If You Feel Bad

If You Feel Bad May 19, 2019

I came across this curious judgment this week in all my internet wandering:

Conservative Protestants have a very weak theology of the body. They tend to view the body as less important than other religious traditions. For example, in Catholicism, and Mormonism, and Judaism, and Islam, what you’re doing with your body matters. There are ideas of cleanliness in washing, and bodily comportment, and position, in ways that evangelical Christians just don’t really care about. They tend to be far more focussed on where your heart is—and that’s the word they use—what you’re thinking about, where your spirit is putting its allegiance.

It’s in the middle of long interesting interview about what evangelicals think and how they feel about pornography. The answer to that question, in a nutshell, is Bad. They feel bad and depressed and miserable, even and especially when they fall into what they believe is that grave and ruinous sin. This is interesting because the general population doesn’t feel bad. They mainly feel fine and happy.

The worst thing now is to feel bad. You are meant to feel happy, almost at any cost. Though the cost is getting rather high—the very effort is making us ridiculous.

So I think it is probably true that conservative Protestants have a weak theology of the body. They think that if they get their heads and hearts right, their bodies will do what they’re supposed to. Mind over matter—it’s Protestant, and also American.

And also potentially expensive and painful, because when the mind fails to properly direct the body, the new prevailing solution is to start cutting up and refashioning the body to make the sadness go away. When that doesn’t work you can blame God, I suppose, even if you don’t really believe in him.

Or you could, if gender reassignment surgery, or another tattoo, or reconsidering your sexuality, or getting online to shop after drinking too much (which I saw this morning is becoming a rampant problem)—all of which seems rather painful if you ask me—seems unappealing, go to church. If go one further and blunder into a liturgical church, you might hear two texts you might never ordinarily put side by side, read one after another.

The first of these two texts is a portion of Leviticus 19, which starts out, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy,” and then goes on to list, in detail, the holy and good things you shall do, both outwardly with your body, and inwardly with your soul—not harvesting the edges of your field, not slandering your neighbor, not lying, not hating your brother—because, says God over and over, “I am the Lord.”

The second is the first half of Revelation 19 which, in the middle, has this detail about the church, who is getting ready—indeed is right now in one of those interminably long engagement periods that lasts like several thousand years and who knows how many more to endure—“…it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” Then the angel instructs John to write, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Then John tries to worship the angel and is rebuked. And then Jesus, the conquering Lord, his robe dipped in blood, comes along on the white horse and wins the battle in a matter of minutes, if that. The beast is thrown into the lake of fire and the circling birds gorge themselves on the carcasses of the wicked.

Meanwhile, back in the Psalms, there is the ordered, calming refrain—the Lord is good, the Lord is kind, the Lord is gracious, the Lord is patient, the Lord is merciful, the Lord is righteous, and then, right at the end, “My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.” – Psalm 145:21

I didn’t mention the gospel reading, which is about glory—a confusing time for Jesus to bring it up, right as he is about to be ignominiously arrested, beaten, humiliated, stripped naked, and hung up on a pole. The last word you would be able to wrap your mind around at a moment like that is glory. His friends—with their bodies and their souls—cower in the darkness, overcome by disappointment and sorrow. They feel bad—worse than they ever thought possible.

Yet they are the ones being dressed in fine linen, bright and pure. They are being decked out for the marriage supper of the Lamb. They are being made holy, both outwardly in the body, and inwardly in the soul. The ruinous enmity, and jealous, pinching sin that characterizes most human thoughts, motivations, and actions is being swept away by the power of The Lord—that same one who kept on with those various refrains. I am the Lord. The Lord is good. The Lord is kind. The Lord is gracious.

It is really impossible to have a good theology of the body, what with it being so broken. If you’re not feeling bad about your own body, or actively abusing somebody else’s body, or hearing about horrific abuse, or worshiping the wrong thing with your body—an angel, or yourself, or something fallen and human—you can at least mourn and grieve over death itself, that crucial moment when your soul is wrenched away from its home and your body goes back into the dust.

What then? No amount of shopping or hormones or laws or anything will bring it back again. At least, you can’t. There’s nothing you can do. Except for look up to the one—the holy One, the Lord—who can. Who did. Who can organize and arrange your muddled and painful present, and ultimately sit you down and that long desired supper, all clean and pressed and relieved that all the trouble and weeping are finally over.

It’s all there, in twenty minutes before the sermon. You should try it. Your credit card could use the break, and there’s a not uncomfortable pew waiting for your tired body, your troubled heart to sit down and rest for a while.

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