Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dem Bones (Part 3): The Dust of the Ground and the Breath of Life

The first funeral I ever attended was that of my paternal grandmother. I was nine years old. I can remember walking into the visitation at the funeral home like it was yesterday. It was so disturbing to me. Organ music, dim lighting, and the sickly sweet smell of lilies. As I stood over the casket and hesitantly peeked in, I remember my parents comforting me with these words: “Grandma is not in there, honey. It is just her shell.” I suppose, for children, this suffices as one of the most concrete ways to explain death. The spirit leaves the body, and all that is left is a shell. (Think hermit crabs and other sea creatures.)

Have you noticed that our childhood experiences have an uncanny way of silently creeping into our grown-up perceptions of things? How many of us, if we are honest, still perceive death as we did when we were 9? Don’t many of us still get that queasy feeling when we hear organ music or take a whiff of lilies? And, when we stand over a casket, isn’t there something inside of us that is still unsatisfied with the “shell” explanation? Don’t we want more now that we are adults? Yet, many of us still don’t know what that “more” is. And, so when we meet with that fateful day when we take our own children along for their first funeral, we tell them, “Don’t worry, honey. It is just a shell.” We don’t know what else to say.

I had to know what God said about the physical body once and for all when I was forced to bury my two-year-old. Nothing is more counter-intuitive than putting the growing, soft, sweet body of your little girl in the hard, cold ground. This is especially true when you are the one whose very own body housed that other little body as it formed from two single cells into a living, breathing human being with thoughts and feelings and a God-given purpose to fulfill. In that case, the physical body seems pretty important. It is the part that nurses at your breast and snuggles in your lap as you sing lullabies. It is the part that gives sloppy kisses and forms the “hook ‘em horns” sign with chubby fingers. It wears the dress-up clothes and produces the adorable grin and cute voice that belts the word ‘FAB-U-LOOOUUUS!’ from the soundtrack of High School Musical. In short, the physical body is a big part of the way we know someone—and care for someone. Ask your mother. It is why she still wants you to eat good food. It is why she still wants to comfort you when you are sick. And, it is why she still winces at the idea of you getting a tattoo.

On the surface, the “shell” metaphor seems to work. But, in actuality, it falls far short of the truth, and it can lead to some false beliefs about the relationship between the physical and the spiritual in God’s human creation. Bodies and spirits were never meant to be separated. Death is not, like we have been told, “a natural part of life.” It is a perversion of God’s perfect design, a result of the fall. A day is coming when all bodies will be reunited with their spirits. Jesus says that one day all who have died will rise from their graves (believers and non) to face judgment (John 5:28-29). Bodies are not just shells that can be discarded when the spirit finds a better (or another…) home.

By now you may be wondering, “What in the world does this have to do with the topic of physical health?” I contend that it has a LOT to do with it. It is my opinion that the way we view the body in death speaks volumes about our view of the body in life. I would argue that if we still think that it is natural and normal for the spirit to leave the body in death that we are probably not placing the proper import on the physical body while we still breathe! Are our bodies really just shells for our spirits after all? Or, are they more?

Want the truth? Your body matters in this world…and in the next. Good thing the Bible reassures us that it is so much more than a shell.

Read this excerpt from Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven:

“Genesis 2:7 says, ‘The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’ The Hebrew word for ‘living being’ is nephesh, often translated ‘soul’. The point at which Adam became nephesh is when God joined his body (dust) and spirit (breath) together. Adam was not a living human being until he had both material (physical) and immaterial (spiritual) components. Thus, the essence of humanity is not just spirit, but spirit joined with body. Your body does not merely house the real you—it is as much a part of who you are as your spirit is.”(p.112)

Did you catch that? “Your body does not merely house the real you—it is as much a part of who you are as your spirit is.” Doesn’t that change the way you view your body? It profoundly changes the way I view mine. You see, we have been trained as Christians to nurture our spirits. But, we can’t start to do a better job of taking care of our bodies until we recognize that they actually count. And, we can see from Genesis 2:7 that the essence of who we are is spirit joined with body. No other part of creation has this distinction. Neither the earth, the sea, the sky, the stars, nor even the animals are spirit joined with body. For humans--and humans alone--body and spirit are inextricably linked. We are the pinnacle of God’s creation. And, this link between our bodies and spirits is what makes us unique.

Let’s look at some Scriptures that show the effect your spirit has on your body (SPIRIT→BODY). I have written before about the way our bodies respond to emotional stress in my blog post “The Physical Toll of Grief” (February, 2010). Grief, I rationalized, can certainly affect your physical body. The Bible says so. Take these verses as examples:

Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.
My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
and my bones grow weak. Psalm 31:9-10

My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones. Psalm 102:4-5

We know from these verses that negative influences on our spirit affect our bodies negatively. But, Scripture teaches us that there is a positive correlation between spirit and body, too. It says that when good things happen in our spirits, our bodies benefit. Look at these examples:

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones. Proverbs 3:7-8

Whoever is patient has great understanding,
but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.
A heart at peace gives life to the body… Proverbs 14:29-30a

What about looking at the connection from the other direction? In other words, what does the Bible say about how the body affects the spirit? (BODY→SPIRIT) Let’s look at the example in Proverbs 6:32. Solomon has gone on and on warning his son not to get involved with the adulteress. In a nutshell, he is telling his son that if you get your body involved in sin, it will devastate your spirit. “The one who commits adultery lacks sense; whoever does so destroys himself.” Mistreating the body leads to the destruction of the whole self—which includes the spirit.

Yes, Scripture is clear. In so many places, it reinforces that undeniable relationship between body and spirit and, in the process, the undeniable import of both. To me, the Bible screams, “Respect both! Honor both! Nurture both! Please God with both!”

No, my body is not just a shell that houses the “real” me. It is a vital part of the humanity God created to worship Him and have fellowship with Him. I must not ignore it! It might take 5 in the grave for a while, but it will eventually be restored and last forever.

If you have heard all of what I have said so far and are still tempted to think your body doesn’t really matter, consider this Scripture (the most significant reason for giving your body some attention):

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Wow. My body is God’s house? We can see here that what we choose to do with our bodies affects not just our own spirits, but God’s Holy Spirit. Ups the ante, doesn’t it? (YOUR BODY→GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT)

You see, when I realize that my body is God’s dwelling place, my motivation to care for it increases. As I begin to accept God’s call to follow Him more closely, the care of my body goes way beyond avoiding that which is expressly forbidden in Scripture and moves toward lovingly submitting my whole self to God, doesn’t it? I am constantly challenged by what this means in my life. But, I am excited about what following God around that corner promises! I am slowly, but surely, moving away from merely selfish reasons for being physically healthy (like looking good or even feeling good) and moving toward a longer-lasting, Christ-centered motivation.

Let me ask you this: What is holding you back? How much more impact could you have on the kingdom of God if you recognized that you are not just a spirit inhabiting a shell for a time? Do you not know that you are dust of the earth (body) and breath of life (spirit) joined together? You are unlike any other of God’s creations. You are special. Everything that makes you YOU is important to God. He cares about you—inside and out! Yes, dear one, you are nephesh—a living being (a soul) whose purpose is to glorify God with ALL that you are. Don’t you forget it!

(Join me next week as we look at some interesting history that may shed some light on why we in the church have elevated the spiritual realm above the physical realm. Part of the process of shifting our paradigm is discovering where our thinking originates and bringing it back to the truth of Scripture. I hope you will be intrigued by what I have discovered and challenged to bring all of your beliefs in line with God’s Word. For me, this study has been a big part of finally properly prioritizing my health.)

1 comment:

Mariposa said...

Thank you for the encouragement. I am a single mother. Not by choice. Like many men, my husband left his responsibilities of leading and protecting us to find his own fulfillment. He is with someone else now, though most in his life do not know.

I am getting past the trauma, and healing from the hearbreak and confusion. My prayer lately has been that my weakness would be pefected by His strength. Your writings motivated me to get up, and strive to make my body strong again. My sister and I have just joined a gym, inspired by your meetings at the gym with Vicki. We both are working towards becoming physcially strong and fit. Pray that not only I shed the pounds, but too that I shed the fear, the grief and the doubt that have plagued me by the turn my journey has taken. Pray that my weakness would be perfected by His strength. Pray that God would bless my time with my sister, and for my children. Blessings to you and your family. You are in may prayers.