Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Physical and Spiritual

In a previous post I brought up the idea of the connection between our spiritual life and our physical life. As I’ve been reflecting on it I am getting a deeper understanding of the profound connection between the two. This shouldn’t come as some big revelation and I am a little embarrassed that I hadn’t made much of the connection before. It is so obvious that we are created beings, duh. All of us have a body and worship a God who became human (while maintaining his divinity) in the person of Jesus Christ. If that weren’t clear enough we confess in our creeds “the resurrection of the body”. That means we get to keep our body, only tons better, forever.   Clearly if God created our bodies and plans to redeem and recreate them for all eternity then the body has to be essential to our spiritual life.
Maybe I didn’t see it because in all of my study of the New Testament I don’t really remember the part that lays out the diet and exercise plan for optimal health. I certainly remember the parts about not sinning with my body and wondering what some of the definitions of those words were and how broadly or narrowly they are defined. Part of me hoped that I would never know that what they meant so that I could feign ignorance and therefore not have those as some of the things on my list of sins. Needless to say as I wrestled with whether or not I was sinning I still didn’t see the section that said stay away from Twinkies and run intervals three times a week.
That isn’t to say that bible is totally devoid of dietary advice. Leviticus chapter 11 and Deuteronomy 14 both describe what clean and unclean animals are. The hunter in me is glad that deer, elk, wild goats and wild sheep are clean animals and therefore I have a green light to harvest them. Bacon is a no go (disappointing) as well as some other critters that I am not inclined to eat like the weasel or snake. Most Christians aren’t concerned with the Old Testament dietary laws since the early church deemed those laws not binding for Gentiles.
When it comes to exercise the bible is even more silent. I think this is because people lived such a physical lifestyle during biblical times. When I followed Paul’s journeys throughout Turkey in our air conditioned bus I marveled at the distance and intensity of these journeys he took on foot. It was impressive. Jesus built things with hand tools, no small feat and then walked all over Israel. The disciples fished with nets they threw for hours and then had to have the strength to haul a net full of fish into a boat. Following a good catch someone would then clean them all by hand. The farmers worked with oxen but that is still physical work, people walked to wells for water among other physical tasks we no longer do by hand. While we live longer thanks to modern medicine my guess is the average citizen back then had a much greater physical capacity then the average citizen now. My other hunch is that most of their food was organic and locally grown. Not sure if they had free range chickens or is their cows were happy.
As a result of the previous dietary laws and the physical lifestyle the biblical authors probably didn’t feel the need to be fitness experts. When they did write about the body they were teaching us about the moral implications of using our bodies. They also wanted us to make sure that we were enslaved by our body which is something all of us deal with to some degree or another.
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t dismiss being mindful about what we eat or about our physical exercise as unimportant spiritually. I think to do that would be making a mistake. Our bodies are created by God and gifts from God. Therefore, how we care for them is an issue of stewardship. Our spiritual life happens in the context of a bodily existence. To a large extent we will use our bodies to express our love of God and love of neighbor. I think that there needs to be work done to help Christians develop an appropriate understanding of our bodies and the role that caring for the body plays in our spiritual formation. This work will also help us to deal with spiritual integration and dealing with an overtly sensual use of the body that is dominating the media today.  
As I continue to think through some practical implications of what I am learning I hope to be able to write more in the subject in a way that is helpful, encouraging and gracious.

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