This is the ninth part in this series highlighting key insights from John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
This morning I woke up and during my exercises I saw a commercial on the television set which was quite amazing. A large x-ray screen was set up and through the screen the viewer sees skeletons approaching one another, then kissing and hugging one another. Then, they peek their heads around the corner of the X-ray screen and you see that it was two men kissing, or two women kissing, or two disabled people kissing, etc. The commercial closes with the following admonitions: “Love knows no biases. Love knows no disabilities. Love knows no genders.” Interestingly, all three of those statements are Christian statements. It is what is NOT said, but assumed, by the commercial which reveals the real two messages of the commercial. First, that any love which is to be authenticated must culminate in a sexual act. Second, the disassociation of the human body from love. The sexualization of all relationships has been one of the great losses of our generation (discussed in an earlier blog) and the second point of the commercial is actually the theme of this blog.
A theology of the body enables us to see how God has woven into the very fabric of creation and inscribed in the design of every human body wonderful, theological truths which we have largely ignored. The church has been caricatured into two camps. On the one side are the conservatives who are portrayed as angry protestors, shaking their fists in the face of those who support the erosion of traditional Christian values. On the other side are the so-called “progressives” who listen to whatever the culture is saying and find new ways to say that the Bible affirms that. But our culture does not need to meet an angry church. Our culture does not need a church which serves only as a cultural echo chamber. We are in the sunset of that time when we need only raise our voices and state what are against. We must be able to articulate what we are for. We must sing a more beautiful and more compelling song about God’s design and plan. His design, as we have seen, is nothing less than our bodily reflection of the Trinity and the wonderful trajectory leading to union with Him. We must embody an entirely new vision which is holistic, beautiful, compelling and resonates with the biblical and historic witness in deep and profound ways.
The next few articles will seek to demonstrate the connection between our bodies and the incarnation of Jesus Christ and His bodily resurrection. One of the prevalent comments made to us today in regard to same sex marriage or gender reassignment is that we are making “much ado about nothing,” or “a mountain out of a molehill.” The whole arena of human sexuality is seen as a very minor issue, unrelated to such great and vital doctrines as the incarnation and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the heart of a proper theology of the body is a new awareness of the deep connections between a whole range of issues which have co-opted the church and the glorious truths which lie at the very foundation of the gospel itself.
The connection is born out of our belief that the human body has a dual meaning, i.e. it has a concrete physical meaning, as those physically created male and female with practical capacities, for union, for self-donation, for covenant faithfulness and through the bearing of children participating with God as little co-creators with Him. But our bodies also have a deeply spiritual meaning as pointers to mysteries beyond us. This is why we find ourselves using sacramental language when referring to marriage (either our own marriage, or as singles the offspring of marriage, or all of us as members of the church, the bride of Christ). Marriage is an outward sign of an inward and invisible truth. It is sacramental or, if you prefer, a “means of grace.”
St. Paul points to this when he says that the mystery of marriage is profound, but I am “speaking of Christ and the Church” (Eph. 5:32). The picture of the church as bride and God as husband finds its final eschatological expression in the following texts. The marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19:6-9 and the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven in Rev. 21:1-4 like a “bride adorned for her husband” draws upon marriage as the most apt analogy to describe the union of Christ and his church. This amazing mystery of Christ and the Church does not fall out of the sky disconnected from all that has gone before it. Rather, deeply woven into the Old Testament is the idea that Yahweh is Israel’s husband. We should not read Rev. 19 and Rev. 21 without recalling to mind, for example, Isaiah 54:5 where Yahweh declares, “your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is His name … the Lord will call you back as a wife distressed in spirit.”
Israel is God’s bride and this, through the gospel, eventually encompasses not just the remnant of Israel, but men and women from every tribe, tongue and people who are summoned into the church as the bride of Christ. So God and Israel in the OT eventually gets broadened to become Christ and the Church in the NT. So, the marriage between a man and a woman is a type or picture of the greater truth—the deeper mystery of Christ and the Church. This is why John Paul II calls marriage the “great analogy” and the “pedagogy of the body” in the sense that God places us all in bodies and calls us to embody the gospel in enfleshed ways. This, of course, is exactly what happens supremely in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Jesus embodies the gospel in his very presence in the world. The incarnation is the final link between anthropology and theology. To destroy the bridge of the body is to disconnect God from the physicality of the world. If we do that, we are only left with Artistotle’s Unmoved Mover, not the God of biblical revelation.