This is the tenth part in this series highlighting key insights from John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
The word “incarnation” is taken from John 1:14: “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The word incarnation simply means “in the flesh.” At a particular time—in the fullness of time—the eternal Second person of the Trinity became a man, i.e. he entered into human flesh and became fully man with no compromise in His full deity. Colossians 1:19 and 2:9 really drive this point home. Col. 1:19 says, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,” and in 2:9, he says, “in Christ all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form.” This means that the body is designed to be the recipient of divine fullness. God believes in bodies – he designed them with functional and spiritual capacities. As we have noted throughout this blog series, all the means of grace are mediated through the body: bodies are baptized, bodies take sacraments, bodies read or listen to God’s Word, Bodies express self-donation in the world, and it is a body through which God supremely made Himself manifest in the world.
If you know anything about the early church, you will know what a radical truth this is. The gospel came into a cultural setting which did not trust the body. There were many gnostic movements at the time which taught a secret “knowledge” or “gnosis.” The theme through much of it is that the body is evil and cannot be trusted. In short, the body is a trap which must be overcome to release the light within and discover the real you within. This is still a dominant motif in Buddhism and Hinduism which, in different ways, do not share the Christian view of the body.
Today, we are seeing the resurgence of a lack of confidence in the body. We are told repeatedly that the body cannot be trusted. This is particularly evident in the recent attention given to gender reassignment. Today, it is said that you might be a woman trapped inside a man’s body, or a man trapped inside a woman’s body. This Christian and contemporary view might best be contrasted by three statements. In the Christian view, the heart is deceitful, the mind needs renewing, and the body is trustworthy. In the contemporary view, the heart must always be followed, your mind is clear and your body cannot be trusted. This is an inverse of the Christian vision.
We must reclaim a Christian view of the body. We must reclaim the truth that there are ethical boundaries inherent in our creation as “male” and “female” because we were declared “very good.” St. John was so insistent on this point that he boldly declared that anyone who did not confess that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh is the antichrist (I John 4:1-3). We have been painfully slow in recognizing this. This is why we must be more precise when we refer to the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Resurrection—to say it more accurately, the bodily Incarnation and the bodily Resurrection. This is at the heart of the Christian proclamation. Christ’s bodily resurrection, as I Cor. 15 argues, is the first-fruit of our bodily resurrection. The two are linked.
Despite the language of popular Christian discourse, God is not saving our souls so that they may someday dwell in some disembodied state for eternity. Salvation is about all of creation being healed in its full embodiment. This is why truly evangelical preaching must embrace not only inward faith leading to justification, but full bodily redemption. Our vision of sanctification is extending the holiness of God into all the world.
This is why we care about creation; this is why we cannot turn a deaf ear to the bodily plight of desperate Syrian refugees. This is why we must rescue women trapped in human trafficking, feed those who are hungry, and a thousand other things. These are not ancillary tasks of the church which we squeeze in on the side, but they are our fleshly demonstration of our confidence in the bodily incarnation and the bodily resurrection. The gospel must never lose its earthiness, its enfleshment, its embodiment. There are thousands of ways in which this world dis-incarnates human existence and the gospel reverses them all!