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Let’s Get Physical

I found myself very interested in Martha’s recent blog post, “‘Can I Just Plain Kiss Her?’” and the resulting discussion in the comments. Unfortunately for you, I was interested for more boring reasons than you are probably hoping for.

What was interesting to me is the way we frame most of these conversations in articles and posts and discussions. The language we tend to use, talks about sexuality and the physical reaction of our bodies as a “dangerous path that leads toward sin.” In order to avoid these things, we should focus on what is “spiritual” and protect our hearts, minds and bodies by abstaining from physical contact. In a way, I agree. But in another way, I think we’re a bit misguided. Here’s why.

I’m almost finished with my master’s in Old Testament Biblical Studies. Over the past few years, and even before I started seminary, I began to learn a lot about the Eastern mindset of the biblical writers. The world in which the Bible was written was very focused on the physical. God is often described in very concrete ways — He is a rock, shepherd, Father, eagles’ wings, etc. The perfect world God created in the beginning was a physical garden, and when things are restored, when they are made perfect again, there will be a physical city on a physically perfected earth. Tears will be gone, people will have food, crops will grow — these are all very tangible things. When God gave His law to the Israelites — when He talked about the way He wanted to be worshipped — He talked about a physical temple, the slaughter of animals, the offering of crops. God expressed himself and the worship He desired from His people in very physical terms. There are all kinds of laws in the Old Testament related to our bodies — when to cleanse, what to do after childbirth, menstruation, sexual activity. God created and cares about our physicality. This is expressed over and over again in the Scripture.

During the time of Jesus, the influence of Greek thought was beginning to take over the world. Philosphers like Plato had believed that the physical world was a negative thing, only a shadow of what was true, good and “spiritual.” Platonism rejected the reality of the physical world, exalting the spiritual and metaphysical as true and righteous. This type of thinking led to early church heresies like Gnosticism. Gnostic thought elevated the spiritual above the physical. Some early Christians were so influenced by this that they believed Christ could not have been God, a perfect sacrifice for sin, if He had an actual physical body. This is why John, in his gospel, pointed out that he saw Jesus die, that he saw a sword pierce His side, and that he saw blood and water flow. Gnosticism was denying Jesus’ physicality.

Gnosticism was rejected by Christianity, but because we Westerners are so influenced by Greek thought, it has affected a lot of the way we view faith. For example, we tend to describe God in conceptual terms instead of physical ones (He is omniscient, omnipresent, good, holy, etc.) Sometimes our ideas of heaven can be very sterile and dull — not the vibrant, physical world described in Isaiah and Revelation.

And this (finally!) is where the discussion about hand holding/kissing/sex comes in. I wonder if this Greek idea that elevates the spiritual above the physical has influenced us much more than we think. Does it affect the way we view sexuality and physicality? We talk about being careful not to “awaken our bodies” in a sexual manner, as if that is a negative thing. But God created our bodies to respond the way that they do. Our bodies become ready for sex at a young age, which is completely natural. Like some commenters have pointed out, bodies can respond sexually without kissing or hand holding or any physical touch. So many of us — myself included — have tended to think of our bodily responses as evil. Somewhere in our minds, the physical is bad and sinful.

Now, I’m not at all advocating for sex before marriage or people to push past physical boundaries they’re uncomfortable with! The Bible is clear about sexual immorality and that we are to stay far from it. God honors sex within marriage, not outside of it.

As humans created in God’s image, we need to remember to never use or objectify one another for physical needs. We need to keep our thoughts pure. What it takes to do that might be different for each person. But I think we can also remember that part of the way God created humans — in His image — was in a very physical way. This is something all over the Scriptures, but we’ve watered it down due to the influence, not of the Bible, but of Greek thought.

What I’m not saying is that sexual desire is super awesome so do whatever you can with your boyfriend or girlfriend to bring those feelings on. What I am saying is that I think it is important for us to have a correct and biblical way of thinking about physicality. God created sex as a good thing. Our culture has distorted that picture and made sex something very ungodly. Much of what people imagine when they think of sexuality has to do with pornography, crass language, relationships outside of marriage, etc. This is not God’s picture of sexuality. It is not the right or biblical way to think about sex. However, because of the secular culture’s distortion of sex, many Christians have responded by making anything sexual bad and wrong. Instead of talking about our bodies and sex as something awesome and beautiful that God has created for marriage, we bash it for years and years and then expect the negative language and thoughts about sex to immediately dissipate once a couple says “I do.” 

So, my point: How do we think about the physical in general? Do we see the biblical picture of the physical world (which includes our bodies)? Has our thought process been a bit influenced by traces of Gnosticism — are we more comfortable with a non-physical, spiritual world? If so, why?

Where have your ideas about the good or bad of sexuality and physical desire been influenced by current, secular culture? Where have they been influenced by Christian culture? Where have they been influenced by a contextualized biblical understanding?

A lot of questions, I know! But our actions are influenced by our true beliefs. That’s why I think it’s crucial that we take a look at the way we think about these things, making sure that our thoughts on this topic are truly biblical.

What do you think?

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About the Author

Denise Morris Snyder

Denise Morris Snyder is a mom, wife and part-time discipleship pastor at CrossRoads Church in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. She previously worked as an editor for Focus on the Family and a writer for David C Cook. She has her Master’s in Old Testament Biblical Studies from Denver Seminary.

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