Monday, September 11, 2017

Wholeness and Holiness

The apostle Paul gave this blessing prayer at the close of his letter to the Thessalonians Christians: 'Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess. 5:23).

A distinctive theme of the Biblical view of human nature is that we are composite  beings, who in our integrity as whole persons are embodied souls with spirits. The doctrines of creation and resurrection solidify the unity of our selves as embodied spirits with truly human souls. We will be reclothed in transformed physical bodies in the Resurrection. Our human souls (minds, desires, choices) are real, as is our spiritual nature, our capacity to relate to God and the spiritual realm.

I think that this idea of humans as unified beings, body and mind, would be seen as reasonable by most people. We are reminded often about the inextricable union of our minds and bodies. Our thoughts influence our physical being and physical conditions affect our outlook. 

Now in the Christian view, 'Sin' has disordered our human functioning at many levels. We can be spiritually blind or enslaved. Our choices may be wrong and our minds darkened. Our bodies can be hampered by the cosmic effects of the Fall, and we can use our bodies in disobedient ways, contrary to the Creator's design. Our calling in Christ is to work with God's help to connect ourselves truly to God's Spirit, having our minds renewed so that our choices follow the path of godliness and our bodies truly presented to God as vessels for his service.

It is not easy to keep a true, balanced Biblical view of our humanity. Some can neglect the human, soulish functions out of a disconnected spirituality. Others can make the soul the centre of our selves as the choosing, desiring self. There has been a tendency in some civilisations to view our bodies as secondary aspects of our selves: the body as the cage of the soul. The ancient Gnostics took this path in general, either neglecting the body or treating it as non-moral. The true person is not his or her body.

This ancient view is a heresy of Creation, and it is back with us in our culture in the West through the sexual revolution. Pope John Paul II prophetically taught about this distortion in his great work 'The Theology of the Body'. 

Think about 'sexual immorality'. The Bible consistently warns against moving away from the limits of our created nature in the sexual sphere. Our sexuality as humans is designed for procreation (obviously) and uniting of lives (desirable). Taking the act of sexual intercourse out of the life-uniting context is out of God's natural order. The act of sexual intercourse is by nature a joining of man and woman in a joint biological union. Our bodies are heterosexual. (There are some whose genetic makeup is not clear, but the binary nature of sexual embodiment is the norm.)  The Biblical injunctions against sexual immorality are designed to keep us within the limits of life and proper functioning. The  chaos of the sexual revolution has been considerable.

Behind most of the sexual revolution is the subordination of the sexual body to the desires and choices of the soul. 'Gay marriage' is on our national agenda right now in Australia, and it is promoted as the way of love. People are not concerned with the fact that homosexual acts are out of alignment with the body, because the body is simply the instrument of the person. It is about 'love'. Hence the widespread incomprehension at those who don't agree with gay marriage : they must be against 'love'. If same-sex acts are no longer regarded as 'immoral' (that is, not in accord with our embodied nature), then there can be no basis for not legalising them as 'marriage', except nasty bigotry. 

If sexuality is disconnected from our sexual embodiment, then our gender can also be disconnected from our bodies, hence transgender as a variation. Transgenderism is  to be accepted, because gender is now an internal state of mind regardless of embodied sexual gender. This is the logic of the  Gnostic view of the body already in place regarding homosexuality. On this logic, more 'genders' are coming down the cultural pipeline. The slippery slope is getting more slippery all the time. The same logic of the loving, free, choosing self will inevitably be brought out again to justify polyamory - and probably other variations.

I recognise that we are all broken in different ways. Sometimes our desires work against our sexual form or are at odds with it. The older view was that this was a problem of disordered desires, to be controlled. The older viewpoint did not think that disordered desires (desires not in alignment with the order of embodied nature) should be celebrated,affirmed, let alone recognised as equal to desires that are aligned  with embodiment. But the contemporary view is that the body must give way to the sovereignty of the desiring self. The crucial issue is not sexuality but our view of the human person. Are humans integrated wholes - body, soul, spirit? 

This great experiment with human nature will play itself out. Time will tell what consequences follow. Already the endorsement of sexual immorality as legitimate and good has come at the cost of the unity and integrity of our human nature. If reality is with the Bible and the wisdom of the ages in many cultures, then the human and social costs will be heavy. In the end, reality has a way of asserting itself.

Ralph Bowles

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