psalm 23 and when I got to, “I shall not want”, its meaning had an entirely new focus. I wanted more extremely than I could recall ever before in my life, something which has not happened and logically never will. So I re-focussed, and went over other Scriptures that I could more closely recite and find help instead of trying to say things which mean more than I can honestly confess.
    I share this because there is good news now, after about a year and a half, I have become blessed with a nature that 2Peter 1 speaks of which is Divine. I am now seeing things with an entirely different perspective than before. Instead of reacting to life’s situations with my human nature and having to either seek God’s help or even repent for evil’s influence, my nature is starting to react in a much more Godly direction that brings me more of what James said in chapter 1 of his book; “pure joy”. This has shown me the kind of completeness in Christ which before had only been a hope which I read about in the Scriptures. I wish that all of His children could have this “Divine nature”. It really is quite amazing and I am considering it as much or more of a miracle than being able to use anything below my waist could be. It kind of reminds me of “the escape” that paul refers to in 1Cor 10. Well, here’s hoping that my rambling hasn’t caused anything but good for all.
    Blessings y’all.

  • Meg Kilcup

    I happen to be that person you speak to above. That person who loves triathlon. (http://racingforrelief.blogspot.com) Who wakes up before 5 am so I can get to spin class before work and who doesn’t miss a long run on a beautiful sunny Seattle day. I raced in an Ironman last year, and my life was saturated with swimming, biking, running, resting, recovering, learning, stretching, fundraising, and raising awareness about Uganda Village Project. And meanwhile I was trying to some how stay sane and joyful, with God in the front and center. Not easy. I could write a book on what the Lord has taught me about the mind, body and spirit. Well probably not a good book, but a book at the least…

    It’s been a journey, and I can say that He has indeed taught me how to be at peace with my body, while exercising and challenging myself, without making it an idol. He has done that through teaching me how to balance it out with time with Him. In the scriptures, in prayer, and even in silence/meditation (the hardest discipline for me).

    Without the spiritual disciplines, my discipline in taking care of my body (and especially my relationships) would suffer, and fitness could become all-consuming, without balance or freedom. I have experienced that, and I do not recommend it! My life now includes exercise and taking care of myself, but more-so it is filled with me seeking after Him and the “life to the fullest” He has for me.

    Life to the fullest in my marriage, family, friendships, work and different areas where Jesus has called me to serve. Life to the fullest in being a wife and the joy that comes with cooking and baking. Life to the fullest in spending time in the Word. And yet I must not forget to mention… life to the fullest on that perfect run around Greenlake at sunset.


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