In my previous blog post, I talked about the weight of our bodies (pun intended) and argued that understanding what the Bible says about embodiment is fundamental for positive body image. But this biblical understanding of our bodies goes way beyond just working through body image issues — it also informs the way we interact with others.
In the church, the question, “How’s your soul?” is a common one. This question, though meant to be caring, ignores the holistic nature of a person. As someone once told me, the answer to that question might be something along the lines of, “My soul is fine, but my body hurts like, well, heck.” And it’s hard to focus on your soul when you are consumed by bodily pain. If you’ve ever stubbed your toe and then tried to think about something else, you know what I’m talking about.
Jesus cared for body and soul. Matthew 9 is the first time Jesus explicitly points out this dual care. When a paralytic is brought to Him, Jesus declares that the man’s sins are forgiven and then commands him to stand up and walk. The man is healed spiritually and physically.
Time and time again throughout the Gospels, Jesus offers this bodily care. He feeds the hungry crowds of people that follow Him. He heals paralytics, lepers, demon-possessed and blind.
The beautiful thing about Jesus’ physical healings is the way they led to spiritual healing. After healing someone’s bodily ailment, the healed person would go and tell their amazing testimony, causing many to believe Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Even after Jesus ascended, the disciples continued His model, offering healing for both body and soul. In Acts 9, Peter raises a dead woman, and this story “became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.”
I’m not saying that we should all get into resurrecting the dead, but there are certainly physical needs that we have the ability and capacity to address. For example, my family volunteers at a food bank several times a week. In each food box we pack, there is a small note inviting the recipients to reach out should they need any further help, materially or spiritually. Once their physical hunger is taken care of, their spiritual hunger can be addressed.
At the root, the reason we should care for people’s physical needs is because Jesus tells us in Matthew 25, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Everyone is an image-bearer, and in serving one another, we are serving the Lord.
So many issues concerning human rights and treatment have been brought to light by the news these days. Racial injustice. Human trafficking. Slave labor. Basic health rights in light of the coronavirus. Prison conditions. Each person affected is an image-bearer. How should this change the way we think about these issues and respond? I would say that it should make these issues all the more pressing and important to address.
Take racial injustice. The bodies of my black brothers and sisters are not valued or cared for by some in our society to the same extent that my white body is. Yet we are both equally God’s image-bearers. If Christians care about souls, bodily oppression becomes permissible so long as the oppressed are taught the gospel and offered freedom for their souls. But this is not what Christ taught; He offered total redemption and exemplified what love and care looks like toward all.
Jesus set a perfect example of an embodied life. As I am called to be an imitator of Christ, I have set out to follow this example. As He cared for others’ needs, so I will care for others’ needs, body and soul.
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